Shooting for action-reaction-reaction

You’ve heard it before: to bring the impact of an action home, you need to shoot the reaction. Flames engulfing an apartment building have more impact if we also see the faces of people who are losing their homes. The clowns in a parade are funnier if we also see the grins and hear the squeals of kids along the route. You get the idea.

But what on earth is action-reaction-reaction? CBS News photojournalist Les Rose introduced that idea at a workshop I attended recently by showing this video of a TV commercial:

At first, there’s really no action at all. The first action is merely hinted at about ten seconds in–a slightly obscured shot of the soldiers entering the airport. Three shots later, you first hear the reaction and then see it when the man reading a newspaper looks up. As the clapping spreads, we see the reaction to the reaction, 24 seconds in, when the soldier smiles.

Think about this simple structure when you’re putting together a news story: Anticipation, action, reaction, reaction. ┬áThe structure can be applied not only to video and natural sound but to sound bites as well. Using what comes before and after the action puts the action itself in context.