Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Steller offers visual storytelling app for iPhone users, and it's pretty sleek


   There's a new app in Apple town, and I like it.
   As a photojournalism and multimedia instructor, I'm always searching for new ways to present and share visual storytelling content. It is certainly a challenge keeping up with the multitude of new multimedia tools constantly being developed. 
   This blog post is about just one of those new tools, the Steller app for the iPhone and iPod Touch, released in 2014.
   This mobile-first digital storytelling app combines text, photos and videos in a clean, visually-appealing format. The story includes a title page, and up to 20 images that are taken directly from your iPhone photo collection. 
   Once you download the free app, you simply hit the + button in the bottom middle of the page, choose your theme, select and import your images, design your story, and then publish and share to Twitter, Facebook or your blog. It is that simple.
The beauty of this app is that you view the story like you're reading a book. The pages turn!
There are a few drawbacks, though:
  • Viewers not familiar with the app don't know that the story needs to be manually opened, and the pages turned by swiping the page or hitting the right or left computer arrows. 
  • You can't share the complete story on Instagram; only a single page selected from the story.
  • The videos loop, and viewers might not know to swipe out of them.
  • Shooting vertical video makes more sense here because you can fill the entire screen. If you shoot horizontal, there's too much white space top and bottom.
  • The archiving of these stories is worrisome. How long will this app survive? But this isn't a big problem because this app was chosen as one of the Best Apps of 2014 by Apple, and you still have the original images in your phone's photo gallery.
   Photojournalists don't have a lot of input over how our photos are published on the web and in the newspaper. But this app gives us back a little power. 
   Consider the many ways visual stories can be told. Take, for example, a recent high school basketball game I shot. Here are four ways my photos were published:
Screen grab from Toledo Blade newspaper's front sports page.
  1. Instagram. I decided to start out by shooting from a high angle, so I went to the top of the bleachers, in a corner facing the basket. I took a panoramic photo with my cell and posted it on Instagram.
  2. Steller. Then I remembered the Steller app. To tell a different story, I avoided being redundant with images, shooting photos and videos with my phone that I wouldn't have shot with my two DSLRs. 
  3. Toledo Blade newspaper. Because we have an early deadline for the print version of the newspaper, I transmitted my best 12 photos from the first two periods via Photo Mechanic FTP using an air card. This caused me to miss the entire third period.
  4. Toledo Blade website. I continued shooting in the fourth period, and sent the rest of the images for a photo gallery on the website.
   This app can be a powerful way to get our social media savvy youth, who often turn to YouTube and Snapchat for their 'news,' to view real stories about real people, places and things. And it's a fun way for us veteran shooters to have fun, too!
   For these reasons, I'm think this storytelling app is worth using and teaching.
Here are a few links to stories and reviews on Steller:
JEA Digital Media article on Steller
Storybench story on Steller and mobile reporting
Tutorials on the VSCO Cam app 

Steller story on the Detroit Auto Show: