How journalists use Snapchat’s pencil, stickers and filters to tell better stories

Paul Bradshaw
May 19, 2016 · 6 min read

In this extract from my ebook Snapchat for Journalists, I look at the key tools in Snapchat Stories.

This post is an edited extract from the ebook Snapchat for Journalists

Using pencils

Aside from captions you can also illustrate images and video with filters, pencil annotations and stickers.

The pencil tool can be used by tapping the pencil icon in the upper right corner after taking your image or video snap. This will open up a slider which you can use to choose your pencil colour (on iPhone to get black you will need to drag your finger past the slider and all the way to the bottom right of the screen; to get white drag your finger from the slider to the upper left corner of the screen).

The pencil can be used in a number of ways but common techniques include:

  • Highlighting some element in the image or video, by circling it and/or drawing an arrow pointing to it
  • Making caption text easier to read by colouring behind it (text will always appear on top of pencil marks)
  • Writing text
  • Drawing on top of an image: for example giving someone a pair of sunglasses
Two examples of pencils being used in journalists’ Snapchat stories

Once you have made one mark with the pencil you can also change the colour and make further marks. An ‘undo’ button appears next to the pencil button so you can cycle back and undo each mark in turn.

Using stickers/emojis

The BBCnews account used an applause emoji in its coverage of Obama’s visit

To add a sticker tap the sticker icon at the top right of the screen, to the left of the text button. You will be shown a series of emojis: you can either scroll down to browse through these, or use the category buttons at the bottom to navigate (you can also swipe left and right to switch between category).

Common uses of emojis include:

  • Adding commentary: for example a ‘laughing’ emoji to indicate you think something is funny, or an ‘applause’ emoji to show approval
  • Illustration (indicative): an ‘applause’ emoji in this case might indicate that people are applauding in the picture or video
  • Illustration (literal): for example adding a ‘crown’ emoji to the top of someone’s head, or placing shifty eyes on top of real eyes

Once placed, stickers can be moved using one finger, but also resized and rotated using two fingers (as with text above).

If you are using stickers with video, and there are people or objects moving in that video, you can also get the sticker to move with a person or thing.

To do this, when you place the sticker on the person or thing, press and hold it until it swells. When you play the video the sticker should move as the person/thing does so that, for example, a crown stays on someone’s head as they move across the frame.

Snapchat filters: speed up and slow down video, add timestamps and special stamps

This BBC snap uses the time filter with a caption to set the scene

Snapchat filters are about more than just Instagram-style Polaroid theming: they also allow you to speed up video, slow it down, and add special stamp overlays (‘geofilters’) related to the place where you are (for example a London skyline), or a topical event (for example Mother’s Day).

Filters are turned on in your settings:

  • Tap on the Snapchat icon at the top of the screen when in filming mode (the default screen when you open the app), or swipe down.
  • You should now see your profile. Tap the ‘settings’ icon in the upper right corner.
  • Tap on ‘Manage’ under ‘Additional services’
  • Switch filters on. You will need to have location services enabled — this means Snapchat knows where you are. Note that this is a problem if you’re meeting sensitive sources, so think carefully about turning this on, and making sure you disable location services for Snapchat if you are meeting a source.

Once turned on, to use filters take your image or video and then swipe left or right. If you swipe right the first five or so filters are all Instagram-style ones that change the colour/saturation of your image or video, including a black and white option.

After that you get to the filters which display sensor data from your phone such as speed, temperature and time (the time stamp in particular can be useful for news reporting), and finally the geofilter overlays if you are in a location which Snapchat is pushing these out to.

This snap has a special ‘presidential visit’ overlay and uses the pencil feature to point to the president

If you are using filters on a video you get some extra filters after these ones: the ‘snail’ filter will turn your video into slo-mo; the ‘hare’ filter will speed it up and the ‘faster hare’ will speed it up even more. Finally a ‘rewind’ filter will reverse your video. You can access these filters quickly by swiping left-to-right after filming your video instead of right-to-left.

Sped up and slo-mo video both have obvious news reporting applications: slo-mo if you happen to capture a vital moment which bears close scrutiny; and sped-up video to compress time when you want to communicate a passage of time quickly (such as the walk from one place to another).

The Instagram-style filters can also be useful in making text captions easier to read against a photo or video.

Lenses: exaggerating facial features, turning it into something else, or swapping faces

In addition to filters, if your video is going to include a face you can use Snapchat’s ‘lenses’ feature. To use this, point your camera at a face, and then press and hold the face on screen.

A ‘grid’ should appear over the face to indicate that it has been recognised by the app, and a series of lenses options should appear along the bottom of the screen.

Scroll across these options to see the effect created by each one. Some respond to the face’s actions: for example when the mouth is opened, or eyebrows raised.

Once you’ve applied a lens you can then record a video or take a picture with that lens applied.

Popstar! Magazine used the face swap lens with star twins who guest hosted their Snapchat story

The ‘face swap’ lenses are particularly interesting: one will swap any two faces on screen (so that your face is on someone else’s head and vice versa); but a more recently added lens also allows you to take a face from a photo in your photo roll, and place it on your own.

Keep checking for new lenses every now and then: they change all the time (this also means lenses are removed, so if you want to use a lens do so while you can).

You can read about other types of stories, Snapchat techniques and ways to use the tools in my ebook Snapchat for Journalists (also available in the Kindle store)

Thoughts On Journalism

Taking on the problems and challenges in journalism. Spreading ideas, passions and new ways of thinking about media. A publication run by Media Lab Bayern.

Paul Bradshaw

Written by

Write the @ojblog. I run the MA in Data Journalism and the MA in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism @bcumedia and wrote @ojhandbook #scrapingforjournos

Thoughts On Journalism

Taking on the problems and challenges in journalism. Spreading ideas, passions and new ways of thinking about media. A publication run by Media Lab Bayern.