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Elements of Visual Style: How to Build a Photo Story With Adobe Slate


As photographers, we are all engaged in the art of telling stories. When new tools like Adobe Slate come along that are ideal for visual storytelling, it’s a great reason to get excited about the possibilities. In this tutorial you’ll learn how to make the most of Slate’s features and create a photo story.

Slate has a lot of advantages: it’s easy to use, the stories look great no matter what device, and (best of all) it’s free. If you have an iPad you’ll want to check it out. I recently built a story using Slate to tell the story of a musician friend of mine. Read on for tips that will help you get the most out of Slate.

The Cover Photo

The image at the top of your story is the first opportunity to grab the attention of your viewers. You’ll want to choose a strong image to grab the viewer’s attention and draw them into the story.

Slate cover image
This image lends itself well to the cover photo format. It features the subject of my story prominently, but is minimal enough that text can be overlayed nicely as well.

How to Choose a Great Cover Photo

However, not just any image will work as the cover photo. Choose something that works well with a text overlay as the headline. An image that’s somewhat minimalist in feel is often ideal for the cover photo.

  • Look for an image with a simple, graphic composition
  • Make sure the image fits with the visual feel of the story as a whole, but doesn’t spoil any of the plot twists you may wish to show
  • Position your text to complement the cover photo, dragging the headline to ensure it doesn’t block the subject
Alternative cover image
This is a strong image, but not the best choice for the cover photo. I tried text in a few different positions, but ultimately think that there is too much detail to be used as a cover photo.

Image-Only Cover Option

If you’re committed to using an image for the cover that doesn’t fit with a text headline you can skip adding text altogether. In this case, create a pseudo headline in the block immediately after the cover photo instead.

Set the Focal Point

The next thing to do is set a focal point. When setting a focal point, Slate will show you a preview of how the story will appear in portrait orientation. This step ensures that the story will look great with either viewing orientation. You can learn more about how to set this in my previous tutorial, on how to get started with Slate.

Choose a focal point
Setting the focal point ensures that the story appears correctly whether the viewer has a portrait or landscape oriented device.

Block Party

After you’ve set your cover photo it’s time to add a content block. A content block is a photo, text, link, grid, or glideshow that you can use to create your story. Tap the plus (+) icon to get started.

Create a block
Adobe Slate offers several different content block options, including text, photos, photo grids, and a unique “glideshow” view.

Building stories with Slate is all about stringing together these content blocks in a way that keeps the energy flowing and the reader engaged. You’ll use a mix of the written word and images to tell a cohesive story.

Copy and Text

After you’ve drawn the viewer in with a strong cover photo, the first content block is a great opportunity to introduce the story with text. A text block can be used to add body copy, headlines, pullquotes, or lists.

Introduction copy
The text tool is flexible, and allows for the addition of headlines, pullquotes, and ordered lists. Bold and italic text can be used to set off major portions of the story.

The written word offers a limitless number of options, so try following these key tips when building visual stories:

  • Use heading elements (H1, H2) to set off changes in topic or major sections
  • Use pullquotes to emphasize your strongest points
  • Use image captions to help bridge the gap between the visual story and full text story


Although photo is just one content block selection there are many options for inserting an image.

After inserting an image, you can tap it to change its exact presentation. From the overlaid menu you can show the photo inline with text, filling the screen entirely, windowed with text, or spanning the device’s width.

The full-width image option is one of my favorite ways to make major point with an image. Spanning the full-width of the device, this selection makes sure your viewer is focused on the visual side of your story.

As a photographer, images are sure to be a major focus of your story. Use the variety of image presentation options in variation to ensure a good flow for the story:

  • Inline photos keep continuity with the text: they are good to use when you want to create a minor visual pause between two areas of body copy in the same section.
  • Full-screen photos take up all available real-estate: These are key images with a lot to say.
  • Full-width images come in a little less intrusively than full-screen ones. They still deliver a lot of visual information, but they aren’t the full-stop of a full-screen image.
  • Windowed images allow you to overlay text, but use this sparingly; it can look bad when overdone.


Pairing photographs is a key part of visual storytelling, and one of the best ways to do that is with a photo grid. They can be perfect for showing action in sequence, progression over time, or simply related images. Add grids in sections where it is important to keep images visually paired together.

I like to use grids to pair either similar images or contrasting images. Pairing images takes experimentation. Often an unlikely combination is the most striking! Play with your images by making combinations to see how they work.

A photo grid
Building image grids with Slate is a breeze. Simply add a grid content block, and then choose the images you want to add to it.


Adobe added the Glideshow block after my first look at Slate, and it’s a great feature for joining images with text. When you insert a Glideshow, Slate has you select a single image and then add text as an overlay.

A glideshow
The Glideshow feature is perfect for a large format image accompanied by a text explanation.

For the viewer, this text will fade in as you scroll over the image. This feature is perfect for a prominent image that benefits from a text description.

Theme Options

Slate offers a number of one-touch theme options to change the font and overall visual style of the stories. In many apps it makes sense to choose the theme first and roll out content later. In Slate, I recommend doing the opposite.

When you’re focused on content first you’re focused on storytelling, and that’s what’s most important here. The themes are easy to change later, and they’re all fundamentally interchangeable, so there’s no sense in focusing on them until the story is cohesively stitched together.

Comparison of two themes
In this screenshot, you can see the difference between two themes that come with Slate: Baldwin (at left) and Tereza. You can switch between themes with ease so focus on building content first.

I’m really curious to see where Slate’s themes feature goes in the future. Adobe could potentially add many more visual styles, and perhaps could even allow users to submit custom themes.

More importantly, I’m hoping that Adobe allows the tool to break away from themes and eventually allows for custom font selection without changing whole theme. In any case, my recommendation is to build out your content first and apply themes later.


Online visual stories are becoming increasingly popular and sophisticated as photographers strive to find new ways to communicate directly with their audiences. Adobe Slate is one of the easiest-to-use and quickest ways to do this. It’s not the most complex platform of it’s type, but it creates a consistent, responsive, good-looking product and it’s easy to use for a wide variety of projects. Using the basic storytelling principles we’ve you’ve learned here and all the features Slate offeres and you’ll be making compelling stories in no time.

How are you using visual storytelling? If you’ve created a story with Adobe Slate, make sure to share the link in the comments.

Keep Learning

  1. How to Publish Slick and Stylized Visual Stories in Minutes with Adobe Slate
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  3. A Journey to Thailand - a Slate Example
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