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Composition

| Composition | | Shots, Angles and Movement |

Composition refers to the way the shot looks. What images are placed in front of the camera? Where are the images placed? What lights and colors are used? These questions all go into making up the composition. How you compose your shot, depends on your goals. The best camera operators and cinematograhers are able to predict which detail the viewer's eye will focus on and when the viewer's attention will shift to another detail. Some of this happens in the editing process, sets, costumes and make-up also play a role, but the most decisive factor is composition.

Arranging the Elements

Controlling the composition-knowing what's in the shot, what's not in the shot and why-is all about arranging your elements. There are three basic ways to arrange the elements within your composition.

  1. Physically move/rearrange objects in or out of the frame. The light in one corner of the room is perfect, but the walls are a boring, institutional gray. Find something to hang on the wall. Find objects like a bookshelf or houseplants to surround your subject.

  2. Ask your subject(s) to move. Don't be afraid to tell your talent that the light is better over here, or that you have to make sure the camera and microphone are pointed away from the sounds of the street and you therefore need to reposition yourselves accordingly.

  3. Move yourself and the camera. Don't just settle for having your subject in the frame, wander about until you've found the best angle. If your subject won't take orders from you, if it's a crowd or a building for instance, then this may be your only option for building a better shot.

Fill the Frame

When we operate a camera, our minds sometimes exaggerate what we see through the viewfinder or on the LCD screen. Objects appear bigger than they actually are and we tend not to notice 'slight' distractions. It's easy to end up with huge areas of wasted space around and people with things growing out of their heads. To avoid this, make sure your subject fills the frame. The best way to do this is to move a bit closer. Before you begin recording, have a quick look round the edge of the frame and behind your subject. In this way you can be certain the viewer pays attention to what you want them to pay attention to.

Once you're good at keeping your camera steady and the subject in focus, experiment with manual controls. Filling the frame intentionally is one way to clue your audience into what is important in the frame, but selective focus-making certain some things are in focus while others are not-or rack focus -shifting focus from one object to another-will eliminate any questions all together. For more on this subject, go to www.internetcampus.org/tvp012.htm.

Rule of Thirds

It's not only important to fill the frame with objects you intend for the viewer to notice, but it's also important to consider where within the frame those objects should be placed. There are many rules that filmmakers have developed that govern how shots are framed. The most important and widely used is the rule of thirds, which is not so much a rule as it is a practical guideline.

Having the subject in the middle of the frame is boring. This is especially so if your video project has a lot of "talking head" interviews. To help keep your video visually interesting you'll want to mix up the placement of the subject when you're composing your shots. The thing is, you can't just put your subject anywhere. Just as the middle of the frame is boring, putting your subject at the bottom of the frame or in one of the corners can be awkward or even jarring. If you're not going for awkward or jarring then you don't want to do that. So what do you do?

Boring Composition Good Composition

Composition not so good.

Composition better.

According to the rule of thirds, you should split the frame into three sections vertically and three sections horizontally, then place your subject along one of the lines or at the intersection of two of the lines. For long or wide shots, you should feel free to use any of the lines or intersections, but when shooting interviews, the subject's eyes are usually put along the top line or about a third of the way from the top of the frame.

Walking/Talking Room:

Boring Composition Walking/Talking Room is the space left in the frame across which your subjects look at each other or walk towards something. In this way, the presence of someone or something outside of the frame is indicated or implied in your shot. When a subject is moving through the frame in a long or wide shot, space is provided at the side of the frame for the subject to move into. This is walking room or leading the subject.

Good Composition To leave "talking room," place the subject nearer to the side of the frame that they are NOT looking. The extra space between the subjects nose and the far side of the frame, indicates a person just outside of the frame to whom your subject is speaking.

The over-the-shoulder shot is a variation on this theme; the space in front of the speaker is filled by the back of someone's head, presumably the other person in the conversation.

If the subject is speaking directly to the camera or the viewers, as does a news anchor for instance, it can still be useful to place them to one side of the frame. In this case the empty space is often filled with an image such as a team logo or map.

Bear in mind, subjects are not always people. The rule of thirds applies to architecture, landscapes, rivers, foliage, animals, aliens, whatever. Cutting the frame into two equal parts by placing a horizon or a skyscraper smack dab in the middle of the frame is likely to cause a symmetry that just doesn't feel natural. On the other hand, if you're not going for natural, an unnatural symmetry may be the way to go. The trick is figuring out how to break the rules so you can achieve the effect that you want. Whether you use the rule of thirds or not, you should always try to create an interesting shot. If your frame is filled with meaningful objects or the objects are meaningfully filling the frame, your shot is less likely to look awkward.

Artists, still photographers, cinematographers and serious videographers, can spend their entire lives studying composition. So don't let your exploration of the subject end with this page. For more detailed information about composition for film and video go to www.cybercollege.com/tvp022.htm.

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