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Shot Composition

When you’re making a film, the composition of shots is crucial. It helps to tell your story visually and can make your film a more immersive and engaging experience for your audience. This isn’t an exhaustive collection of compositional techniques, but it’s a good starting point to learn more about the subtle and complex art of shot composition.

Shot composition

Shot composition

When you’re making a film, the composition of shots is crucial. It helps to tell your story visually…

Conventional

When you're shooting a scene, there are certain things that you just have to do. They're part of the expected language of film. Whether they realise it or not, your audience sees these conventional shots as normal and natural, thanks to watching thousands of hours of film and television. Establishing shots, rule of thirds and close ups are all expected and conventional techniques that you will use when shooting most scenes. In addition to that, there are also rules of framing - such as headroom and look room - that must be observed.

Close up

Close up

The humble close up. One of the most frequently used shots in film and television. And, perhaps,…

Establishing shot

Establishing shot

Establishing shots are an essential part of film language. They are like the glue that hold your scenes together,…

Over the shoulder shot

Over the shoulder shot

The over the shoulder shot is one of the most commonly used types of shot composition in film and…

Rule of thirds

Rule of thirds

When composing shots for film and television, the rule of thirds is an essential compositional technique. The rule…

Two shot

Two shot

A two shot is any frame that contains two characters. It’s an important part of the coverage you’ll pick…

Space

When composing a shot, you need to decide where characters and objects are going to appear from left to right within the frame. Deciding how you will use space goes beyond simply creating a well-balanced shot. Will there be a normal, natural space between the characters? Will they be closer together to convey intimacy? Will they be far apart to show some kind of emotional distance? Will you have both characters occupying the same quadrant to demonstrate some kind of threat? Making the correct decision about how to use space will help you tell your story in a more dynamic and more visual manner.

Centre framing

Centre framing

Rule of thirds is probably the most pervasive framing technique in film and television. Why? Because it…

Crowding the frame

Crowding the frame

Crowding the frame is a great way to convey that your characters are threatened or have been…

Distance

Distance

Short of framing them separately, putting physical distance between two characters is one of the best ways…

Edge of the frame

Edge of the frame

Positioning your characters at the edge of the frame is often used to convey a sense of isolation…

No nose room

No nose room

No nose room is a great way to make your characters seem trapped and without options. When…

Quadrants

Quadrants

According to Tony Zhou, you don’t need an expensive camera to tell a story. All you need…

Symmetry

Symmetry

Using symmetry in your composition helps to convey a sense of balance, stability and, in some cases, boredom. Symmetry…

Depth

Great filmmakers always consider how they will use depth in their shots. Rich, dynamic shots that feel cinematic often use the foreground, middle ground and background to tell the story. In some cases, flat staging might help tell your story.

Deep staging

Deep staging

Deep staging is one of the secrets for creating engaging and aesthetically pleasing cinematic images. To create deep staging…

Flat staging

Flat staging

Flat staging involves composing an image which with an absence of depth and perspective. In many cases, using depth – including…

Inside out

Inside out

Although it can be a bit cliched, positioning your camera inside an object – such as a refrigerator,…

Perspective

Perspective

Depth is the key to creating cinematic shots. Look for opportunities on location to create a sense of perspective. Pathways,…

Shot size

When you're shooting a scene, you need to decide on the best shot size to tell your story. In many cases, first time filmmakers are reluctant to get the camera close enough to their subjects. When you're planning your shoot, always think about what's important to the story and get in close!

Extreme close up

Extreme close up

The extreme close up is incredibly important.  When you’re telling any story, there are small details you…

Jonathan Demme close up

Jonathan Demme close up

What the heck is the Jonathan Demme Close Up and how does it differ from a regular tight close…

Tight close up

Tight close up

The tight close up is a terrific way to emphasise an actor’s performance and hint at their…

Angle

Most of the time, when you're framing up a shot, it will be shot at eye level. It's normal, natural and doesn't draw attention to itself. It's how your audience perceives the world. Moving away from a balanced, eye-level shot changes the way your audience understands the scene and its characters. High angle shots are often used to convey powerlessness whereas low angle shots create a sense of strength. Canting the shot can create a sense of disequilibrium because the they are unexpected and unconventional.

Canting

Canting

Canting is a compositional technique you can use when you want to convey that something is wrong to…

High angle

High angle

High angle shots are often used to convey a lack of power or weakness. In The Avengers (2012)…

Low angle

Low angle

Low angle shots are often used to convey a sense of power. In Drive (2011), director Nicholas…

Overshot

Overshot

An overshot is often used to convey absolute powerlessness. In Thor (2011), director Kenneth Branagh uses an…

Undershot

Undershot

An undershot is when the camera is positioned directly beneath the subject, looking up. Given that this is an unusual…

Lens choice

Deciding on the right lens to shoot a scene is crucial. Will you use a wide angle lens? Is it going to be a lens that approximates normal human vision? Maybe a telephoto lens will give you the look you desire. If you're just starting out and are having difficulty deciding which lens is best to shoot your scene, consider watching this video to get you started.

Long lens over the shoulder

Long lens over the shoulder

When you’re shooting dialogue, using a telephoto lens reduces perspective and the distance between characters. Combining a long lens with an…

Wide angle close up

Wide angle close up

Getting close to your subject with a wide angle lens will distort the fact of your actor and…

Wide angle medium shot

Wide angle medium shot

Using a wide angle lens when shooting dialogue allows you to position the camera between the actors. In his…

Staging

Staging refers to the arrangement of characters and objects within a frame. Where you put characters and objects in relationship to each other makes a significant contribution to your story. As noted in Professional Storyboarding: Rules of Thumb: "Choreographing your shots and characters in an exciting way creates efficiency with the scene and will bring even the dullest script to life. Interesting staging can cover up bad dialogue and give needed visual interest to unappealing characters."

Back to the camera

Back to the camera

Positioning an actor with their back to the camera is one way to create a sense of mystery and…

Behind legs

Behind legs

Camera height makes a huge contribution to storytelling. While it’s most conventional to position the camera around…

Circles

Circles

Using circles in your composition – whether they are formed by the setting, props or the arrangement of…

Cowboy shot

Cowboy shot

The cowboy shot is usually associated with westerns. Filmed from waist height and usually showing a gunslinger’s…

Facing away

Facing away

Having your character facing away from the person they’re talking to is a great way to film a confession…

Frame within a frame

Frame within a frame

Using a frame within a frame is a great way to draw your audience’s attention to part…

Mirror talk

Mirror talk

Mirror talk is a great way to get away from conventional shot reverse shot when shooting dialogue and inject a…

Reflections

Reflections

Many different surfaces – everything from windows to puddles – can be used to create reflections that can…

Silhouettes

Silhouettes

Silhouettes are a great way to make someone look menacing or mysterious. Simply position your actor in…