What are the 7 rules of film framing and composition?

Framing and composition are some of the most important factors in great cinematography.

Telling a story through cinematic choices can seem daunting if you’re just starting out. Fortunately, if you know the basics of composition and framing, telling great visual stories becomes much more accessible.

These seven rules will help you improve your filmmaking skills today! No need for a new camera, new lenses or expensive equipment. This one video will be your key to improving. Now, none of these rules, if you even want to call them that, are set in stone. As we’ve seen, rules are meant to be broken and, in fact, many of our greatest filmmakers have ignored those conventions in their own work.

The important thing is that you do enlightened cinematic choices depending on what’s going on in your story and what your characters are going through emotionally.

Check out this Kellan Reck video and let’s talk after the jump.

Why framing and composition are important

1. The rule of thirds

This is the original rule of any composition. Jhe rule of thirds takes your frame and divides it into thirds, separated by four horizontal lines. You create a grid on your lens to put the weight of everything into perspective.

If you’re filming one of your actors, it becomes easier to see the “busiest” parts of the frame while drawing attention to how much of a presence your background is taking on. Depending on the shot, it also helps to better understand how in-frame placement of your actors can reinforce both the horizontal and vertical framing of your film. Follow this when you are first starting out. Break it when you get advanced.

2. Use lines to direct your viewers’ eyes

Leading lines are natural lines in your environment, such as fences, buildings, and roads. If you draw lines behind or in front of the subject, you draw the eyes to the subject. Likewise, chaotic lines can confuse people and add unease to a scene. Use as you see fit.

Sometimes much of the frame is overlooked by the human eye. Admittedly, we cannot focus on all elements of an image at once. Leading lines guide our eye to a specific point in the frame. Some leading line angles and directions are more effective at doing this than others.

3. Find balance

If you have a lot on one side of the frame and not a lot on the other, it may seem unbalanced. Try to fill your frame and balance the shot. Add a lamp or a tree or something that makes the viewer feel reclaimed and relaxed while watching. You also want to find some wiggle room, unless you’re going to a close camera angle. Just try to fill the frame appropriately and make every shot match the tone of the scene and the project.

4. Symmetry

Directly correlated to balance, symmetry is when the two sides of the frame match. This often happens in Wes Anderson films.

Adjust your angle so that there is equal balance on both sides of the frame. Again, this can be biased to change people’s emotions and highlight certain topics. But symmetry can also create a beautiful backdrop for the film. Like in an epic wide shot.

5. How to reach the depth

Play with the depth of field in your shot. The depth allows you to emphasize the subject. To do this, you can open the aperture which provides a shallow depth of field. It can be cinematic and surreal. You can remove distractions to really focus your audience (pun intended) on who you’re supposed to be looking at in frame.

Depth of field is a matter of focus. So a large depth of field means a larger area is in focus, even everything in frame. Sometimes this is called “deep concentration”.

6. Find a frame within a frame

Use elements from your surroundings to help frame your subject. Try shooting through a window or other natural opening. It subtly highlights the subject and tells the story.

There is a real psychology when it comes to framing. In film, the setting is everything. It’s the package that delivers all the visual information to your audience, which means that as a storyteller, you shouldn’t just worry about aesthetics, but about the messages your images convey.

7. Focus on the subject

It seems like every tip describes it, and every tool you’ve read here adds to that strategy. This is the basic narrative. We add Underline elements to make the audience feel connected and part of the story. It will also orient people to your themes and take them on an emotional journey.

Let me know what you think in the comments.


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