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Instructor: Kathy Cennamo

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Shot Composition

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Composition refers to the organization of pictorial elements in a frame. Every image should have a single story to tell. The purpose of composition is to direct your viewer's eye to the central point or "story" in your scene. Regardless of the particular subject, composition of the frame is important. You want to present a picture to your audience that is unified, shows the relationship between the elements in the frame, and is aesthetically pleasing. Everything in a frame is important, not just the subject!

There are 5 basic rules of composition for video:

1. Simplicity

Don't place your primary subject against a busy or congested background. Each scene should have a single story to tell. To simplify your shot, you may need to alter the camera position, alter the size of the image, or select the right background.

Notice the improvement in shot composition when the subject moves.

2. Rule of Thirds

  • Mentally divide your viewfinder into thirds horizontally and vertically.
  • Place your primary point of interest on the intersection of two lines.
  • Lines of interest should occur at 1/3 or 2/3 of the way up (or across) the frame, rather than at the center.
  • In shots of people, the main line of interest is the imaginary line going through the subject's eyes. So try to place the eyes about 1/3 from the top of the screen.

See how the rule of thirds works in practice:

3. Framing

Look for natural "frames" within your scene.

Also, beware of horizontal and vertical lines in the frame (edges of buildings, counter tops, picture frames, and so forth). Make sure the horizontal lines are level and the vertical lines are straight up and down.

Notice the natural frame in these images: 

Video on this page shot for this program by David Halpin, edited by David Halpin & Todd Smith, 1999.

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