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5 Beginner Tips for Better Framing and Composition in Cinematography

By Rob Holder  |  14-Apr-2020

How do I define Cinematography? I can take the Google / Wikipedia definition of cinematography and describe it thus, 'cinematography is the art and the science of recording light either electronically onto an image sensor or chemically onto film'.

That is the literal definition of the word, but if we break down the word it combines the words 'cinema' and 'photography', so really we’re trying to define 'cinematic photography'; and that is subject to your own interpretation.

In other words, if we all conformed to the rules, followed one set of guidelines, we would produce the same work and the art form wouldn't move forward. But with cinematography, the beauty of it is that it's hugely open to interpretation. However, it's good to know the guidelines before you break them and every great cinematographer started somewhere, and here are some basic rules to start you on your cinematic and photographic journey.

Follow the Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is quite an 'easy win' when it comes to composing a film frame.
A lot of people when they buy their new camera can 'point and shoot'; but with the rule of thirds it's a step in the right direction towards 'photo art'.

What you’re doing is thinking about compositional framing in its most basic form.

The rule of thirds is essentially splitting your frame into thirds, so you can align your subject to sectional lines vertically and horizontally across your frame which makes it more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

The eye is naturally drawn to specific areas of a frame; so when an image is positioned and framed to be in a certain section of the image, then the 'naturalness' allows the picture to be more effective and rewarding to the viewer.

Here is the Wikipedia rule of thirds essential breakdown:

Create a shallow Depth of Field

There are two types of Depth of Field. There is a 'large' depth of field or a 'shallow' depth of field when it comes to photography.

In general terms, the depth of field refers to the area in the compositional frame / image that is in focus.

So if you have a 'large' depth of field then that is likely to have a lot of the subject matter in the frame to be in focus.

Alternatively, if you have a 'shallow' depth of field, it's likely that you're going to have a specific point in the frame in focus and the rest of the image may be blurry.

Here are some examples:

Large Depth of Field - majority of the image is in focus. Achieved with high aperture.

Shallow Depth of Field - specific point of reference/ model is in focus; the background is blurry, out of focus. Achieved with low aperture:

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

Use Leading Lines

Leading lines are great for compositional photography as what they aim to do is 'lead' the viewer to the subject. They can often start at the bottom of a photograph, or however the photographer wants to lead the viewer to the subject from any part of the frame and essentially focus the viewer on the centerpiece of the photograph.

This is a very popular image from Henri Cartier Bresson, a French photographer who was a pioneer in terms of street photography. In this photograph the focus is on the blurred cyclist, speeding away; but the use of the stairs and the banister to lead the viewer to the subject matter works superbly.

Use different colours to contrast

Colour science in photography is a vast topic when it comes to realising an image's potential; one where it warrants it's very own article on the subject itself. There are some basic rules you can think about here when getting into photography as a beginner.

The colour wheel illustrates the basic RGB (Red, Green, Blue) that define 'warmer' and 'cooler' colours which allow you to think about the infrastructure when composing a photograph. This basic colour wheel below illustrates the idea that the top half are warm colours whereas the bottom are cool colours:

Also, contrasting colours is an important aspect of photography and film. People talk about the 'orange and teal' effect when it comes to lighting and grading. The 'orange and teal' effect is common when it comes to grading as it's become the norm for a lot of videographers when grading or photographers in working with composition. It's because the colours are 'generally' meant to work well together and because there’s no 'difficult' contrast between the colours they are generally described as 'warm' and 'inviting'.

There is no hard fast and rule when it comes to colour composition in photography and my advice is to experiment with colour and lighting; but when it comes to street or nature photography, make sure you adapt your camera settings to ensure the best quality colour can come out of your image.

Shoot from different angles

Shooting from different angles basically means - BREAK THE RULES!!! There is no hard and fast rule in photography. It's important to understand your camera, get the basics down in terms of knowing the settings of your camera, planning your shoots/ subject matter that you want to photograph and get out there!

I think it's super important to remember that you have a creative voice like every other person on this wonderful planet. It's how you get closer to the image you have in your head that is the most important thing to realise.

As the saying goes, 'with my own two hands I can change the world', I tried googling it and supposedly the musicians Jack Johnson and Ben Harper also supposedly said it too. Either way, you’re at the beginning of your creative journey, so get out there! And shoot with your camera; who knows, you might just change the world.

Rob Holder is the Director of Fable Studios, a video production agency in Bristol, UK.

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