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Composition: Framing your shot

What are the 'rules' of shot composition in filmmaking? Tom Barrance explains the basics, including the rule of thirds and the golden section.

As we’ve seen, it’s important to think about how much to include in each shot. It’s also important to consider how to arrange things within the frame. This is called composition.

Image of rule of thirds grid

To make your framing seem natural, put the main subject well off centre, but not too far. The ‘rule of thirds’ is a rough guide. It says that main subjects, edges or horizons should be about a third of the way across, up or down the frame.

Most cameras and phones let you overlay a ‘rule of thirds’ grid to help with this.

Image of golden section framing

You could also try to follow the golden section, which is a bit closer to the centre.

Image of centred framing

You could put things dead centre, or use symmetrical framing, instead. This can look stylish, but it can also seem very formal.

To make viewers feel uncomfortable, you could use framing that’s very unbalanced. This can suggest that something is wrong.

Image of Dutch angle

A Dutch angle puts everything on a slant. It’s another way to make things look strange or disturbing.

Edges

Check the edges of the frame. Make sure you haven’t got something odd sticking into the frame, or that you haven’t cut someone in half.

Be definite

  • If the shot is supposed to be centred, make sure it really is centred.
  • If it’s supposed to be at an angle, make it a definite angle.
  • Keep the shot level. The grid can help with this.
  • If you’re deliberately filming a Dutch angle shot, make it obvious so people don’t think it’s a mistake.

*Image credits: Tom Barrance 2022

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How to Make a Short Film: An Introduction to Filmmaking

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