With all the new camera and post-production technology available in film or video production these days, it’s easy to get caught up in the ocean of equipment and accessories.It can be distracting, sometimes even overwhelming, and many artists upgrade their tools and then simply continue to do the same things they’ve always done. That works, sometimes.
But it’s not all about the equipment. The RED camera is incredible for a lot of reasons, from its ability to work well in dark lighting conditions to the abundance of adjustments it allows for in post.
One element, though, that the RED and all these new toys haven’t improved on too much is attaining a pleasing frame composition. Yes, you can zoom into a shot in the editing programs now and tweak the composition, but a well-framed shot is a well-framed shot, from the outset.
Now, that doesn’t mean that achieving a well-framed shot is easy. There’s truly an art to it. So, let’s go over why frame composition is so important and some of the things you can do to create aesthetically pleasing setups for your next film or video production project.
Know your limits.
First off, as far as all that new equipment we mentioned, you or the video production company you hire needs to know the parameters of the tools you’re using, such as the frame rate capabilities or how the camera responds to certain lighting conditions.
The last thing you want is to do a bunch of work in pre-production, like storyboarding and shot lists, only to find out that your equipment was never capable of attaining the shot the way you envisioned it in the first place.
The same goes for the lenses you intend to use for the project. You must understand and use them appropriately. You need to have a firm grasp of how the lenses will affect the appearance of the subject and the space, and also how they respond to different light environments.
It’s not just the tools, know the dramatic intentions too.
Get to know the dramatic intentions, full well. What I mean by that is, you should always have a solid grasp of what the emotional purpose of a shot is supposed to be.
If you understand why, dramatically, a shot is needed, then you can control the frame composition accordingly. This could mean reading the script, if there is one, or just familiarizing yourself with the material and the intentions of its creators.
Before you take any action or make any decisions on how to capture the project’s action, do your homework. You must have a firm grasp of the equipment you intend to use and its limitations, as well as know the material and the dramatic purpose of the setups before deciding how to, actually, set them up.
Position, distance, and angle.
These are the pillars of frame composition. The balance of these elements will evoke a certain emotion from the viewer. Naturally, the tactics change based on the nature of the material and the intent of its use, but there are some basics you simply need to get right, every time out.
Lead room is one those basic topics. You don’t want to put the subject dead center, at least not always. Especially in talking head-type projects like a corporate interview, you want to leave the subject a little lead room by positioning them, even just slightly, off center.
As far as distance, again, it’s circumstantial. Close ups traditionally bring the viewer closer to the personal experience of the subject, but be careful to use them appropriately because you don’t need to bring the viewer into the intimate experience of every passerby on the street either.
If you’re following a private eye in a scene, on the other hand, long shots of the action may be the best way to portray the emotion of the scene. You need to think about the perspective and emotion you want to create for the audience.
The same goes for camera angles and movement in film or video production. Certain angles tend to evoke certain emotions. For instance, low angle shots can lend the subject a towering, even sinister look while high angle shots lean towards making the subject seem weak or vulnerable. Choose angles for a reason.
As far as camera moves, they all have an inherent effect and should be used only when appropriate to the material. Just like the tools discussed above, moving the camera is extremely effective, when used correctly.
The bottom line: Subject position, distance in the frame, and the camera angle or movement will vary depending on the project. But no matter what, consistency is key.
Also, if you overuse any cinematic technique, you run the risk of the move losing its appeal or effect, the more people see it. You don’t want to beat a dead horse or spread yourself too thin.
Use a viewfinder, of any kind, and control DOF.
Another helpful tip is to begin looking at things with the parameters of a frame always in mind. You could use a viewfinder or even just make a square with your hands if need be. The point is to get used to looking at things in terms of how they’ll appear and work together within the frame.
Composition isn’t just about the balance of what’s in the frame, but the effect created by what’s been left out of it as well. It’s truly a new way of looking at things, and the sooner you get used to that notion the better
Also, execute precise control over your use of the depth of field, or what’s in focus and what’s out. DOF is one the most useful ways to direct the audience’s attention where you want it.
Think of the bigger picture when framing yours.
You need to think of frame composition within a larger framework. You need to see the bigger picture before you frame it.
Whichever clever combination of words you choose to say it, the point remains the same; you must be able to envision how the composition will work with the other images that make up the film or video.
It’s not advantageous to treat every single shot composition like a one-off, stand alone piece of work. Editing is a huge part of the storytelling process in film and video production, so it doesn’t make much sense to go about your business ignoring that concept.
It’s like the old Gestalt principle. You need to stay aware of how the interactions between compositions, and the effects they create, will add meaning to the piece as a whole.
Do a thorough inspection and keep inspiration on hand.
Before moving forward, inspect the frame thoroughly. You’d be surprised how many video artists and filmmakers concentrate so intensely on one element of the frame, trying to get it just right, that they then miss something somewhere else and the shot ends up useless.
Also, take some time to do some research in the early stages of pre-production. Create a portfolio of visual inspirations for the project. This could be from magazines, other films, etc. The point is to compile images that, in some way, capture the mood, tone, and/or visual palette that you’re striving for with your production.
So, no matter what equipment you’re shooting with or the nature of your film or video production project, frame composition is crucial to its effectiveness and success.
Remember, framing will vary for each piece of work, but follow these rules and apply these concepts when appropriate, and you may just end up with a masterpiece inside of that frame.
Check out KVibe Productions’ Film Reel to see a variety of frame compositions from some of our previous work.
KVibe Productions is a full-service video production company. Whether it’s a product video production, a corporate video, or a commercial production, KVibe offers the total package of multimedia services from development through distribution.