Six Fundamental Rules of Composition and Framing

Whether you are working on a corporate video project or you’re just about to dip your toes into the unpredictable waters of documentary filmmaking for the first time, there are certain cinematography rules you should follow to carry through the whole shooting successfully and get professional results in the end. The following video produced by Doug Guerra of B&H covers the fundamentals of composition and framing that are an essential base for every video and still production. Guerra also explains why you should follow these rules as well as how to make the most out of them to improve your work as a professional cinematographer.

Obviously, the rule of thirds is the most basic and well-known technique that can help you to frame your shots accordingly. It often creates a sense of balance of your frame and works surprisingly well on almost every occasion. When you’re using this rule, just try to place your primary object in the frame on one of the intersections of the three by three grid, thus avoiding putting your subject in the center of the frame.

You should stay away from the latter action simply because it’s usually considered as a poor decision unless you’re intentionally trying to draw the viewers attention to the center. Again, use the rule of thirds to shift your subject to either left or right most lines while keeping your talent off-center and looking at the opposite direction. Don’t place your subject at the same side they are facing as this approach creates too much negative space on that particular side of the frame.


One of the most important rules establishing continuity between the shots of your production is the 180-degree rule. When filming opposite angles, your camera should never cross the imaginary line between the two subjects in the frame. The camera should be shooting from only one side of the line to maintain continuity. If you put it on the opposite side, the characters would be looking in the wrong direction, something that you want to avoid.

Another rule you need to follow is leaving some headroom in your shots. Of course, there are exceptions such as the extreme close-ups of your characters. This approach is arguably more flexible when it comes to cinematic productions, but it’s something you should be aware of when shooting corporate videos, for instance.


Also, keep in mind that the last thing you and your clients want to see is a boring, flat looking images. That’s why it’s so important to add more depth to your shots thus making them look more three-dimensional. It’s paramount to create depth by positioning various elements in the foreground and background of your frame. Don’t be afraid to experiment with parallax and occlusion, look for different angles and perspectives, play wisely with depth of field, use lights, or just try any other technique that can help you to create more dynamic shots for your production.

At last but not least,  remember that all rules are made to be broken. Knowing how to break any of these will allow you to convey scenes in multiple ways and take your creativity to the next level. But if you want to break a rule, make sure you understand why you want to do it and how this approach would enhance your scene. Just like any aspect of art, every creative choice you make on set should be motivated and always working for your story.

[source: B&H]

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