February 10, 2015

Composition & Framing Can Help You Tell Great Stories with Your Cinematography. Here's How

Visual Storytelling through Composition and Framing Tutorial
Effectively telling a story through cinematographic choices can seem intimidating if you're just starting out. Luckily, if you know the basics of composition and framing, telling great visual stories becomes significantly more attainable.

Simon Cade of DSLRguide recently put together a fantastic tutorial (and blog post) that focuses on how you can use composition to tell better visual stories. Not only does he provide good visual examples for everything that he's talking about, but he gives some excellent insights into how and why to use each of these techniques. Check out the tutorial below.

While most of these concepts are ones that we've talked about extensively on this site (contrast, composition, framing), it's really helpful for aspiring cinematographers to be able to see them all explained and demonstrated in one video. Internalizing all of these concepts allows us to build a toolkit that we can easily apply to whatever we're working on.

One of the key pieces of information that was only briefly touched upon in this video, however, is that storytelling through cinematography is essentially the art of visually depicting change. If your characters go through a major change during the script, let the your cinematographic choices reflect that change. Let's say that a character starts out timid, shy, terrified of the world around him. You could start with framings that minimize character size while emphasizing and enlarging the environment around him. Wide angle lenses are fantastic for this purpose. Then, as the story progresses and the character becomes more confident, your framings and lens choice begin to mimic that change. Instead of wide angles, you choose longer focal lengths that isolate your character from his foreground and background, and frame him so that he is larger or equal in the frame than the other characters around him.

The other key insight from this video is that none of these rules, if you even want to call them that, are set in stone. As we've seen, rules are meant to be broken, and in fact, many of our greatest filmmakers disregarded these conventions in their own work. The important thing is that you make informed cinematography choices based on what's happening in your story and what your characters are experiencing emotionally.

What are some of your tips and tricks for visual storytelling with composition and framing? Let us know down in the comments!     

Your Comment

12 Comments

Great post! Keep them coming ;)

February 11, 2015 at 4:59AM

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Great Help for my new project! Thx!

February 11, 2015 at 5:11AM

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Filippou Chris
VFX/Editor/Director/Cinematographer
96

This was truly helpful...thanks!!

February 11, 2015 at 6:12AM, Edited February 11, 6:12AM

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Shiladitya Biswas
Cinematographer/Editor
86

Cheers Robert Hardy. I do find the information presented here to be very helpful. A lot of the techniques described here do take time to become second-nature for many cinematographers -- so much that they are able to apply the right technique for the right effect within their story. So it's always best to practice, practice, practice.

Well Done

February 11, 2015 at 12:06PM

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O'Shea Morgan
Video Editor, Photographer, Producer, DP, Cinematographer
81

The problem I have with people who want to make movies is that they forget that the camera, the lights are for the filmmaker what the paint brush and the pencil are for the painter. There are things you learn and there are some other things that are just common sens. you don't learn common sens. You do or don't have it.

February 11, 2015 at 1:26PM

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Menelikk
Computer Scientist/Film Director
222

Pretty good advice. Here's some for you: don't shoot in front of a window when the sun is going down.

February 11, 2015 at 5:26PM, Edited February 11, 5:26PM

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Nick
83

Really?
I think you missed the point: This is an informative video and it's not important if the sun is going down and the background is getting darker.
This guy made a great job with his video. He explaines everything in a very easy form, easy to understand for everybody, and I think that's the important thing about the video ;)

February 20, 2015 at 10:02AM

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Roy Fochtman
2BadMen | Filmmaker | Photographer
81

Aside from this being produced by children for children, though it may contain some points worthy of attention, this is is some of the least compelling footage yet seen on NFS. If you're looking to a teenager to teach you something about cinematography, maybe you should think about a different line of work. He did mention Shane Hurlbut and if he had just started his video with that and ended it, we would all be better off.

If you want to 'learn' something about cinematography, look to the masters. Pop a disc in your player, mute the volume and don't hesitate to hit the pause and rewind buttons often.

And I have to agree with Menelikk... You either have it or you don't. Having an 'eye' can't be taught or learned. It comes from within. It is instinctual. You can't learn to be a good cinematographer. Especially from someone just out of kindergarten.

Let the negative clicks begin.

February 12, 2015 at 7:44AM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
1169

I think we'll just have to agree to disagree. I believe that the fundamentals of cinematography can be taught, and that people can become good or even great cinematographers by practicing extensively and continuously seeking new knowledge about the craft. And for what it's worth, Simon did a fantastic job at explaining and demonstrating some of those fundamentals in this video, and he framed them with insights that are atypical for someone his age.

February 12, 2015 at 12:40PM

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Robert Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker's Process
4299

Wow, dude... You suck. Haha
Little ol David did kill a huge giant. Just saying.... Age doesn't matter. What are you, like pushin' 60?

February 27, 2015 at 2:13PM

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Will Watkins
Cinematographer // Editor
246

Richard was a little bit "nasty" with the age "joke"..but everything else he said was spot on..
And Will..your right..age(too a degree) doesn`t matter.
But then you make an age "joke" in return..jeez... :)

May 25, 2015 at 4:22AM

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Mike Williams
Mr Amateur
86

It's always good to remember this kind of stuff. It's also amazing how these things actually end up being used even without us thinking about it, like an instinct.

Really cool video.

March 30, 2015 at 10:19PM

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Eduardo
Writer/Photographer
81