How to Avoid Some of the Most Common Mistakes in Composition
If you want to capture better images you have to understand good composition.
"My camera is such a piece of shit." That's what I told myself after spending an entire day shooting less than thrilling images for a class. I'd go home, offload my media, and gasp in horror at just how amateurish it all looked. "That's f**king it. I'm buying a new camera." But the problem wasn't with my camera; it was with my ability to compose dynamic and beautiful images that told stories. This is an issue many filmmakers struggle with all throughout their careers but in this video, photographer Evan 5ps shows us how to correct some of the most common compositional mistakes, as well as how to completely avoid them altogether.
The mistakes Evan mentions in the video are supremely important for every filmmaker to know and understand because they form the foundation of aesthetics. So, let's talk about some of the core compositional concepts that these errors affect.
When it comes to composition, size really matters. The size of objects, or rather the relative size of objects, determines what the subject is in the frame. If your shot contains two individuals, aesthetic theory tells us that the subject is going to be whichever one is the biggest. This is why Evan's example of the woman standing near a waterfall was confusing because the woman and the waterfall were basically the same size within the frame. So, keep an eye on how big your subject is compared to other elements when shooting your scenes.
Eyeline, or the direction in which a person looks, creates what is called a leading line. These lines are used to guide your viewer's eye toward what they're looking at, and usually this means looking further into a composition. So, if you've got your subject looking off camera (out of the frame), this could potentially create a confusing and lackluster composition—not always, but it could. Having your subject's eyeline point toward the other parts of the frame (rather than outside of it) brings your audience's eye back to the image. (Of course, there are plenty of reasons to have your subject's eyeline go off screen, but we'll have to save that for another post.)
Also called vertices or vectors, tangent lines are essentially imaginary lines created by objects in the frame that point toward a certain point within the frame, guiding your audience's eye toward a desired subject. Probably one of the most well-known examples of this concept in action is a road with a vanishing point right smack dab in the center of the frame.
As you can see from my beautifully drawn tangents, both sides of the road begin to converge toward a single point, but those aren't the only leading lines we see. The horizon, the treetops on the right side of the frame, and the slope of the mountain all form tangent lines that lead our eyes to a specific point within the frame. This compositional technique is extremely powerful and should definitely be somewhere near the top of your list of concepts to master.
If your images are starting to get stale and boring, you might want to take a look at the point of view you tend to shoot from. Do you constantly take them from your eye-level? Are you always the same distance from your subjects? If so, I'm sorry to say but you might be kind of lazy on the compositional front. Images begin to pop and demand attention when they're taken from daring, unique, and strange perspectives—I mean—this doesn't require you to stand on the tallest highrise in your city to take an aerial shot or strap yourself beneath a truck to get a shot of the wheels spinning, but it does mean changing your point of view.
What are some other compositional mistakes filmmakers should avoid? Let us know down in the comments.