December 6, 2017

How to Bypass 5 Common Composition Rules of Filmmaking

From neutral framing to the Rule of Thirds, filmmaking is full of compositional rules. Here's how to break 'em all.

Don't we all like to think of ourselves as creative cowboys and cowgirls. (Cowpeople? Nah, that's dumb.) We push the limits, take advantage of our freedom, and most of all, don't give two shits 'bout following the rules of no damn body. Here's the thing though, rules are pretty good. In filmmaking, rules like the Rule of Thirds and the 180-Degree Rule are achievable and repeatable standards that not only help to regulate the language of film but also help us to communicate as clearly as possible with our audiences.

But remember, we're creative cowpeople (whatever, I'm claiming it) and other than hearts, rules are our favorite things to break. So, in this video from Aputure, learn how to break five of the most common compositional rules in filmmaking and look good doing it.

I don't know if I was clear enough about rulebreaking earlier, so I'll reiterate: cinematic rules can and should be broken. I mean, they're not really "rules" at all, more like guidelines that help give you a strong foundational understanding of what the art of filmmaking is all about. In any case, there is a time to follow these "rules" and a time to break these "rules," and it's up to you as a filmmaker to decide when and where to do which.

Here are a few of the rules discussed in the video:

  • Eye-level framing: Shooting at eye-level is a good way of communicating neutrality.
  • Subject looks to opposite side of frame: This is important for providing plenty of "lead" room. 
  • The Rule of Thirds: Film Composition 10, right?
  • Adequate headroom: Too little headroom = claustrophobic feel; too much headroom = subject has little to no power.
  • The 180-Degree Rule: Breaking this one might lead to some confusion. Learn more about it here.

All of these "rules" can be broken, of course, but if you're going to do it, do it with some kind of purpose or intention behind it. Don't just start breaking rules because you're all, "Wild Wild West is my middle name." Give your rebellion some motivation and direction, it'll be much more powerful that way.     

Your Comment


I like what this chap is saying. Put simply, know the rules: know why you are going to break them. Clear examples too. But why, oh why, does he have to gabble as if he is desperate for a pee? Slow down, pace the narration, give yourself room to emphasise the important snippets. You are not trying to hide the mandatory terms and conditions at the end of a radio advertisement.

December 7, 2017 at 6:03AM

Tim Pickford-Jones

So to "break" pretty basic rules just use other pretty basic rules. Title is clickbait.

December 7, 2017 at 4:25PM, Edited December 7, 4:26PM

Chris Williamson

Wondering if I can write for No Film School?

My skills to embed YouTube videos and write brief summaries of what I just watched are impeccable. Really.

January 8, 2018 at 1:13AM, Edited January 8, 1:15AM


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January 8, 2018 at 5:39PM

fillip muller

Framing your subject at eye-degree creates a sense of equality. As Nerris puts it, that is how the DP tells the viewer “this individual is your friend.” Eye-stage framing is the maximum not unusual way of framing the challenge, but there are a few approaches and reasons to interrupt this rule.

you could film the challenge from beneath. It makes them appearance bigger than the viewer and offers them a sense of power.

March 21, 2018 at 2:21AM, Edited March 21, 2:22AM


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January 5, 2019 at 12:15PM