What Are the 7 Rules of Cinematic Framing and Composition?

'Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse'Credit: Sony Pictures
Framing and composition are some of the most important factors of great cinematography.

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

These seven rules will help improve your filmmaking skills today! No need for a new camera, new lenses, or expensive gear. This one video will be your key to improving. Now, 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.

Check out this video from Kellan Reck and let's talk after the jump. 

Why Framing and Composition Are Important

1. The Rule of Thirds

This is the original rule of all composition. The rule of thirds takes your frame and divides it into thirds, separated by four horizontal lines. You're creating a grid over your lens to put the weight of everything in perspective.

If you're filming one of your actors, it becomes easier to see the "busiest" parts of the frame while also drawing attention to the amount of presence your background takes up. Depending on the shot, it also allows for a better sense of how your actors' in-frame placement can strengthen both the horizontal and vertical framing of your movie. Follow this when you're starting out. Break it when you become advanced. 

2. Using Lines to Direct Your Viewers' Eyes

Leading lines are natural lines in your environment like fences, buildings, and roads. If you put lines in the back or in front of the subject, you draw eyes toward the subject. Similarly, chaotic lines can confuse people and could add unease to a scene. Use as you see fit. 

Sometimes much of the frame goes ignored by the human eye. Certainly, we can't focus on every element in an image at once. Leading lines guide our eye toward a specific point in the frame. Some angles and directions of leading lines are more effective at doing this than others. 

3. Finding Balance

If you have a lot on one side of the frame, and not a lot on the other, it might feel off balance. Try to fill your frame and balance the shot. Add a lamp or a tree or something that allows the viewer to feel claimed and relaxed while watching. You also want to find some head room, unless you're switching to a close-up camera angle. Just try to fill the frame appropriately and make every shot you have fit the tone of the scene and the project. 

4. Symmetry

Directly correlated with balance, symmetry is when you have both sides of the frame matching. This happens a lot in Wes Anderson movies.

Adjust your angle so there's an equal balance on both sides of the frame. Again, this can be skewed to change the emotions of people and to highlight certain subjects. But symmetry can also create a beautiful context for the film. Like in an epic wide shot

5. How to Achieve Depth

Play with the depth of field in your shot. Depth allows you to emphasize the subject. To do this, you can open up the aperture that delivers a shallow depth of field. That can be cinematic and surreal. You can remove the distractions to get your audience to really focus—pun intended—on who you're supposed to be looking at in the frame. 

Depth of field is all about focus. So a deep depth of field means that a larger area is in focus, even everything in the frame. Sometimes this is called "deep focus."

6. Finding a Frame Within a Frame

Use elements within your environment to help frame up your subject. Try shooting through a window or another natural opening. This subtly highlights the subject and tells the story. 

There's real psychology when it comes to framingIn filmmaking, the frame is everything. It is the package that delivers every bit of visual information to your audience, which means that as a storyteller, you have to be concerned not with aesthetics alone, but with the messages your images are conveying. 

7. Subject Emphasis

It seems like every tip describes this, and every tool you have read here adds to this strategy. This is basic storytelling. We're adding highlighted elements so that the audience feels connected and part of the storytelling. This will also clue people into your themes and take them on an emotional journey. 

Let me know what you think in the comments.      

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1 Comment

Rules?
The only rule I have is when I look at the screen at what the lens sees, it looks cool.

There's the "three lamp" lighting rule.

I threw that out the window. I've shot entire shorts using mostly one light and practicles

June 17, 2022 at 7:55AM

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