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3.3 Composition

Good composition can turn an ordinary scene into one that’s creative and captivating. In this lesson, you’ll learn about the rule of thirds and how to create the illusion of depth.

3.3 Composition

Welcome back, I'm Cindy Burgess for Tuts+. In the previous lesson, we learned about the basic types of shots and why each is used and how to capture a variety of them to tell a story. In this lesson, we're going to focus on composition, or the layout of everything within the frame. If you're a photographer, you're no doubt familiar with something called the rule of thirds. This principle applies to video as well. If you're not familiar with the rule of thirds, imagine a tic-tac-toe grid laid on top of your shot. According to the rule of thirds, you should place your subject or points of interest along these horizontal or vertical lines, or on the spots where these lines meet, those little red dots you see. This is more pleasing to the eye than simply centering the subject. Here's an example of what I'm talking about. Rather than putting that cool seabird smack dab in the middle of the shot, I framed it so the bird was in the upper right hand corner where the horizontal and vertical lines meet. The rule of thirds also applies to horizons, something we tend to capture a lot of when we're traveling. Avoid having the horizon cut right across the middle of the screen. Instead, place it on either the lower third line or the upper third line depending on what you want to emphasize. In this case, I wanted to draw attention to the cool thunderstorm in the distance, so I put the horizon on the lower line. But if that little boat you see suddenly capsized and a huge rescue effort was underway, I would probably want to focus on the ocean instead. I would reframe it so the horizon was on the upper line and you could see more of the ocean than the sky. The rule of thirds is especially important when it comes to framing people, whether it's you, a traveling companion, a tour guide, or whatever. The most common mistake I see is putting the subject's head in the exact center of the shot, right in that middle square of the tic-tac-toe grid. It just looks wrong. There's too much empty space above the subject's head. In industry speak, there's too much headroom. The subject ends up looking small and insignificant. Instead, place your subject's eye line on that imaginary top third line of the tic-tac-toe grid. You can even place their body along one of the vertical lines. Doesn't that look much better? It's just a matter of adjusting your framing. Whenever you've got people in your shot, look for their eye line and place it on that imaginary top third line. Then you can go ahead and frame up a close up, wide shot, or medium shot, as long as you keep the eyes on that top third line, you'll always end up with the right amount of headroom. Incidentally, many newer cameras and even smartphones have a grid you can overlay on the screen to help guide you in using the rule of thirds and making sure your horizons are level. The rule of thirds also comes in handy when you're recording moving objects. You want to leave more space in front of the object than behind it, what we call lead room. If you don't leave enough space in front, psychologically it's uncomfortable, it's like they're going to crash into the edge of the frame. When you're framing an object or person in motion, make sure you leave more space in the direction they're heading. The rule of thirds can help you out. So that's the rule of thirds. A few more tips. Try to keep your backgrounds as uncluttered as possible. Watch for distractions. Like this guy, who was goofing around in the background, which I totally missed, or objects growing out of people's heads, like this. Pay attention to the sides of your frame. Avoid cutting people or objects in half. Either they're In the shot or they're out. The subject of your shot should be obvious which usually means getting close to the action, fill the frame. If someone's head is the size of a small coin on your TV screen, you were probably too far away. Keep in mind that many of us are watching video on our mobile devices. These screens are small, close ups are powerful and will show a lot more detail. Another thing to be aware of is that video is a two dimensional medium, there's no depth to it, everything appears very flat. Look for ways to create depth when you're composing your shot. For example, here's a shot of a house taken straight on, the small roof to the left actually juts out from the main house but you have no way of knowing that from this shot. It just looks flat. But if you reposition yourself and record the house from an angle, it suddenly has dimension and depth. Keep this principle in mind when you're shooting video. Capture your subject moving on a diagonal across the screen rather than horizontally, like this shot I captured while dog sledding. >> All right, let's rock it, come on guys. >> Or record your subjects moving towards or away from the camera. This creates the illusion of depth. You can also create depth by putting an object or person in the foreground of your shot like this, shooting over the instructor's shoulder gives perspective on how far away the ice climber is. Speaking of objects in the foreground, here's another composition tip. Look for ways to frame your subject using foreground objects like trees, windows or arches. This adds perspective and interest to the shot. Finally, look for interesting or unusual angles. Most of your shots will probably be taken at your eye level. But try mixing in a few variations, get down low and shoot up on the building to make it look more imposing and impressive. Get eye level with a creature on the ground, like these green iguanas. Experiment, have fun. In the next lesson, we'll look at camera movement, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Stay tuned.

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