Composition + Framing – Storytelling with Cinematography
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Composition + Framing – Storytelling with Cinematography

September 9, 2019

this week we’re talking about
cinematography and going through lots of examples of how different camera
techniques will have different effects on the audience hello my name is simon cade and this is
dsl guide so this is the first part in a series
all about cinematography where we’ll be looking at using the camera and lighting
to tell stories so in this first part we’re focusing on
where to place the camera and how to set up the layout of your scene so that we
can get a certain reaction from the audience so the first thing to think about is
depth now i think this is one of the biggest differences between amateur
filmmaking and the movies that we see the cinema so what I mean by depth is when the
images look three-dimensional when there’s a big difference between the
foreground elements the mid-ground and the background and this can usually be
achieved by looking out for perspective lines going off into the distance or
anything you can do is have a frame in the foreground something which provides
a natural frame this can really help to add some real depth and it makes the
shots a lot richer and more pleasing to the eye if you look at any painting or
photo or any shot from a film they often have a really nice depth in
them which makes it a really rich frame now you may choose to avoid depth and
have very flat images perhaps if you want the audience to feel
lonely or detached all for a character who feels trapped and like they haven’t
got any space to move around or maybe if they’re in a really boring life style
you would also use flat images but because we see really rich shots with
lots of depth every time we go to the cinema the
audience has a expectation that the shorts will have death so if you accidentally shoot the whole
film very flat then that might leave a very different impression on the
audience to what you’re going for now i believe it was Alfred Hitchcock
who said that the size of something within the frame is directly reflecting
how important it is to the film so if we look at this example from the
king’s speech then the main character is very apprehensive about doing public
speaking so notice how the microphone is huge and
it’s kind of covering up his face at times and it shows how this microphone
is very important to him and it was really overwhelming for him to have to
do this public speaking now this is also commonly used to show
the relationship between characters and it’s famous scene from Citizen Kane the main character is very far away
dwarfed by the other two characters but as he takes control of the situation he was close to the camera and then he
towers above them so notice how this wasn’t random they
actually used the size of characters to change just as the story changes just as
the characters change now the next thing is contrast our eyes
are naturally drawn to high contrast parts of an image so if you put your main character behind
something this very low contrast and doesn’t make them stand out then it can often be hard for the
audience to even see where they are now the other thing to know is whether
there’s something really high contrast which could actually be distracting the
audience’s eyes from where they should be looking in this case may be at the
main character so once you understand contrast you can
decide whether you want your characters to really stand out or whether you do
want them to blend into the background of it so if you have a really shy character
for example low contrast might be a great way to go so in general though you don’t want the
audience to be have to search around and look for them the kind of standard is to
have high contrast so that they can see what’s going on it’s worth noting the contrast isn’t
just about dark and bright things and this image the circle stands out because
it’s brighter but we can this one the most colorful part of the frame is where
is tend to hang out where is this circle stands out because
it’s contrasting with the other circles but this time in size and the same rule
applies for shape a good cinematographer uses all kinds of contrast in order to
show and hide certain things from the audience but what about the different types of
shots while the traditional way to enter a scene would be to have an establishing
wide shot which shows the audience exactly where everything is and the
setting as well as giving some hints about the time of day but what if you decided to be
unconventional and just throw the audience straight in with a close-up so
they don’t really know what’s going on maybe they feel a bit disorientated but that could work very well for your
scene depending on what kind of vibe you’re going for one more practical
level wide shots can be important to show the body language or props or maybe
even costume so let’s say you have someone walking
down the street and they’re really frustrated so they keep kicking this can well if you shot that in extreme
close-ups then you might not have been able to see the cat not at all so we would have lost that
emotional q4 frustration and speaking of close-ups they give the audience the
opportunity to be most personal and intimate with the characters and when
used sparingly they’re often more powerful just like in music you have moments of
quiet which then we’ll make the loud parts seem even more powerful so I think a good principle for all of
this is to go back to the Citizen Kane shot because i think that cinematography
is most effective when there are changes that then reflect the story maybe the characters making the decision
of the story going in a new direction so next up is a whole bunch of
techniques or condensed into I’d call balance so this is just following the general
guides of framing so by this I mean using the rule of thirds to place our
subjects somewhere in the frame that looks very natural it’s keeping heads in the frame here’s a
before and after it’s also worth keeping the camera on
the level horizon again another before and after and it’s
also framing to give your characters looking room where they have space on
the side of the frame that they are facing the most of the time we’re pretty
much aiming for shots that are as balanced as possible I’d say that ninety-five percent of
shots from Hollywood films are pretty much well balanced and if you
accidentally set your camera to be off balance whether that’s through the horizon being
a bit off or not giving your actors enough Headroom or looking room then it
can really have a bad effect on the vibe that you’re going for but of course you could purposefully
make your shots unbalanced maybe if your character is going off the rails or if
they’re just really unpredictable than that could be a really useful
storytelling device but in general i’d recommend being pretty subtle about this most of the time because it really can
be distracting from the story if you push it too far so how far away from each other you
position characters can say a lot about their relationship so let’s say you have a shot of a kid
who’s feeling really left out where you might actually make some distance
between them and the other people to show that emotional distance and of
course you can flip this by having your characters close together which suggests
trust and intimacy and in a great blog post by Shane help he talks about how in his film crazy
beautiful he used over the shoulder shots with plenty of distance to begin
with but then as their relationship deepened the gap between them coast and
finally let’s talk about the height of the camera now if you set up at eye level than
you’re giving a pretty neutral impression to the audience but then
think of the phrases they really look up to them compared to how we are they
really look down on them they have very big connotations looking up to someone
makes them sound quite heroic while looking down on someone makes them sound
quite vulnerable so in films they often use this as a
very simple way to establish who has the dominance in a scene now would like to
add that just because let’s say you had a character who was feeling overwhelmed that doesn’t mean that you have to shoot
them from a high angle and set it to be off balance and give them looking room
and use every single one of the features it’s kind of a case of picking and
choosing which one do you think will work best for the story but it is worth
remembering that all of the techniques I’ve talked about in this video are
completely up for interpretation when it comes to adding the music and
the dialogue and the kind of back story any of these features can be used to
kind of convey a completely different emotion so there’s no way that these are
rules they just kind of guidelines and you
kind of look at the way that some filmmakers have done it and then decide
which parts you want to take and which parts you want to leave so my advice is just to watch lots of
films and to be really intentional with your cinematographer choices and it’s
always based on what the story is and what the vibe of you’re seeing is and we
know what the characters are like so that’s pretty much it for this week i
would like to say that on the blog post are linked to a whole bunch of videos
which have taught me loads about composition and all the stuff that I’ve
been talking about this video’s to do to that you
interested link in the description that’s it for this week and see you next
time yeah

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  1. Great Video. I'm storyboarding a video and it's really helpful to think about some of the things you talk about in this video. Thanks!

  2. Really good video! very easy to understand, and it inspires ideas rather than just explaining technical terms.

  3. Wow. Absolutely packed with guidelines which are clearly demonstrated. Each point you hit on could lead to its own path of investigation. Solid solid video, really useful!

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