Hi I’m Sareesh Sudhakaran and in this video
I’ll explain what I understand by composition for cinematography. If you’re looking for
a simple dictionary definition, then composition is just another word for arranging or rearranging
things in the frame. However, what you really want to know is how
do you compose well? The best advice I’ve ever heard is from Edward Weston, who said:
“Good Composition is only the strongest way of seeing the subject.”
If you know how to see strongly, then you will compose more good images than bad. Once
you reach a certain level, you will be incapable of composing a bad frame.
Since cinema is more than a century old, we have some great conventions. Rules, people
call them. Like the rule of thirds, and so on. These rules are solid by the way, that’s
why they have lasted so long. When you’re a beginner you are short of
ideas and experience, so you’re better off following these conventions. You follow rules
to please others. You need feedback, right? You’ll make average work at worst, and that’s
perfectly fine at any stage in your career, let alone in the beginning.
But there’s another approach as well. And that is to take the personal way. For some
watching this video you might wonder how egotistic of someone to take the personal approach!
How dare they! How could they? In a subject like cinematography, there are many skills.
Composition is just one skill. What I’ve noticed from personal experience is I was
naturally pretty good at it. It’s maybe because I learned to draw and paint at a young
age, or maybe it’s my engineering background. I always made good sketches and architectural
drawings. So when I learned these conventions from books, after I began making short films,
I realized this was something that came to me naturally. No one told me about the rule
of thirds, but I was using it sometimes. I didn’t have a clue about headroom, but my
close ups, mid shots and long shots had headroom always. It came so automatically to me that
even today, when I see my friends and relatives incapable of composing a simple photograph
during a birthday party or whatever, I surprises me. Of course, over the course of many years
I’ve realized that if I was good at some skills automatically, I was also really bad
at others. Through learning and practice and experience
we attempt to bring all the necessary skills up to a professional level. Bottom line is
you can learn composition by convention or your own personal approach or a combination
of both. In the personal approach you find your own reasons for things. E.g., why is
this person not in the center? And why is he not in the rule of thirds? As a composition
it still works. It just came automatically to Siva, my DP and I while we were framing.
But what if you’re struggling to find a frame? Then there are a few conventions you
can fall back on, like the rule of thirds, or the golden ratio, or the center framing
technique Wes Anderson loves so much. You’ll find lots of videos and articles about these
things online, so I’m not going to waste time talking about it. I’ve covered the
rule of thirds in my last video, so I’ll link to it below. DSLR cameras have rule of
thirds markers in case you want to learn how to compose using that technique. So if you
want to follow convention, follow the rule of thirds. But be careful. If you’re trying
to get better then think of the rule of thirds as those extra wheels on the bicycle when
you’re learning. Sooner or later you have to take them off. If you’re always framing
the eye to the anchor, then listen to Bruce Lee: What is the first step towards good composition?
You need to take a big decision about the frame. The frame has two very important things
you need to decide on because all your compositional decisions depend on it. The first is the size
of the screen. The final size of the screen your audience is going to watch your movie
on is important. If they are going to watch on a large screen, then smaller objects in
the frame will be more noticeable. The face in a long shot will be clearer. If the same
video is being seen on an iPhone then those details will just be pixels, and the expression
on the face isn’t so noticeable. So, should you frame in a close up or mid shot or long
shot? If you want the audience to see the face clearly, then you’d better think twice
about taking a long shot. That’s why lots of television programming is still just mid
shots and close ups, because people’s TV sets are far away, even if they are big. Size
matters. The shape also matters. The cinemascope widescreen
offers a different playing field, and the 16:9 frame offers a different playing field.
Which aspect ratio do you pick? Just like everything else you can go two ways: Personal
or conventional. Conventional would be what your client or distributor says. What format
is the audience more likely to see your work in? Choose that. E.g., if you’re showing
on Netflix then it’s 16:9. But if you’re showing in theatres then it could be either
1.85 or 2.39:1. If the majority of theaters can’t project 2.39:1 because multiplex screens
are shrinking every year, you might just stick to 1.85:1. The choice is made for you, by
convention. Of you could just say you’re going to shoot in 2:1 because that’s what
you like. Your choice. There will be people who will act indignant. How dare you? How
dare you be different? But dear, what can I do? I see the world in 2:1, and that’s
the strongest way of seeing for me. Don’t you want to see all the beautiful things I’m
going to create when I see strongly? Would you rather I created something imperfect in
16:9 instead? Who can answer these questions but yourself?
I make my choices, you make yours. Find your own reasons, or adopt somebody else’s. In
today’s digital age, you are not restricted. If you’re making videos for the Internet,
you can do whatever you like, even vertical video or circular video. Oh, they did that
a hundred years ago too. The strongest way of seeing is the way you
really see the world through the viewfinder. So how do you get good composition? You first
select the viewfinder, and then look strongly. Oh, I’m sorry, were you expecting a secret
recipe for composition? Okay, I have one of those. If you want the number one tip or secret
technique to get great composition every time, here it is. You feel it. If you don’t feel
anything for your shot, then walk away. If you can’t walk away for whatever reason,
then follow the rule of thirds. If you like this video hit the like button.
Unless of course you want to hit the dislike button. Make up your mind. Hitting the like
or dislike button is the strongest way you can interact with this video.
While you make up your mind, I’ll leave you with Edward Weston’s entire quote, because
the context, or frame, is everything: