What is Composition and Framing in Cinematography? Did you know all of this?
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What is Composition and Framing in Cinematography? Did you know all of this?

October 12, 2019


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:

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Can you do a video on how to correctly expose a Low Light scene using waveforms? Please grace us with your helpful advice Sareesh!

  2. I like the lightening of your videos.. Especially the ones like this one.. What fixtures do you use… I would be grateful for your help

  3. I don't need you to know that I must trust in my instinct or folow my intuition. I'm logged in YouTube to learn about the rules of cinematography. What a waste of time. Unsuscribe.

  4. Hahahaha…I love how you keep it real without breaking a smile. Keep it up, but more importantly, KEEP IT REAL!!! Many of my friends, apprentices and high school students come to me asking for that secret recipe camera settings and/or editing settings. The secret is being genuine and originally you.

  5. Just an advise. It would better if we see your face less and more movie footage with you demonstrating your thoughts through voice over.

  6. What do you think of Kubrick's composition other than one point perspective? It's very interesting, because it's very specific and you always can tell Kubrick movie from any other movie.

  7. I have a question. In editing, which comes first. Do you edit a film first, then add music. Or do you try to get the music to fit. Assuming the "short film" is geared with music. Umm.. I hope I made sense in my question.

  8. Good videos but I think it would help if you weren’t talking down to the audience so much, like stop assuming we’re asking stupid things.

  9. You are the best any by far the best youtuber I have ever watched. I am feeling short of words to appreciate you simply because you cannot be defined. What are you ? a Psychologist, technocrat, artist, cinematographer, writer, speaker, comedian, motivator or something else ??????

  10. Love the aspect that you've touched on composition. To me it's one very important element in cinematography cause it shows what we need to look and convey the beauty of cinema to the audience. The aspect ratio first of all is pretty much a canvas size and second is can be used to show the time (like in the Grand Budapest hotel, or the good the bad, the ugly…you name it). As for the rules for composition, there are many and the best way to learn about them is to actually use them time over time in photography then use them to serve the story that we tell through cinematography. I study the craft of cinematography for as long as I can remember but modern filmmaking (not all of them) tend to use simple composition like rule of third and it's not wrong but it can be boring. Another good example for good composition is the cinematography of Mr.Robot. It has unconventional framing and it helps tell the story really really well. 
    Composition is an abstract topic to discuss. The only way to appreciate it is by doing it and learning from other photographers, painters, cinematographers and apply what we've learned from them to tell the story that we're trying to tell.

  11. Have you noticed the framing on _Mr. Robot_? They "break" the rules often … to good effect … in my opinion. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  12. Hey! I've watched a few of your videos and I can say I really like your channel. Very interesting content for aspiring filmmakers like me. However, I feel like a little more dynamic editing and music would be a great addition to your work since it becomes a little tiring after a few videos. Anyway, I'll still watch every cinema related videos on your channel! Keep it up 🙂

  13. Hello , I aspire to be a movie video editor one day and Im trying to learn the most I can about films and all. I'm gonna start binge watching youtube channels like yours and i'm glad to say that i've started with yours. 🙂

    Thanks for your work and have a great day.

  14. I was just talking about this, like no lie. It comes to me naturally, otherwise I improvise. I like your advice. But of course there’s a whole lot to learn about.

  15. What I sorta intuitively fell into is the following. First, identify what is the [primary] subject or subjects, which means what the audience needs to see. Then decide whether anything else needs to or very much should be seen in the frame (information required for the story to make sense, or to inform "where is this location in the universe"). Once these are identified, I can move the camera around to move these subjects and objects around as much as possible without them going out of frame. This moves other beautiful, interesting, informative, distracting, unwanted and ugly objects in and out of frame. In general what I choose as the best composition of all these options is… the one that excludes all or most of what is undesirable (usually ugly, unwanted, distracting) and includes all or most of what is desirable (beautiful, interesting, informative). Sometimes this violates the various composition rules that people promote, but in my view this very general policy works rather well for me. Note that sometimes one wants nothing (good, bad or ugly) except the primary subjects in the frame, in which case sometimes the only way to achieve that is with the lens [close to] wide open (to greatly reduce depth-of-field). Anyway, just an idea for others to try if they wish. What do you think about this, wolfcrow? Oh, incidentally, that example you showed with the man sitting next to the river with the path between trees on his other side is a perfect example of such a composition. That composition included everything that informed us about the location in a very pleasing way. To cut off the path through the trees or cut off more of the water… would have be less informative and less visually pleasing (though probably I would have pushed him just a tiny bit closer to center in order to show a tiny bit more of the trees on the right side of the path).

  16. Excellent work, as always, Sareesh. Concise, informative, and well-selected content. Keep up the good work!

  17. dude I'm loving this videos. from the standpoint of a musician (who would love to experiment with film) I understand a lot of what you're saying about making art "the personal way". THANK YOU FOR TEACHING ME

  18. "If you don't feel anything for your shot, walk away." God, there are so many artists I wanna say this to

  19. If I could give a small critique, you should include the titles of the movies you feature here, cause I was really wondering what those clips were from

  20. Because of your vids, I have learned so much when it comes to composition and creating something that you believe to be a great shot.

  21. You do some interesting talks. Personally as you say I would like to see more ideas or screenshots of what you continue to emphasize.

  22. Indeed you gotta feel it!! Im not a cinemaphotographer or anything but i like making videos and if i feel somthings not right with the shot then gotta do all over again untill i get what i want and sometimes it get fraustrating and annoying for my friends.

  23. I use the idea of "weight." Simply put, all of the objects in the frame have a certain weight. That generally means the "object of our attention," whether that is the lead actor, or the car in a chase scene, or a wine glass on a table, is able to occupy many other positions in the frame than just the rule of thirds suggests, but, that it is given prominence by its position, compared to the objects around it. It's position and relative size, or weight in the shot, will naturally draw our attention to it, OR, away from it, if required.

  24. Thank you! This is how I've been feeling for awhile now — we don't need all the rules if we are truly in touch with our intuition and creative sides.

  25. Hi
    My name is Sabarish I made first short film 2 years back and working on my second one which is on edits
    Please watch my shortflim and give ur feed back
    Name of short film Gershom 33:26

  26. Or, the mass of people will favor smart phone screens more fully framed by social media negating “landscape” for “portraiture”

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