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Tips on Framing Your Shot for the Best Video Composition

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 2/4/2010

Principles on how to make great looking images for your digital video projects.

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    Video Composition

    When people first start out in the world of digital video it is usually so they can just capture the memorable moments between their family, friends, and special events. Concepts of image quality and visual artistry are not high on their list of priorities, but when the video is viewed later, it becomes obvious that an amateur with a camera was at work.

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    Use a Tripod

    One important concept to keep in mind when beginning to film your event is to be mindful of the look, feel, and balance of the images being captured. One of the first principles that the home videographer usually forgets is to keep the camera steady. This does not mean to hold it still, but to place or attach the camera to a stationary object such as a tripod. The innate shakiness of your hands become obvious and no amount of careful handheld work is going to get rid of the tremors completely. Some limited handheld work is fine for parts of the final video, but if all of it is done in this fashion it will look like a B-rate remake of The Blair Witch Project.

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    Follow the Rules

    One way to decide when to use the handheld method is to only do it when the subjects of the video are moving fairly inconsistently or when very far away. If you are zoomed in too close to the subject you will be able to see the corner of the frame shaking very clearly. The second principle to keep in mind is a classic element of art since the Renaissance era - the Golden Rectangle, which is a geometric rectangle that approximates human’s 5.1:3 vision aspect ratios. Our digital camera’s 16:9 standardized wide screen ratio mimics this natural aspect ratio, and therefore follows the Golden Rectangle ratio. This is also known as following the "Golden Mean" - when the screen can be divided into sections at 3/5ths by 3/5ths. All this talk of geometric titles really just leaves us with a standard imaging rule: "The Rule of Thirds." Professional videographers, photographers, and artists use this rule to create images that are dynamic and pleasing to the human eye. That means dividing the image into nine equal parts, where it is divided into three vertical sections by three horizontal sections. That develops sections where both the left to right and top to bottom are in thirds.

    The most dynamic images have their focal point on the lines that represent these thirds. An example of this is keeping a subject’s eyes on the top line of thirds, or allowing a person sitting on a swing to remain in the bottom and farthest left lines of thirds. This can be a complicated concept to understand, but in reality we already have an instinct of sorts for this type of imaging because it is what film and art have been building on for more than a millennium.

    To learn more, read Rule of Thirds - Photography Composition Techniques.

    When it comes to digital video imaging there is one last rule that should never be forgotten, and that is the "180 Degree Rule." What this rule states is that if you establish action originating from one direction, do not jump to the other side and continue filming. For example, if you are recording an image of a person walking left to right, do not allow the image to suddenly be coming from the other side where it appears as if the subject is walking right to left. This will confuse the audience who has already created a spatial relationship to the world you have created on the screen.

    Keeping these rules in mind will lead to more polished and professional looking videos that your friends and family will enjoy viewing.