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Cinematography for Beginners

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 11/23/2010

Here are a few elements that those new to cinematography should keep in mind.

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    In the Beginning

    Cinematography, which is the creative composer of images using a film or video camera, is a field that is not exclusively technical. For beginners to cinematography the creation of an effective moving image can be difficult because it can be hard to draw out principles of this medium without having them actively discussed. When cinematography for beginners is being discussed there has to be a look at different elements that are going to be important for every shot unless there is a concrete reason to abandon it. Here is a cinematography for beginners guide that draws out the principles of effective imaging so new directors of photography will be able to begin crafting great images.

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    Headroom and Noseroom

    The first thing you should think about when you are beginning with cinematography is how to position people on camera, especially their faces. Here you are going to want to look at both headroom and nose room. Headroom will mean the area between the head and the top of the frame that you should allow, which should be minimal but enough so the image does not feel crowded. Likewise, there should be enough nose room, that is the area in front of the face. The position of the face should be so that they are looking in the direction where there is open space, so that the majority of the open space makes up the nose room. Without this the image will feel unbalanced and claustrophobic, and you may not even be able to consciously determine why.

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    Rule of Thirds

    The rule of thirds will also be true in photography, but includes an artistic point of view that says that objects should be positioned according to the breakdown of the image into nine blocks. These nine blocks, running three across and three down, will create different points where the invisible lines would intersect. These points of intersection is where objects within the frame that should be focused on by the audience should be positioned. This means that this is where eyes should be positioned when framing people, and you will want to essentially pattern all subjects so that they are balanced on these points. This is one of the most important principles for framing an image.

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    An effective image, even in cinematography for beginners, is going to allow the two dimensional frame to seemingly jump beyond the limits of its format. Since it cannot be truly three dimensional, you are going to want to add that depth to the image by the way you position the frame. You can often do this by maximizing the z-axis, which is the third axis beyond the x and y axis. Here, the z-axis is diagonal, and represents a diagonal path that comes from the back of the image space to the front. For example, if you have a person running from the back of a space in the corner of the frame toward the camera and the opposite corner of the frame then you will be utilizing the z-axis.

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    180 Degree Rule

    Part of what cinematography for beginners should entail is how they choose the shots they take, not just how they frame them. When you are filming a scene you will film different angles and perspectives so that you can then edit together a clean peace where you can see what is happening. The screen direction is going to be important for maintaining continuity with the audience, and to do this you have to maintain the 180 degree rule. This means that if a person is facing or moving in one direction in one shot, they should not be going in another direction in another. To make sure that this happens you have to stay on one side of a person even when you change angles. This means that you create an invisible 180 degree line that you will not cross when filming a scene. This is not a steadfast rule in cinematography, but it should be observed when considering cinematography for beginners.


Here is a series with different articles relating to different aspects of cinematography.
  1. Cinematography 101
  2. The Secrets of Cinematography
  3. Film & Cinematography Techniques
  4. Cinematography Lighting Schemes
  5. Cinematography for Beginners