Video Shot Composition

Lesson Details

Subject: Shooting

Title: Video Shot Composition


How to Compose Video Shots Correctly

Learning to compose your shots effectively and creatively is an essential part of making compelling video. Your aim is always to have your viewer concentrate on the story you're telling so you want your shots to be natural in order to avoid distracting your viewer with shots that look odd or our of place. 

The composition of a shot refers to how things are arranged in the frame. Taking time and care over your shot composition will have a significant impact on the look and feel of your finished film or video.

If you've been following our video shooting courses, then you may have already watched our tutorial on "The Rule of Thirds". This is often the first thing videographers learn about composing their shots and it refers to where in the frame important things such as your subject should be positioned. Many cameras and even some smartphones have the option to turn on a Rule of Thirds grid when you're filming to help you make decisions about how to compose your shots. Whether you use the Rule of Thirds or not, your shots should appear instinctive.

In this video shooting lesson we'll show you three different aspects of composing and framing your shots that you'll need to consider.

You'll learn the following:

  • How to create "lead space" or "looking room"
  • How to get the correct "head room" in your shots
  • The importance of background in filming
  • Using different filming angles
  • Creating dynamism in your footage

There are always many different ways to compose a shot. Because so much television and video is now watched online on smaller screens, you will often find that filling the frame with the element that you most want to stand out will be very effective. Experiment with different ways of composing the same shot and then look at the results. The chances are the one that grabs your attention will also grab and hold your viewers' attention. 



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In our Rule of Thirds lesson, we explored that formula for shot composition in depth, so we recommend that you watch that as well.

In this lesson, we’re going to look at three other major areas of shot composition: Lead Space or Looking Room, Head Room and Background.

Lead Space, or Looking Room is when you compose your shot to leave about a third of the frame in front of where the subject is looking or facing.

In this close-up of our character looking to the left, you can see that their nose is practically touching the left edge of the screen and that there is also a lot of space behind their head. It looks awkward and claustrophobic. If we look at that same shot, but this time give our subject some space in the frame in front of where they’re looking, it looks much more natural.

Head Room simply refers to the space at the top of the video frame.

In this first shot of our character’s face, there’s a lot of extra room at the top of the frame. Now, if we look at that same shot framed up without all that space at the top, it looks much better. The same is true if too little headroom is left at the top of the frame, or if the top of your subject’s head is cut off. You also want to make sure that you aren’t cutting your subject off at an awkward part of their body such as one of their joints. It’s fine to have the bottom of the frame cut across someone’s stomach, for example, but if you cut across the knees, it looks odd. Keeping the edge of the frame just above or below a joint is much more pleasing to the eye.

You should be aware of what your background is contributing to your image. Does the background overpower your subject by being too busy? Is it too flat and boring? Is there something in the background that appears to be growing out of your subject’s head, like a lamp or a wire? Maybe you want to add some visual interest and depth by placing something in the foreground of the subject that frames it slightly.

Also, be aware of any natural framing opportunities such as a tree branch that wraps around part of the frame. Look at your video shot as a still photograph. Would it look compelling?Other things to consider are the lines in your image and shooting on an angle.

Let’s look at this shot of someone walking through frame on a sidewalk that is perfectly horizontal. If you shoot the same scene at an angle, it becomes much more dynamic. Your subject starts small then gradually gets larger as they walk towards the camera. This adds an interesting three-dimensionality to the shot. Sometimes just taking a step or two to the right or left can make your shot more dynamic.

Also look at shooting on different planes. Shooting everything from the same height can be repetitive and boring, but if you change it up by shooting your subject from a low angle or a high angle, you’ll create much more visual interest. And if you’re filming children or small animals, it’s always a good idea to get down on their level to help draw the viewer in.
If you consistently pay attention to these shot composition guidelines, you’ll be well served, and eventually they’ll become second nature.

© Michael Rosenblum & Lisa Lambden 2016 to 2020