Shot Composition

Lesson Details

Subject: Shooting

Title: Shot Composition


Learning to compose your shots effectively and creatively is an essential part of making compelling video and in this new lesson we show you all the aspects of composing and framing your shots that you need to consider. Even something as straightforward as using the “rule of thirds” when you do your next shoot will make the world of difference to how your video looks.


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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