Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash
I was a still photographer for years before transitioning to videography, so I never figured I’d need to learn how to shoot video. I suspected it would come naturally. In some respects I was correct. In others, I was incorrect.
Sure, some tried-and-true photography tips apply to video just as well. But I didn’t realize how different some composition tips for video are from composition tips for still photography and it made me grow an entirely new respect for the niche.
Here are five composition tips for video I think are most important for beginners to hear.
Composition Tips for Video: Rule of Thirds
Photo by Sonnie Hiles on Unsplash
The rule of thirds applies to film in much the same way as still photos. Most DSLRs have guided settings that will split your screen into nine sections to help you learn to shoot video with the rule of thirds.
Basically, you want to make sure you are filling up all nine sections of the screen with some action to help you balance your shots.
Learn Online Video gives a great breakdown of the rule of thirds in videography and they also pull scenes from some of the biggest box office hits to show you how it works in practice.
Quick Tip: Using a field monitor can help you compose better video sequences and expands your creative possibilities at the same time. Rigs like the Ikan Saga S7P shown above offer a super-bright 7-inch screen for framing up your shots while also giving you the ability to preview LUTs in real time, inspect a histogram, and review clip guides. This unit also has waveform, RGB parade, vectorscope, false color, peaking, and audiometer capabilities, just to name a few. It 1:1 pixel mapping feature lets you move through the entire image and see each section of the shot at up to 4K quality. If you want to elevate the quality of your videos, using a monitor like this is an excellent step!
Composition Tips for Video: Create Proper Headroom
Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash
Okay, before you start quoting different movie scenes that are incredibly famous and don’t follow this rule, the headspace rule can be broken creatively on purpose, but generally should be followed.
Headspace is just the amount of room an actor has over their head in the shot. It’s especially important for documentary makers to focus on headspace, because otherwise the shot looks cramped and uncomfortable.
Lights Film School walks you through how to properly use headspace in this video, as well as how to remember to focus on it while trying to focus on other rules as well.
Composition Tips for Video: Keep the 180 Degree Line in Mind
You never want to cross the 180 degree line in a video, because if you do then the continuity of the shot will be ruined because the actors will suddenly be facing the incorrect way.
This can be difficult to understand, so I’ll let Studio Binder show you what the 180 degree line is and how disorienting it can be for the viewer if it gets crossed by a videographer.
Quick Tip: One of the most useful tools in a videographer’s toolkit for creating interesting video compositions is a camera slider. Sliders like the E-Image ES50 shown above offer the capability of getting smooth tracking sequences that add visual interest to your final video. This slider has 29 inches of range, which is perfect for videographers that want to incorporate tracking motion without lugging around a big, heavy slider. The 16-layer carbon fiber frame and CNC machined components cut down weight without sacrificing durability, so this is a slider that will work for you for years and years to come. It can accommodate up to 22 pounds of gear, too, so as your videography kit grows, this slider can grow with you!
Composition Tips for Video: The Foreground and Background are Important Too
Photo by Ole Witt on Unsplash
In much the same way as with still photography, there are simple composition tips for video that will make your shot immensely more interesting immediately.
One of these rules is paying attention to the entire shot, which includes the objects in front of the actor and the background they’re acting in front of.
Jonathan Hughes has an incredible archive of filmmaking tips, but his video on depth of field is especially insightful.
Composition Tips for Video: Break the Rules
Photo by Jack Sloop on Unsplash
My favorite part of photography is learning how to break the rules. Life is incredibly boring if you follow all of the rules all of the time and the same can be said of videography.
In fact, I would argue the directors behind most movies that win awards and are generally considered some of humanity’s best work broke many rules in those movies.
CineFix pretty much proves my point in this video. You need to learn how to find a balance in rule breaking, because if you break too many rules your film will feel chaotic and disorganized, but if you don’t break any, your film could feel like a low-budget film.