One of the easiest, most cost efficient ways to make your videos more professional is with simple composition. Composing a shot really isn’t all that simple though. But there are some tips that can help you start looking more professional right now.
There are a lot of ideas out there about composition. A beautifully composed shot is magic for conveying the vibe of your video. There’s actually a lot that goes into that shot. Where you place the subject or subjects of your videos is important. But also where they face (blocking), what surrounds them (staging), their perspective, how they’re framed, and even the size of their body in proportion to the rest of the shot.
Here are just a couple of tips that will save you from looking like an amateur.
Video Composition – Rule of Thirds
We’ve come a long way in the analysis of great art. The more ew’ve seen about great works of art, the more we realize a pattern in it. The subject is rarely centered in the shot. In fact, the point of interest in the shot is almost always in a third position of the shot. This started with the Phi Grid.
Anywhere along the red line is where our eye naturally travels. The focus is more and more clear as you spiral down into the corner where the horizontal and vertical thirds overlap. Like this.
Both of these examples use the lower right third as a point of interest, but you can use any of the thirds lines to create focus in your videos. And if you can frame your subject in the places those lines meet, you can create even more focus.
I could write several posts about this, and many people have. Just keep in mind as you shoot to know where your subject is in the frame and where you want your viewers eyes to focus.
Video Composition – Perspective
Great cinematographers have played with perspective in so many ways that their audiences rarely even notice anymore. In the movies you watch, can you remember a specific scene where the camera made it look like you’re looking down on the subject of the story? Probably not.
You can use this technique too for your videos. Most interview style videos will place the camera slightly about eye level of the subject of the interview. This makes several things happen.
First, the viewer relates to the person more easily because they see them as a peer or slightly below them. All those phrases about looking up to people or looking down on them – they aren’t just phrases. They represent very real situations in our physical lives, and they are seated in our psyche. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’ve seen this use of perspective enough to believe that it works, even if only in our subconscious.
Second, placing the camera slightly above the subject makes them look up slightly creating more imposed interest on their part and minimizing of any sagging skin. Nothing’s worse than forcing someone to have a double chin because you put the camera too low and they’re having to look down. I see this a lot from people doing video from a webcam. Seriously, don’t do it.
Video Composition – Growths and Amputations
A lot of composition is simply looking out for unintended distractions. Enter growths and amputations.
A growth in when you have something that seems to grow out of a person. The worst is when it’s something obvious like a tree growing out of someone’s head. This is one of those composition tips that catches everyone off guard. You really have to watch out for it creeping into your shots.
This picture just doesn’t work on so many levels, but the biggest, by far, is the distraction of the small tree growing out of this guys head. What happens in a shot like this is the viewers eyes don’t know where to land. It’s obvious to our brain where we should look, but our eyes are distracted by the high contrast background. I’m sure this was probably a compromise shot, where the photographer was trying to get the subject out of the direct sunlight.
Luckily, this shot didn’t also fall victim to the second problem of amputation. This is where you cut off limbs at the joint, making it seem like the limb was amputated. I don’t want to create a gross picture in your head, so trust me, make the frame end in the middle of your subjects limbs, not at the joint.
There really is so much that could be written on composition. The best teacher will always be experience. You just need to get out there and shoot. But you can also shortcut that by analyzing your shots and other people’s too. Look at the ones you like and break apart their composition. Look at the ones you don’t like and ask yourself what’s wrong with it.
You can see the video for this post here.