Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I love TV and film. I love it so much I just can’t shut up about it. I live and breathe it, so that passion naturally progressed into studying and learning everything I could about filmmaking techniques. Film is a visual medium. Yes, scripts and believable acting are important. However, if the audience can’t focus on the acting, or the shots are so choppy that scenes are impossible to follow, that is a huge problem.
First, let's review a very basic shot framing method that almost every cinematographer starts off learning called the rule of thirds:
© The CW, DC Comics
Basically, points and lines of interest should occur at one-third or two-thirds of the way up (or across) the frame, instead of dead center. This is more visually interesting than filming everything in the center of the frame, which will get incredibly boring. Obviously this isn’t an unbreakable rule, but it’s a good place to start, and something that you should be familiar with when you begin filmmaking. Once the rule of thirds has been mastered, intermediate filmmakers move onto more interesting, unconventional or technically challenging shots. Here are of my favorite techniques for you to increase your shot framing repertoire:
- DUTCH ANGLE
© Marvel Studios
A Dutch angle can be an interesting shot, as it frames your subject off-kilter with the camera being tilted at least five degrees. It can suggest action, chaos, or internal struggles. And although I’m using a shot from Thor: The Dark World as an example, it’s been argued that this angle is actually over-used in this movie. If used properly, the Dutch angle can also be a great way to make the audience feel like a voyeur.
- EXTREME CLOSE UP
An extreme close up (or XCU) zooms in a subject or prop (usually a macguffin). When focused on a subject, it gives the audience a very intimate look at their emotions, words, or even intentions. When focused on a prop, it’s usually used to show the importance of something either to characters or a plot device.
- WIDE SHOT
©The CW, DC Comics
The wide shot focuses on minimalism. Not only is it used as an establishing shot, but it can also serve to illustrate a character’s loneliness, emptiness or the first steps to a journey. The wide shot focuses heavily on framing the background setting, with the subjects taking up very little of the shot from a wide (get it?) distance. I personally love wide shots! They can set the tone for an entire act and their versatility is often underutilized.
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- HIGH ANGLE SHOT
A high angle shot looks down at the subject(s), and can actually be more multifaceted than you’d think. In this shot from Master of None, the camera is at an angle where the intricate tiling on a museum floor looks like a patterned backdrop, but also manages to capture both subjects from a point of view where each of them is visible and taking up just the right amount of space in the frame.
- THE MASTER SHOT
© Adult Swim, Cartoon Network
I saved the best for last! A master shot is when an entire scene (from start to finish!) is filmed at an angle that keeps all the subjects in view. Often it is a long or wide shot, and is versatile enough to also function as an establishing shot. The master shot is often the first scene that a production films. It sets the entire tone and can be the foundation of a project’s camera coverage.
So what are your favorite angles, shot and framing techniques? Which TV or movie scenes have stood out to you because of how the shots were framed? Let me know in the comments below!