How to Be Artistic in Your DSLR Film - dummies

By John Carucci

Once you have had a chance to experiment with your DSLR film shots, consider more advanced approaches to arranging a scene. Thinking artistically can give your film an edge over others.

Frame the subject in your film shots

Using foreground objects to frame the scene works as another creative device that makes for an interesting shot. Whether it’s a doorway, archway, tree branch, and peephole — or just about anything on the periphery of the shot — this technique can define the center of interest in the frame.

Consider the following:

  • Maintain attention on subject. Keep it in focus. Don’t worry if the framing elements are out of focus (that is, a tree limb, porthole, and so on).

  • Frame with people too. If you frame the main subject with people (a crowd or group), it’s best to have them look into the frame, as opposed to out of it. This makes the audience look at what the people on the screen are looking at.

  • Don’t place the subject on the edge of the frame. Although putting a subject dead-center in a frame is often a faux pas, it works with this type of shot because the eye crops out the foreground as if it were a split-screen image.


Creative film shots with shadows and reflections

Shadows and reflections are excellent composition fillers because they help unify a scene. Reflected images tend to grab viewer attention, just as the rich textures of the shadows lead the viewer to the center of interest. Balancing the frame with a shadow or reflection serves many purposes, including making a drab subject look interesting. It can also make a statement about the subject.

Here are some things to consider when using shadows and reflections in your shot:

  • If the shadow or reflection is the center of interest, focus attention on it instead of the subject.

  • Treat the shadow like any other subject either by including it in its entirety or by defining a segment (shape, form, or feature).

  • Focus on it and stop down the lens if you need to maintain sharpness. Shadows and reflections don’t look good in soft focus.


Take advantage of symmetry for your film shots

Balancing elements such as color, shape, and light in the frame provides a legitimate order for the viewer to process the intention of the scene. One method uses the contents of the frame as a balance beam, placing subject matter on both sides to form an even composition. Then there’s asymmetrical balance. That’s where the subject shares the frame with negative or blank space to depict vastness or difference.

When you’re balancing the frame, beware of vertical lines near the middle of the frame. They can lead to the appearance of a split screen. The juxtaposition of color is another way to make the scene look interesting. You can position a warmly lit subject against a cool, blue backdrop or use other cool color combinations.

Here’s each primary color and its complementary color:

  • Blue/yellow

  • Red/cyan

  • Green/magenta



Mise-en-scene is a poetic way of visually conveying the intention of a scene. The message is created a variety of ways, but mostly has to do with the arrangement and lighting in the scene, but sometimes it’s created in the editing process. One example is when the subject begins to visibly show anger, and it’s manifested by a cutaway of a train whistle blowing.

Here are a few others:

  • Using cool, blue lighting depicts the subject’s despair.

  • The subject looking up to the sky after a confrontation may suggest looking for guidance from above.

  • The subject walking out in the early morning can alert the audience to the start of something new.