How to Frame Your DSLR Film Shot - dummies

By John Carucci

Despite the technology, what happens in the confines of each DSLR film shot is truly all that matters. Think about it: The visual part of the movie is what draws the viewer. Creating an effective series of shots is hard because each person sees the world a little differently.

Proper shot composition

The first rule of composition is there are no rules, just guidelines and suggestions, and the reason is simple: What you find dramatic, someone else may deem trite.

There is a psychology to arranging a shot, and it’s quite simple: Our eyes travel left to right and top to bottom. Positioning the subject on the bottom right side of the frame can draw the viewer to it. Conversely, placing the subject on the top left pushes the viewer away from it to the bottom right as if there’s something awaiting his inspection.


Film with the rule of thirds

This time-honored technique serves as a guide for arranging elements in the frame by placing the subject along an imaginary line. Basically, it’s all about dividing the frame into three parts, both horizontally and vertically, like a hash tag or tic-tac-toe board. You then place your subject in the crosshairs of intersecting lines.

The ancient Greeks called it the golden mean and used it in architecture. This creates one of the most common ways of arranging a scene and is used for television and documentary interviews.

Consider the following tips on how to balance a frame:

  • Be careful with that horizon. Place the horizon on one of the dividing lines, not smack in the middle of your shot. The bottom section emphasizes more of the background, showing off a dramatic sky or other interesting backdrop. The higher spot does the same for foreground, making it effective for subjects at ground-level.

  • Leave some room on the top but not too much. Make sure there’s a breath of air between the subjects and the top of the frame.

  • Use the frame to lead the viewer. Negative space is the area in the scene that can either show the viewer something she needs to see or set a mood. If you position your subject on one side of the frame and have her move across the span, don’t have her walk out of the frame, unless that’s your intention.


Remember the people in your film

When shooting an interview, documentary, or news segment, remember the following:

  • Follow the rule of thirds when it comes to placing the subject in the frame, meaning don’t put him in the middle.

  • The subject should never look directly into the camera. Instead, he should look across the frame.

  • A narrator or anchor does look into the camera.


Keep the video frame simple

Less is more when framing your movie. You don’t want to include any more visual information than necessary. When the shot is concise and the viewer clearly understands the center of interest, chances are your movie is on the road to success. Consider the following:

  • Make sure the subject is not competing with other parts of the scene unless it’s intentional.

  • Control depth of field to keep the center of interest exactly where you want it.

  • If the camera follows the subject, such as a person running across a grassy field, be sure it doesn’t lead the viewer into a minefield of extraneous clutter, like the high-tension wires next to the field. Recompose if necessary.

  • When the scene concentrates on the subject, try to frame her against a plain background, even if the scene takes place in a busy area.

Use the background to shoot your film

Colorful, simplistic, or picturesque backgrounds fall into the friend category and can enhance the quality of the scene. Busy, converging backgrounds with extraneous elements can ruin the scene by distracting the viewer.

The human eye can effectively distinguish elements in the scene thanks to depth perception. But sometimes the discrepancies between the foreground and background go unnoticed until you’re viewing the footage.

When dealing with backgrounds, consider the following:

  • Make sure trees, poles, or other stick-like objects don’t converge with the subject, giving the appearance of an unusual appendage or a shish kabob protrusion.

  • A movie scene appears more compressed than our eyes see it. The human eye naturally recognizes depth and mentally separates the foreground from the background. The camera flattens it, compressing the subject to make it appear that the background and foreground are much closer. This becomes problematic with stationary tripod shots because the background remains constant.

  • Use a wide aperture setting to blur the background enough to let the main subject stand out.