Tips For Framing Your Shots

Cameras | By: indie

Behind the Camera – 5 Tips For Framing Your Shots

Following is a list of rules to remember when setting up your camera and selecting the viewable area in each of your shots. These suggestions can be applied to any situation, whether you are filming an action movie or a documentary, a still frame or a motion shot.

1. Put Your Subject Where It Belongs

Know where your subject should go from left to right. If you are filming an informational video, “talking head” piece, interview or documentary, centering your subject on camera can work. But putting a person dead-center in a dramatic piece can take away from the dynamic of the scene and will make things look plain and uninteresting.

The proper way to frame a person who is interacting with their environment is to place them off-center and give them some look room. Look room describes the framed area to either side of the subject that gives them space to look at whatever it is they’re paying attention to.

This is somewhat of a stylistic choice, but the most important thing is to be consistent with how you’re shooting each close-up.

2. Use Close-ups to Capture Emotion

The basic theory here is that showing close-ups and reaction shots of your most prominent characters connects them to your audience best. You don’t need a close-up of every passenger on a subway car, but you might use close-ups to show your main character’s discomfort or fear of being on the train late at night as his dodgy glances and furrowed brow might indicate.

You’ll notice that in a less dramatic production, like the evening news, everyone is framed in a medium shot with the occasional wide angle showing the entire news desk with all the anchors and any guests on the show. The emotional condition of your local news anchor isn’t exactly the most important thing on your mind when you’re watching them report the news, is it?

3. Change Camera Angles To Change Your Viewer’s Perspective

Remember that the height and angle of your shot is just as important as what’s in the frame. A high angle still shot can emphasize a person’s small frame, whereas a low angle shot from the ground looking up can make someone seem larger or taller in relation to their surroundings.

A slightly off-axis camera is useful if, for instance, it’s a character’s-eye view. They are lying down and the camera is placed sideways on the floor. As they get up, the camera lifts off the ground and rights itself. Another sort of cliché angle shows the ceiling, with several inquisitive heads popping into the frame as they panic over someone who’s passed out or dazed, lying on their back.

When choosing your angles, think about your viewer’s perspective overall. Do you want them to be right in the action, or should they be taking stock of the action from a distance? If the main character in your scene is a spy observing a public meeting or transfer of goods between suspects, the distant shot of their furtive handshakes is the best way to depict the action from his point of view.

4. It’s the Motion of the Ocean

Ever seen a sweeping crane shot that zooms across a group of travelers from above? A shot where the camera angle starts below the subject and then rises over him? Camera motion, so long as it effectively captures your subject or transfers the viewing area from one subject to another, is a great way to add interest to your scene.

A crane shot may be difficult to do if you don’t have some way to get up high, but there are plenty of other ways to move the camera that will let you use dynamic motion to enhance a shot. Take a look at my Basic Video Camera Techniques page for tips on how to hold and move your camera.

5. Zoom, Zoom. Or Not.

The Office is one of my favorite shows on television. It’s filmed in a mockumentary style, so that both the characters and the audience are meant to be aware that the cameras are in the room. Occasionally you’ll see a quick zoom in from one person to another, or during an interview the camera will zoom out from someone to show that there’s another person in the room for comedic effect.

In this circumstance, zooming is an effective way for the creators of the show to convey the idea of action happening spontaneously. Even though each shot is planned out to some degree on the set of a network TV show, the rapid pans and zooms the camerapeople use make it seem like they’re constantly having to adjust their framing to capture these spur-of-the-moment situations.

In most other cases, though – in fact in every other case I can think of – zooming in and out is not a good idea. It’s one of those Amateur Alert moves that says “hey, I’m using a consumer-grade camcorder and I have no idea what I’m doing,” especially if your zoom is shaky and inconsistent. So try to avoid zooming in and out during your shots if at all possible. Use the zoom function on your camera only to frame your shots before you hit record.


Comment from goitseone moadirwa
Time: August 5, 2010, 11:24 am

i learnt a lot from your article on how to frame good video camera shots so keep doing a good work. im am still an amateur in the world of filming so keep on sharing with me your lessons.

Comment from Great STUFF!
Time: August 5, 2010, 12:59 pm

Keep them coming. Irun a small production house. I cant afford professionals so I use people with working knowledge. These tips help a lot.

Comment from igorotte
Time: November 5, 2010, 9:21 am

Hi learned a lot from your post. I want to for a seminar workshop on video production I am in a quandary if I will go or not. So I have downloaded all your posts. It is only now that I am just beginning to do video though I am already 48 yrs old. I have been very interested in photography and video production but lack of opportunities. Thanks a lot.

Comment from sriram kalaga
Time: April 19, 2011, 2:13 am

valuable learning material.
this material is of great use for hands on understanding the basics of film jargon.



Comment from Drew Wazzizle
Time: October 17, 2011, 12:39 am

I don’t agree with the idea that the zoom is a bad idea. Even outside of the mockumentary setting, the zoom can be put to use. Look at what Kubrick did in Barry Lyndon.

Comment from indie
Time: June 27, 2012, 7:57 pm

Drew – if using zoom is a stylistic choice that’s done throughout your production to achieve a certain effect (eg., 300) then I’d say it’s fair game. Otherwise, use it tastefully, skilfully and sparingly.

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