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Is Frame size/ Composition an art of illustrating relationships and perspective? (2 replies and 2 comments)

Gustavo Perez
4 months ago
Gustavo Perez 4 months ago

I was looking around the website "Shot Deck" and noticed that a large portion of OTS shots happen in the Med to MCU range. Where the outliers in this (wides, extreme wide, closeups) I believe accentuated something, like an emotion or a moment, or at least that is my working theory. 

I can't remember from where but I heard that a medium-long places focus on what the character is seeing. 

This is all to say that I understand that cinematography has no hard rules and the application of theory is up to taste. But where does one learn that theory?

I appreciate that there are practical considerations in the location, sets, space available, and whatnot, however, my instructors placed a large emphasis on learning the "grammar of cinematography"  so where does one learn this visual vernacular? Why might a medium-long on an 85 better frame the relationship of a character to what they are seeing than a medium-long on a wider lens? 

I have been guided by the principle of tailoring what we do to the story and being informed in my decisions by the story... But I wonder if I'm thinking about it the wrong way? Or maybe you'd have a piece of advice/perspective on this that may help me.

Thank you in advance!

The Byre
3 months ago
The Byre 3 months ago

OK, I am a sound person (mostly A for V) who has been learning the dark art of cinematography for the past four years or so (along with other things of course) and I have noticed that the framing, colouring, moving, tracking, etc., etc. of an image is the same as for audio - there are rules and there are no rules!

In both disciplines, we adhere to rules most of the time and we step away from the rules when we feel like it!  And we feel like it when we want to create an effect.  

You can find outlines of the rules in all the many, many books of cinematography - some are actually quite readable - though I find looking at films and thinking about the whys and hows of an effect and the framing of a shot more instructive.

We may make someone sound distant or appear distant (wide/long shot) for a variety of reasons.  We are just observers, or we are very close to them but in danger of losing them.  It all depends on the context of the story.

For a master-class in this, just look at 'Prisoners'.  Compare the closet scene with the light through the keyhole with the domestic interiors.  What is the difference in the effect that is achieved?  And why?  What is the role the different effects have on the way the story is being told?

University lecturers love to tell you about the rules (I actually was an economics lecturer for a while).  It is his/her job to teach you the ground rules.  It is your job to explore those rules and break them when necessary!

In economics, there are countless examples where price-demand curves just do not work (e.g. in the so-called 'snob-effect').

In electronics, Ohm's Law tells us that V=IR.  That is an immutable law of electrical conductivity.  So what happens when R (resistance) is zero?  Suddenly we find ourselves having to doubt the validity of one of the basic laws of physics!  (Don't worry, it still applies, but you'll have to read up about what changes on Wikipedia!)

Sometimes the rules seem to have been bent completely out of shape.  In college, we learn that a character should be looking into the frame - oh yer?  What about all those horror movies where they are all the way to the right and looking anxiously even further right?  We are told to avoid perfect symmetry - all that rule-of-thirds guff!  What about BR-2049 and Kundrun?  Loads of symmetry there!

I hope some of that helps!

Gustavo Perez
3 months ago

I have heard that typically you lense the POV character on a wider lens than the other character during a conversation. I think I'm still too early on in my career to understand how to break the "rules" if there are any when it comes to the application of theory. I'm trying to learn as much of the hard science as I can, for instance, I have been learning a lot about how sensors work. The way that they capture information, how shifts in color temp can affect the color of a party gel, and so much more! I love it all so much, but I worry about not being able to really make that "poetry" that is often spoken about in films. I won't lie to you... it worries me when I watch a film that is hailed for its deep themes and subtext and at the end of the film I need to read three articles and watch videos just to understand what the movie was about. When I first started watching artsy movies I was 17, being 20 now I'm happy to say that I have gotten better at reading between the lines and understanding subtext, however, I'm still no good at identifying these big lofty themes.

3 months ago
dmullenasc 3 months ago

Focal-length for POV shots just depends on what psychological effect you are trying to convey, a long lens might be used to suggest the eye picking out a detail or an individual at a distance, as if the mind “zoomed in” on that small detail. There are no rules, it’s about communication to the audience, what works for that moment.

Gustavo Perez
3 months ago

That's a good point. I didn't take into account how much of this is down to the script and storytelling of the director. Does all of this subtextual storytelling in the lensing, framing, and composition even matter if the director does not use it in such a way that communicates these intentions? I feel like at that point it just becomes "a shot" in the project. I think it is cool that I can use the movement or framing of a shot to make it a physical representation of the story, however, would such depth need to be a conversation in pre-pro in your opinion?

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