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Phi Grid/ Central Dominant Eye Composition (14 replies and 5 comments)

jarlath.mckernan
8 months ago
jarlath.mckernan 8 months ago

Hi Roger, been studying in-depth the composition of singles lately. I have myself learned they usually work better when composed bearing in mind the phi grid/golden ratio. I am asking if you consciously are aware of the phi grid when composing your singles, or if it is just instinct. Below I attach a couple of frames from Blade Runner 2049, which use the central dominant eye composition. 

We can see that you are composing the eyes for the top horizontal line of the phi grid/golden ratio. You have the corner of the eye placed at the center, and the eye of course derives from this point, rather than just being dead center. Was this subtle detail-conscious?

https://www.rogerdeakins.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Screenshot-2021-12-17-at-05.41.44-1.png
https://www.rogerdeakins.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Screenshot-2021-12-17-at-05.40.33-1.png
Roger Deakins
8 months ago
Roger Deakins 8 months ago

I have never see a Phi Grid before. Pure coincidence!

jarlath.mckernan
8 months ago

Interesting Roger. Thanks for the reply.

dmullenasc
8 months ago
dmullenasc 8 months ago

Most composing happens quickly, based on taste and experience, but there are a few common things that happen. 

Laterally, especially in a such a wide format as 2.40 : 1, you think about centering versus off-centering the subject, and what background elements you are balancing with will affect your choices (or foreground elements like the nose of a gun being held). How much you center versus off-center is also a taste thing and may be a story / symbolic thing too.

Vertically, there are similar factors in taste, chosen style for headroom, etc. (The only vague guideline you sometimes hear is that as the close-up gets tighter and tighter, it is better to start cropping the forehead before you start cropping the chin.)

Sure, sometimes you think of the classic Rule of Thirds but again, this is only a vague guideline not really a rule. Most of the time you are responding to objects and light values in the frame that are affecting the balance of elements, so you can't blindly apply any rules. For example, maybe you are taking a photo of a lone tree on a hilltop against the sky in a long shot and at first you set the tree in the lower third of the frame... but then you find that the top edge of a dramatic cloud is being cropped so you tilt down a little to hold that, and maybe it becomes "better" to push the tree more to the side to balance with the cloud. It's all taste and instinct at that point.

When I have scenes shot with two cameras by two operators and I'm at the monitors, sometimes I have to get the two operators to frame in a similar style because one often likes to push things to the edges and one likes to keep things centered.

jarlath.mckernan
8 months ago

Thanks David! I know that following rules in an art form too much, restricts the core element of creativity. I think what interests me however is why placing characters appropriately along these lines give an almost invisible feel, but a few inches to the right or left, up or down take away from the story and the audience out of the scene.

You are right, and I would say as well it's just a measure of intuition/feeling out the frame. It is mad what a few centimeters to the left or right can have on the impact of a story being told. Considering what you want to frame and why should probably come prior to how.

dmullenasc
8 months ago

The thing is that actors move and usually the operator shouldn't keep floating the frame around just to keep the actor's eyes on some sort of target -- you have to decide when to keep the camera still and let the actor move within the frame and when you actually have to move with the actor. That's one of the hard parts of operating, knowing when to NOT move with the actor because you sense the actor is going to return soon to the original position, so if they are just swaying in their close-up, the camera isn't swaying around as well. But then you have to stay sharp in case the actor changes to a position that they aren't moving from, it becomes a new position. It's similar to the problem of using sliders as "over-keepers", you don't want the audience to sense that there is an operator behind the camera chasing some shoulder back and forth.

Steve Buckwalter
8 months ago

I think this is the hardest thing for me as an operator, and I try to really get an idea of what the actors are going to do either in the rehearsal or in the master. It's easier for me when I'm hand held, but if I feel like I'm struggling with movement in the take, I usually end up trying to go a little wider, because I really don't want my operating to distract from the performance. And I agree that trying to chase a particular frame can be that kind of distraction. I've been shooting more widescreen lately, and yet I often find myself keeping people close to center, because anything else can end up feeling like I'm trying too hard to say something. On the other hand, whenever I watch something that is shot with crazy or affected framing choices, I always enjoy it and wish that I had the boldness to do it.

fremes
5 months ago
fremes 5 months ago

I just became a member of this great forum. It’s certainly an honor to be here and I appreciate that Roger Deakins has taken the time and expense to put it together and run it.

If I may, I'd like to contribute to this interesting discussion about composition. I used to struggle with the concept of using a grid for composing until a fine art painter once shared with me some tips about composition, that I am happy to share with you, below.

At the risk of boring you to death, I will carefully explain what I learned so there are no gaps leaving you hanging. As well, I will split the text up into separate posts so that the referenced images are nearby the associated text (instead of putting all the images at the bottom of one posting - preventing you from having to figure out what image refers to what text:

  1. Asymmetrical balance is a key to composing images - that two parts of an image can be equal although different
  2. The brightness/weight illusion: In an image, darker objects sometimes appear 'heavier', or grab our attention more (due to primordial survival responses automatically alerting us to small, dark objects that could be distant predators)

Examples below:

  1. 1971, Barnstaple, England - haystacks image (below) composed by Roger Deakins - the 2 haystacks on the right equal or balance the 3 haystacks on the left
https://www.rogerdeakins.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Roger-Deakins-Haystacks.jpg
fremes
5 months ago
fremes 5 months ago

2. 1996 Fargo (movie) parking lot image (below) composed by Roger Deakins - the 5 figures on the left equal or balance the 7 figures on the right

https://www.rogerdeakins.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Roger-Deakins-Fargo.jpg
fremes
5 months ago
fremes 5 months ago

You may be asking yourself, mathematically, how can 3 = 2 in the haystacks image, and how can 5 = 7 in the parking lot image?

Answer:

  1. a) In the haystacks image, the 2 smaller haystacks on the right (being slightly darker) equal or balance the 3 larger haystacks on the left.
  2. b) In the parking lot image, the dark car, and the human figure (grab our attention more) add more weight to the left side of the image making the 5 figures on the left equal or balance the 7 figures on the right.

Here's another example from Roger Deakins' photography: 1972, Barnstaple, England. Small, dark on the right - large, bright on the left

https://www.rogerdeakins.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/DEA-01-0214-1.jpg
fremes
5 months ago
fremes 5 months ago

Here's another example from Roger Deakins' cinematography: 2007, No Country for Old Men (movie).

https://www.rogerdeakins.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/No-Country-For-Old-Men-Hotel-Room-Scene.jpg
fremes
5 months ago
fremes 5 months ago

Balance is a simple game of making 2 parts of an image equal each other based upon what grabs our attention the most. In this shot projected light is included – projected light grabs a lot of our attention.

In this image (above) from the movie, No Country for Old Men, everything on the left side of the frame equals or balances everything on the right side of the frame.

On the left (above): The little wall lamp, the projection of light from the small lamp onto the wall below the lamp, the light switch, and most of the actor's right side.

On the right: The left shoulder of the actor, a dark square (picture frame), ice bucket, table edge, and part of the lamp shade.

All the parts on the left side of the image balance or equal all the parts on the right side of the image.

Is Roger Deakins the only cinematographer that uses balance? No. Have a look at these still frames from these classic film directors: Antonioni, Fellini, and Kurosawa.

 

Antonioni:

https://www.rogerdeakins.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Antonioni-film-still.jpg
fremes
5 months ago
fremes 5 months ago

On the left (above): The empty sky, the mountains, 2 dark shrubs, 2 human figures, half the bench.

On the right: The parapet, the empty wall - especially the bright squares and the dark hole on the far right, and the other half of the bench.

All the parts on the left side of the image balance or equal all the parts on the right side of the image.

https://www.rogerdeakins.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Fellini-Shot.jpg
fremes
5 months ago
fremes 5 months ago

On the right (above): The statue, the human figure, part of the sewer grate

On the left: The statue occupying more of the frame, part of the sewer grate

All the parts on the left side of the image balance or equal all the parts on the right side of the image.

Kurosawa:

https://www.rogerdeakins.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Kurosawa-image.jpg
fremes
5 months ago
fremes 5 months ago

On the right (above): The dark human figure closer to the center of the image

On the left: The stone structure further to the side of the image to counterbalance the human figure

All the parts on the left side of the image balance or equal all the parts on the right side of the image.

 

I have found that balance is really a key to figuring out how to compose an image. It's about problem solving the relationships between all the parts of the image so they work together.

Do cinematographers know they are doing this - are they balancing images consciously

The mechanics of image balance are challenging to explain - just like it’s challenging to explain the mechanics of balancing while you walk or riding a bicycle. Further, once we learn how to walk or ride a bike, it becomes automatic. We don't consciously think about it anymore. It's the same with balancing an image. For some people, they've been doing it for so long they've forgotten that they are doing it (and it becomes hard to explain) - it happens automatically. With some practice though, using any camera, you can internalize this process, borrowing from the masters of painting and cinematography to improve the look of your own work.

Speaking of painting, where did the concept of image balance come from?

The idea was developed over a long period of time by fine art painters.

Have a look at these paintings:

Van Gogh:

https://www.rogerdeakins.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Vincent-van-Gogh-White-Cottages-at-Saintes-Maries-1888.jpg
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