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Composition for Video

Composition is the arrangement of elements within a scene as recorded by your camera. In addition to what is seen on screen, composition also encompasses behind-the-scenes details such as camera position and movement, focal length, and lighting.

How carefully you compose your shots directly affects how professional your video will look. Don't just point your camera at your subject and start recording...try to picture what you want to see on screen, then take the time to compose your shot so that the finished product will match what you see in your mind.

The Rule of Thirds

Most people will instinctively place their subject in the center of the frame, like this:

While this is easy, it is not very interesting visually and it generally makes your video appear amateurish. One of the most basic guidelines for composing your images is called the rule of thirds. It's a simple rule of thumb which is easy to use and easy to remember.

First, mentally divide your video frame into three equal horizontal segments:

Now divide the image vertically into three equal segments, like this:

Now, recompose your scene so that the important elements of the scene line up with the lines, and your most important elements fall at one of the intersections between a horizontal and vertical line.

For instance, when shooting a person, their eyes are often the most important element of the scene. Arrange the scene so that their eyes are approximately lined up with one of the top two intersections:

If your scene contains strong vertical or horizontal elements, such as a horizon or large column, align those with one of the vertical or horizontal lines.

In general, if your subject is looking to the right, place them on the left side of the screen, and vice versa:

The rule of thirds is just a guideline, but it provides a good starting point for you to work from. If you watch television or a movie with this rule in mind, you will notice that it's followed 75% of the time or more. You usually can't go wrong with it, but that doesn't mean you should never break it...just be sure you do so deliberately, to achieve a particular effect or feeling, and not because you don't know what you are doing.