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Using the Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a guideline for determining where to place your subject within the two-dimensional plane of your video frame. Derived from classical painting, the rule of thirds suggests that you divide your frame into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and place your subject along one of those lines (see Figure 1). This framing is designed to direct the viewer's eyes to move through the scene to take it in piece by piece, as opposed to focusing on the center immediately. Off-center framing also tends to lend an easier and more relaxing sense to the overall look of the shot, when compared with the intensity of a dead-on view—making it pleasing for the viewer. A final benefit of off-center framing is that it provides more space for the rest of your shot—the background also has real estate to be made compelling.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Following the rule of thirds, in this framing example the subject is placed along the left vertical axis, with his eyeline on the top horizontal axis.

As in still photography, consider the lines that are created in your video elements, and use those lines to your advantage. Of course, this technique can be a lot harder to implement when your subjects are moving, but it's still a good practice to incorporate as you set up shots. As you get better with using the rule of thirds, you'll be able to move your video framing automatically to include lines and angles as you shoot. Try to use the natural landscape and your image elements to add lines to your shots for visual interest.

Issues to consider with lines:

  • Generally (but not always), horizontal lines make for peaceful images, whereas vertical lines make for structured and steady images (see Figure 2).
  • Diagonal lines create depth, and curved lines create movement.
Figure 2

Figure 2 The natural lines formed by image elements won't always create the same mood, but vertical lines (left) tend to create a sense of stability and structure, while diagonal lines (right) tend to create depth.

Look at your subject and the elements around it to see what lines exist and how to make the best use of them in your composition.

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