Video Composition – Rule of Thirds

From the previous post, you’ve figured out what type of shot you want. So now you need to decide how to frame the scene. Let’s face it. Some people are just naturally gifted with having an eye for creating dynamic compositions. They intuitively know where to place subjects and what items to include and what to leave out so that the composition is just awe inspiring. I am not one of those people, so I’m always looking for techniques to help me “cheat” just a little. Below are some general guidelines that I’ve collected to achieve more cinematic and aesthetically pleasing compositions:


Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is common in design work and photography and most likely you’ve heard of it before. But if you haven’t then read on. While it is called a “rule,” just remember that video is an art not a science so this is more like a guide than an actual “rule.”

What is it?
The rule of thirds is a method of composing your shots. If you picture a frame, split that frame up into something like a tic tac toe grid with two lines equally spaced running vertically and horizontally across the frame to create 9 equally sized rectangles. You generally want to put your subject or point of interest along or near those lines and especially near where the lines intersect each other. The rule of thirds is so commonly used that most likely your camera offers a grid overlay.
Following are some tips on how the rule of third applies:

1. Horizons
Don’t put horizons in the middle of the frame. Position the horizon along the bottom or top horizontal lines for a more pleasing look.

Horizon in the middle of the frame.

Horizon in the middle

Horizon on bottom third of the frame

Horizon on bottom third of the frame

2. Framing a person
People’s eyes should be on the top third of the frame. If the person’s body is also in the frame, the person’s body should be positioned along the left or right vertical third. Following this rule also helps with headroom, which is the space between the top of the subject’s head and the top of the frame. Generally if you’re in a super close up, don’t cut off the person’s chin as it makes the person appear to be falling out of the frame. On the other hand it’s okay to take off some of the top of the person’s head.

Image from

Image from

3. Nose room or lead room
Leave nose room by positioning the subject on the vertical third farthest from where he is looking. If you have a dialogue between characters, one subject should be looking left from the right vertical line and another subject looking right from the left vertical line. (Left and right in terms of the viewer’s perspective.) Otherwise, the shot looks cramped or it appears the subjects are back to back. Similarly, if objects are moving, give the objects room to move by keeping them trailing along the back third line.

Subject without lead room.

Subject without lead room

Subject with lead room.

Subject with lead room

To give credit where credit is due, these ideas come from the fantastic Digital Juice video below:

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