Reading: Composing and framing

The use of the frame is pivotal to a good film.

‘A frame cannot be just a representation of just what’s in front of you. It’s got to have three-dimensionality. It’s got to mean much more than what is shown.’

Ask yourself:

  • How can I make this image more poetic?
  • How can I say more about the emotional state of that character in this film?

For example, in the film ‘An Education’ there’s a scene in which a girl is being driven by an older man. She finds him very exciting. He stops the car, gets out and goes across the road and sees a black family. She’s observing all of this.


This could have been shot very conventionally. But instead, it is shot in a more poetic and simple way. The scene is really about her and what she’s reflecting on who this man is and what he is doing. The scene cuts from outside the car and a view of the street to her in the car looking at the scene. The car window is closed. So it’s just a reflection of the black family with the man reflecting in the glass. She is just behind it, thinking about it, creating a superimposition.

It’s just a question of using the focus puller to create the poetry of the shot – looking one way, looking the other way, and back again. It’s all done in one image – simple, concise, effective.

It can happen through the choice of locations.

‘It is absolutely important to find ways of actually creating scenes that imply more than the scene itself.’

You can over edit a scene – where you are telling the audience what you are thinking about, as opposed to leaving it and letting the viewer decide which part of the shot they want to look at – are they looking at the background, the foreground, what exactly their emotion is and who they are with.


List of references

John de Borman (2015) ‘Composing and Framing – Cinematography Masterclass’ CookeOpticsTV (Accessed on 20 November 2018)

Reading: Widescreen framing

I’ve been experimenting with widescreen format in my project and assignment films.

‘Widescreen cinema creates a different visual impact than 1.37 ratio. The screen becomes a band or strip, emphasizing horizontal compositions’ (Bordwell 2017 p.183).

‘By offering more image area, a widescreen format offers bigger challenges about guiding attention than does  the 1.37 ratio.’ (Bordwell 2017, p.183).

But how do you compose for wide screen?

Bordwell suggests that while it is an obvious format for sweeping spectacles such as westerns, travelogues, musicals and historical epics, it raises questions about its use for ordinary dramatic conversations and more intimate encounters between characters.

One common solution has been to fill the frame with a face. The wide screen format challenges directors to design more screen-filling compositions. ‘They can’t be as compact as the deep-focus compositions of the 1940s, but they can achieve pictorial force’ (Bordwell 2017, p.183).

But wide screen compositions can build up significant depth, even in a confined space.

Director’s multiply points of interest within the frame – requires care with staging and timing actors’   performances.


Gradation of emphasis

In his essay ‘CinemaScope: Before and After’ (1963), Charles Barr offers some interesting ideas about widescreen film. One of which he calls the gradation of emphasis:

‘The advantage of Scope [the 2.35:1 ratio] over even the wide screen of Hatari![shot in 1.85:1] is that it enables complex scenes to be covered even more naturally: detail can be integrated, and therefore perceived, in a still more realistic way. If I had to sum up its implications I would say that it gives a greater range for gradation of emphasis. . . The 1:1.33 screen is too much of an abstraction, compared with the way we normally see things, to admit easily the detail which can only be really effective if it is perceived qua casual detail’ (Quoted in Bordwell 2008).

Bordwell(1985) argues, when using widescreen format ‘the good director will not flaunt the ratio itself…the composition should enhance the narrative situation. As for participatory freedom, the widescreen allows the viewer to notice nuances of character interaction by virtue of the director’s gradation of emphasis’ (p.18).


Key points for me

  • Wide screen format creates a different visual impact than 1.37 ratio.
  • It emphasizes horizontal composition.
  • Can achieve pictorial force.
  • Can contain multiple points of interest within the frame.
  • Enables complex scenes to be covered more naturally – integrating detail in a more realistic way.
  • Contains a greater range of gradation of emphasis – while the 1.37 screen is too abstract compared to the way we normally see things.
  • The widescreen frame offers the viewer an experience in which they can see nuances of character interaction.


List of references

Barr, C. (1963) ‘Cinemascope: Before and After’ Film Quarterly, 16, 4, pp.4-24.

Bordwell, D. (1985) ‘Widescreen Aesthetics and Mise en Scene Criticism’ The Velvet Light Trap Review of Cinema No 21 At: (Accessed on 19 October 2018).

Bordwell, D. (2008) ‘Gradation of emphasis, starring Glenn Ford’ At: (Accessed on 19 October 2018).

Bordwell, D. (2017) Film Art New York: McGraw Hill

Reading: How to Frame a Medium Shot

The Medium Shot

The medium shot is one the standard camera angles used to frame a character. The shot between a close-up and a long shot.

A medium shot frames a character from the waist up – a personal shot; frames character so it appears that the viewer is in a conversation with them (i.e. like a real-life conversation, you are standing or sitting opposite someone, you notice their attributes from the chest up).

A relatable angle that everyone is used to. On camera, a medium shot directs the viewer’s attention to a character.

Roger Deakins frames medium shots above the waist, closer to the belly – a better composition – avoids framing around actor’s joints.

To properly frame a medium shot – pay attention to all the surroundings and light in the scene; the medium shot should show off the scenery as much as the character; pay attention to the little background details


The Medium Long Shot

  • A medium long shot frames the subject from the knees up.
  • The focus is often on the location rather than the character.
  • Avoid framing the joints – frame just below the knees.
  • A three-quarters shot – frames three-quarters of the character.
  • Typically used as an establishing shot – shows character in relation to their surroundings.

The Medium Close-up

  • A medium close-up frames a character from the middle of their chest up
  • Where the close-up shot focuses on just the face, the medium close-up includes a character’s shoulders – sometimes called a head and shoulders shot.
  • The emphasis in on the character’s facial expressions – but their body language should complement the overall composition.
  • The background is not the focus of the shot – tends to be literally out of focus.
  • The perfect reaction shot – gives a great range of emotion.
  • Can be very intimate.
  • Avoid the joints.
  • Check the costume’s framing as well.
  • The medium close-up can also frame on a group of characters – each character framed from just below the chest – great for capturing multiple reactions simultaneously.

Key points for me

A very effective standard camera angle, the Medium Shot provides a way of getting the viewer to feel as though they are in close proximity to a character. Ranging from using the MLS to establish a character within their location, to the more intimate MCU, emphasising the facial expressions and body language. In all cases, keep an eye on where the actor’s joints are within the frame and watch the backgrounds closely to be sure the little details are all correct.


Maher, M. (2015) ‘How to Frame a Medium Shot Like a Master Cinematographer’ At: (Accessed on 25 April 2017)

Reading: Framing – The Building Blocks of a Scene

The Frame

Setting the frame – a series of choices that determines what the viewer sees and does not see.

First choice – camera placement in relation to the scene.

Further choices – field of vision; movement.

These work together to influence how the viewer perceives the shot

  • content of the scene
  • emotional undercurrent
  • subtext to action and dialogue

Further reading – ‘Framing’ in Film Art, pages 177-209


Static Frame

Proscenium – the viewer is a third person observer.

This is especially true if everything about the frame is normal: normal level, normal lens, no movement, etc.

It can be a useful tool; carries its own implications of POV and world view.

For example: Barry Lyndon (1975) dir. Stanley Kubrick – each scene is played out within a fixed frame. Fixed, well-composed, balanced frames that reflect the static hierarchical society in which everyone has their place in a society governed by rules. The actors move within this frame without being able to alter it. The static frame reflects the world in which they live; implies a lack of mobility.

Another example is Strange Than Paradise (1983) dir. Jim Jarmusch.


The Building Blocks of a Scene



  • Informational inserts – give viewer some essential information the need to know (e.g. clock on wall, file pulled from drawer).
  • Emphasis inserts – usually connected to the main action, but not essential to see it (e.g coffee cup jolts as hand pounds table; window rattles in wind).
  • Atmosphere inserts – the little touches that contribute to the mood, pace or tone of the scene; add symbolism or visual allegory; used for stylised filmmaking; must be used with caution.

Connecting shots

  • Shows both characters in one shot – often in the form of over-the-shoulder or wide shot.
  • Make scene feel more complete and whole – rather than simply using POVs and reaction shots.
  • Connecting shots tie things together in a way that clarifies and emphasises the physical.
  • Good shooting – visual elements reinforce the narrative elements.


  • any type of shot, master or coverage, where you are starting in the middle of a scene.
  • shots filmed in order to make a good edit.

Transitional shots

  • not parts of a scene themselves, but instead serve to connect two scenes together.
  • some are simple cutaways (e.g. a scene ends, cut to shot of sunset, cut to next scene).
  • a visual code


Key points for me

Framing is key. There is nothing random about framing shots. It requires careful thought and considerable understanding to build a scene visually. Applying the grammar of film requires a knowledge of the various shot types and how to apply them within a scene.


Brown, B. (2012) Cinematography: Theory and Practice 2nd edition New York: Focal Press

Film Art

Camera Angles: Atmosphere & Meaning

Camera angles are an important component of storytelling in the moving image. They are used primarily to:

  1. create atmosphere
  2. alter the meaning of a scene or shot

The choice of camera angle can affect a scene or shot in five ways:

Viewpoint – by indicating a specific POV

Relationship – by changing the viewer’s relationship with the character

Status – by indicating the status of the character

Suspense – by creating suspense, tension or expectation

Mood – by creating a particular feeling or mood


For example, in these two shots from Witness (1985), the camera angle is integral to  the storytelling.


In the first image, a high angle shot looking down from a statue in the ceiling of Grand Central Station, uses the height of the building to show the character as a small, insignificant figure. In this way, the viewer sees the young Amish boy Joseph Lapp as a fish-out-of-water in the unfamiliar surroundings of the city. It also infuses the scene with an edge of hostility. Foreshadowing what is to come.

In the second image, taken from later in the film, a low angle shot of a car slowly edging into view on the crest of a hill is used to help give a sense of foreboding. Although no characters are visible in the shot, we know that whoever is inside the car is a threat to John Buck and the Amish family.


Low Angle


Images: Die Hard (1989), Shutter Island (2010), Terminator (1984)

Framed below the subject’s eye line, the Low Angle shot is used to create a sense of threat from within the scene, possibly from the character within the shot.


High Angle


Images: North By Northwest (1959), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010), The Shawshank Redemption (1995)

Framed above the subject’s eye line, the High Angle shot is used to create a sense of weakness, in which the character within the shot seems less significant or powerful, or in which there is an implied threat from a greater force.


Canted Frame


Images: The Third Man (1949), Twelve Monkeys (1995), 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968)

Used for dramatic effect, the Canted Frame (or Dutch Tilt) is used to help create a sense of unease, disorientation, intoxication or madness within a scene or shot. Canted Frames range from slight tilts (5°) to extreme tilts (90°).


Overhead Shot

Images: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2012)

The Overhead Shot can be used to make the subject harder to identify or empathise with, and to emphasise emotional distance within the scene.


The camera angle is an important element within the design of a shot. It can draw the viewer’s eye into the frame in a particular way, giving subliminal clues about a character’s status, building suspense within a scene or creating a sense of expectation. It also helps to manipulate the viewer’s emotions as they watch the moving image by influencing the mood or atmosphere within the scene. A slight tilt upwards, downwards or sideways can greatly influence the way in which the story is told.

However, camera angle does not work in isolation from everything else within the frame. One thing I’ve discovered from this exercise is that camera angle and lighting are very closely tied together in the creation of atmosphere and meaning within a scene.


Die Hard (1989) Directed by John McTiernan

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2012) Directed by Michel Gondry

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010) Directed by David Yates

North by Northwest (1959) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

The Shawshank Redemption (1995) Directed by Frank Darabont

Shutter Island (2010) Directed by Martin Scorsese

The Terminator (1984) Directed by James Cameron

The Third Man (1949) Directed by Carol Reed

Twelve Monkeys (1995) Directed by Terry Gilliam

Witness (1985) Directed by David Lean

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Directed by Stanley Kubrik