Some examples of frames composed according to the rule of thirds, composition balanced between shots, the rule of thirds being broken, tension created by upsetting the balance and other distinct meanings suggested through visual balance.

I printed out screenshots, drew grids lines on the images and made notes on how the rules of composition and balance have been applied in the following films:

  • Breathless (1960)
  • Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972)
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2014)
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2011)
  • Amelie (2001)
  • Manhattan (1979)
  • 12 Years A Slave (2014)

Logbook 2, pages 23-24


Logbook 2, pages 25-26


Logbook 2, pages 27-28


Logbook 2, pages 29-30


Logbook 2, pages 35-36


Logbook 2, pages 39-40


Logbook 2, pages 41-42


This was a fascinating exercise.  What was particularly revealing was how the apparently simple idea of dividing the frame into a grid can have such a profound effect upon the way in which I looked at the various shots. We take moving images so much for granted and are unaware of the principles underlying what we are looking at. But when viewed as canvases, divided into sections, their hidden beauty suddenly becomes evident.

Placing the shots from ‘Breathless’ alongside the shots from ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ and ‘Manhattan’, for instance, was quite revealing. The differences in composition became so much more apparent when seen collectively than when looking at them in isolation.

This task has shown me that watching and re-watching films is a task that pays dividends in revealing how cinematographers go about composing their shots, and that looking at the way in which cinematographers use the rules of composition within their work is a vital part of my work as moving image practitioner.

Composition and balance help infuse an image with beauty. For me, this is an important element in making a moving image. However, I have often felt that the ‘beauty’ of a shot has eluded me. This exercise has gone some way in helping me solve that problem in my own practice. It has also shown me that most shots within a film are composed according to the rule of thirds, while others vary slightly from the rules, or break quite strikingly from the rules for more pronounced effects.

One particularly interesting example was composition balanced between shots. Maintaining the continuity of composition between shots in a dialogue scene is key to drawing the viewer into the scene and can add considerably to the intimacy of such scenes.

Coming from a documentary background, where there is often little or no time to consider the composition or balance of a shot before capturing footage of an event, I feel much more informed in how cinematographers compose their images so that significant objects, divisions and units of space correspond to the grid lines identified by the rule of thirds.

Composition and balance are important tools in the cinematographer’s toolbox. I shall be using what I have learnt here to plan new learning experiences, by incorporating the analysis of composition and balance into the planning of future moving images and by making study films with specific goals in mind for exploring specific techniques. For example, by making study films that practice basic techniques of composition and balance; by making study films that attempt to break the rules; and by attempting to replicate shots that inspire or intrigue me in the work of other practitioners.