Module #3: Visual Composition I – Visual Montage (Pre-Production)

Reading + Writing:

The Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video:

Chapter 1 – Basics

Chapter 1 is about the basics of the camera and how it works just like the human eye – gathering light that reflects off objects. Simply put, the exposure of light plays a huge part in capturing the best photograph. Too much light and the image is over exposed and too little light (dark) images will appear under exposed. The focus of the image is also important. While the eye will adjust the focus of an image automatically (unless you need glasses – like me), the camera will need some assistance (unless you saw an auto-focus camera).

This chapter was full of insights on the ins and outs of the camera, including color temperature, light meters, lenses, and depth of field. A great way to start my adventure on using a camera professionally.

Chapter 2 – Composition

Chapter 2’s focus was on composition and how the camera can be used for making things look a special way.

Author Tom Schroeppel suggests using a tripod to help stabilize the shot, as shaky images can be distracting (unless that is the look and feel you are going for with the image – but those tricks come when you get the basics down first).

He goes on to talk about composition rules pertaining to photography and film:

  • The Rule of Thirds – Image that your image is divided into 9 equal parts by 2 vertical and 2 horizontal lines. The rule of thirds says the you should position the most important element in your science along these lines, or at the point of intersection. Doing so will add balance and interest to your photo.
  • Balance – You can achieve a balanced composition and even out the main subject’s visual weight by including another object of lesser importance to fill the space.
    • Leading Looks (Head Room or Lead Room) – In essence the rule of leading looks is that when framing a subject, well composed shots will include white space in the direction that a subject is facing.
    • Masses – When you see a larger object on one side of an image or scene and nothing of importance on the other side, it is off-balance in terms of masses, however, can be very visually appealing and exciting.
    • Colors – Most importantly, bright colors attract viewers eyes. Try and arrange images in a way that the brightest area is also the area you want the viewer to look at first.
    • Angles – Reality has three dimensions: height, width, and depth. In pictures we only have two: height and width, but we can give the illusion of depth through angles.
    • Frames within the Frame – Nature is full of objects that naturally frames images, like trees, archways, and holes – but my placing these objects around the edge of the composition you help isolate the main subject from the outside world. This results in a more focused image that draws the eye naturally to the main point of interest.
    • Leading Lines – When you look a photo our eye is naturally drawn along lines. Leading lines can affect the way er view an image, pulling us into the picture, toward a subject, or on a “journey” through the scene.
    • Backgrounds – When it comes to backgrounds the camera has a tendency to flatten the foreground and background and ruin a great photo. For capturing a great image, look for plain and unobtrusive backgrounds to compose the shot, so that it doesn’t distract or detract from the subject.

Chapter 5 – Camera Moves

The basic camera moves are zooms, pans, tilts, and a combination. Zoom-In is a shot from wide to close-up and Zoom-Out is the opposite (from close-up to wide shot). Pans are horizontal moves and tilts are vertical moves.

There are two important rules to camera moves: 1) begin and end every move with a well-composed static shot, 2) always move from an uncomfortable position to a comfortable one.

Chapter 6 – Montages

A montage is a series of related shots used to condense time or distance, set a mood, or summarize information. For a montage to work properly and be exciting, it is best that each shot is clearly different from the one before it – otherwise it looks like a bad cut in between two similar shots of the same thing.

Articles for Week:

Video Pre-Production Planning Check-List – 11 Steps to a Successful Project –

Author and President at One Market Media, Jimm Fox writes about how to properly plan for great video production. He states that if you don’t take time to properly plan out your video production, it will likely fail and not achieve any measurable business objectives.

Fox explains that the success of a video project will largely be determined by the time and effort put into properly planning the project. He provides a Pre-Production Planning Check-list to help with the planning:

1. Define your business objective. What do you want to happen when people finish watching your video? Determining a business objective allows you to focus on outcomes.

2. Define your audience. You have to know who your customers and prospects are and you have to differentiate your message for that specific audience. 

3. Develop your message. What are the things that you need to tell your audience that will resonate with them and what do you expect them to understand AND remember after they have watched your video.

4. What’s your budget. There is little point in discussing video with anyone if you can’t communicate a budget.

5. Planned Distribution. There is not a lot of value in creating a video if you don’t have a plan for getting people to view it. 

6. Concept – What’s the big idea. Video projects start off as concepts in search of a purpose.

7. Treatment and Storyboard. A ‘treatment’ is a summary of how you realize the ‘big idea’. A ‘storyboard’ is where you flush out the video in detail – create an outline of the various sections of the video. A well written storyboard holds everyone involved accountable.

8. Length of Video. As online attention spans continue to shrink, ‘shorter’ should be the target. 

9. Approvals. Answer the question: Who needs to approve the video and where do they get inserted into the process?

10. Pre-production meetings. The better the collaboration, the better the outcome.

11. Scheduling and production planning. Pre-production planning will minimize the risks associated with your project. Some things to consider: location scouting, permits, crew, equipment, talent or presenters, weather, and schedule. 

12 of the Most Popular Camera Shots all Actors Should Know

You have to get familiar with the camera, if you want to work in film and/or television. That includes knowing the basics of the camera angles and types of shots. Here are 12 of the most popular camera shots, provided by the New York Film Academy: 

1. The Aerial Shot – Filmed from the air and is often used to establish location

2. The Establishing Shot – Head of the scene and establishes the location the action is set on, while also setting the tone of the scene(s) to come.

3. The Close-UP (CU) – The close-up shot is usually framed from above the shoulders and keeps only the actor’s face in full frame, capturing even the smallest facial variations.

4. The Extreme Close-UP (XCU) – Focuses on a small part of the actor’s face or body, like a twitching eye or the licking of lips in order to convey intense and intimate emotions.

5. The Medium Shots (MS) – Also referred to as a ‘semi-close shot’ or ‘mid-shot’, the medium shot generally shoots the actor(s) from the waist up and is typically used in dialogue scenes.

6. The Dolly Zoom – This shot sees the camera track forward from the actor whilst simultaneously zooming out, or vice-versa. So, the foreground generally stays the same while the background increases or decreases across the frame.

7. The Over-The-Shoulder Shot – The camera is positioned behind a subject’s shoulder and is usually used for filming conversations between two actors. 

8. The Low Angle Shot – Filmed from a lower point and shoots up at a character or subject, making them appear larger so as to convey them as heroic, dominant or intimidating.

9. The High Angle Shot – Filmed from a higher point and looks down on the character or subject, often isolating them in the frame.

10. The Two-Shot – This is a medium shot that shows two characters within the frame.

11. The Wide (or Long) Shot – Frames the subject from the top of their head to their feet while capturing their environment. It’s typically used to establish the setting of the scene.

12. The Master Shot – Like the Establishing Shot, identifies key signifiers like who is in the shot and where it’s taking place. However, unlike the Establishing Shot, the Master Shot captures all actors in the scene and runs the entire length of the action taking place. 

Storyboarding Tips: How to Plan & Visualize Your Next Video

This article speaks about the importance of storyboards and pre-planning for video production. Storyboarding is a visual representation, using drawings and illustrations to map out the flow of your video. It is the first part of your pre-planning, where you can hash out all of your ideas – and changes – before you start filming. The storyboard and pre-planning documents should include: technical details, content, verbal delivery, set location, and time of day. 

Research to Inform:

Below you will find 3 specific examples of the guidelines for proper visual composition:

hqdefaultRule of Thirds – The rule states, that you separate an image into nine equal parts, dividing it twice vertically and twice horizontally. The ‘points of interest’ should be placed along these lines or their intersections. By following this rule, the image becomes more interesting, by creating tension and energy.

This link is to the trailer of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King trailer. However, you can overlay the lines on top of almost any movie trailer and you will see how objects of interest fall on the intersection of the

2_atonement-117Lead Room – The lead room is a rule of composition that states that there must be space in the frame in front of the subject in the direction in which the subject is facing.

The entire beginning of the love scene of the movie, Atonement, with Keira Knightley and James McAvoy portrays the lead room rule.

352-C02-Shooting-secondary-5Balance + Symmetry – Symmetry seems to be a staple of the camera shots in The Shining. In many of the shots showing off the hotel, there is symmetry involved. Characters are in the middle of the shots, and the view is balanced out equally on both sides. Stanley Kubrick uses this rule to reinforce the unnaturalness found in the hotel by using such surreal shots that are so neatly symmetric, that they work with the plot theme of insanity.


Between this module and the next, I will create my own video montage, focused on visual composition on the location of my choosing.

Here is my Visual Composition Shot List: Visual Composition Shot List_Goodwin

Here is my Pre-Production Planning Document (Montage): Pre-Production Planning Document for MONTAGE

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