When looking at video cameras, it is important to understand the three levels of camera video quality: consumer, industrial, and professional. Consumer cameras typically provide 325 lines of resolution per video image and can be purchased for less than $1000 at stores such as Circuit City or Best Buy. Industrial strength digital video cameras are often used by smaller production houses and corporations to produce videos for training or storytelling, but are not typically used for broadcast to a mass audience. Professional cameras are used by broadcast houses and larger production companies to produce videos for over-the-air or cablecast at the network level. The resolution of these pictures typically is between 725 to 1080 (high definition) lines of resolution. Novice videographers may believe that the picture quality determines the success of a visual presentation, but well composed pictures may do more for video than camera resolution. Working with consumer and industrial strength cameras, students can learn the basics of video composition and produce quality videos.  
The audience will only see the video selected to show them. This is an important concept in video composition, as well as media studies. Practitioners often refer to this concept as framing. Framing is the act of selecting what elements to include in a picture. Theoretically, framing is how what is select to show the audience can have an impact on what they then believe (Goffman, 1997). Ted Turner, the founder of the Cable News Network and later the family of Turner Networks, once said that CNN was the most objective news source because they had the luxury of time. Journalists at CNN could simply turn the camera on and let viewers decide what the event meant, unlike the network news which often has the task of condensing a day long event into a one minute story for the evening newscast. However, no one simply turns on a camera. That camera is pointed toward something and with a subjective (chosen by the videographer) frame.  
In order to understand and improve student knowledge and use of good principles of foundation, this chapter includes rules of composing video  

These include:

  • The importance of using a tripod
  • The rule of thirds
  • Balance
    • Leading Looks
    • Masses
    • Colors
  • Other Composition Rules
    • Angles
    • Frames within the frames
    • Leading Lines
    • Backgrounds
Each of the "rules" of composition presented in this section can be broken and are broken by videographers' everyday. Understanding the rules of composition provides a foundation of information from which decisions about shooting can occur. For example, the MTV program The Real World shoots all of its video without a tripod. This creates shaky video composition, but shaky video composition, but shaky video gives the viewer the feeling that the camera is shooting live, on-the-spot action. Much of reality television is shot without a tripod to further this effect and coincides with the message of the programming. While good composition typically means no shaky video, some videographers break the rule as a way to create effect. Similar examples could be made about each of the "rules" of composition presented in this section.  
While the camera may seem light, to hold it steady for long periods is difficult, especially for the novice videographer. Using a tripod is strongly recommended whenever possible. Shaky video, when it does not have relevance to the video being shot, is a key distraction to consuming video. Tripods typically weigh less than 10 lbs and can be set up with relative ease. While it may seem like "a lot of trouble" to bring and set up a tripod for shooting, the time is not wasted. Steady pictures are an important element of good composition. Additionally, if the videographer is attempting to shoot movement, such as a horseback rider, having the camera on a tripod with a fluid had allows them to move the camera from left to right (a pan) while keeping the overall picture steady. This is not only important for visual purposes, but having steady shots of movement goes a long way when editing, allowing the editor to more efficiently sequence shots.  
It left without a tripod and having to shoot freehand, use a three point brace. The three point brace consist of crossing your free arm across the waist and gripping the elbow of the shooting arm in the cup of your hand. Push the camera against the head for an additional brace. These three points: waist, elbow, and head comprise the three needed points to help steady pictures. While it is not as effective as a tripod, the videographer can also lean their body against a wall, chair or even another person to help steady their shots.  
The rule of thirds is considered by many to be one of the most important aspects of aesthetically balanced visual presentations. Using the rule of thirds, the screen is divided into thirds horizontally and vertically. Important objects or details are then balanced in the frame by placing them on trisecting lines. Artists use the rule of thirds for the placement of subjects in paintings. The same ideas apply for still photographs.  
Courtesy: gofoto.com
Courtesy: gofoto.com
Courtesy: gofoto.com
Similarly, videographers use the rule of thirds when shooting interviews for the placement of subjects within the frame. Using the rule of thirds, eyes are placed on the upper third line and as a result set the headroom for the subject. Headroom refers to the space above the subject's head and the top of the picture frame. Appropriate headroom is especially important to video journalists who often shoot headshots of interviewees and news anchor talent.
Which of the three images reflects the correct use of the rule of thirds in setting headroom?
Courtesy: WPLSC, Polymer TV
From a more artistic perspective, videographers use trisecting lines within the frame for the placement of key elements. For example, rather than shooting the house centered in the frame, seasoned videographers will move the house to a trisecting line to create more visually well composed picture. The placement of the house on the trisecting point creates a more visually pleasing video and adds an element of depth to the picture.
Balance-Leading Looks:
A common error among novice videographers is when shooting a profile to not allow enough space between the end of the subject's nose and the end of the frame - leadroom. Leadroom is needed so that the subject is not left looking boxed in, instead the extra space between the end of the frame and the subject, psychologically allows the viewer to accommodate space for the unseen person or object interacting with the subject. In other words, the videographer has allowed for the compositional weight of wherever the subject is looking.
Also important when shooting interviewees from a profile is to remember that both eyes should always be visible. The two-eye rule forces the subject into an angle, which provides depth, and takes advantage of the two dimensional aspect of television. Without the two-eye rule, the subject's profile will appear flat.
Courtesy: WPLSC, Polymer TV
When shooting an object or person, it is suggested that the videographer include another object or person in the video to help provide perspective and balance. For example, if the videographer is asked to shoot a picture of a convertible that is for sale, when shooting the car by itself, something feels missing or empty in the picture. When a man standing near the car is included, the man helps the viewer determine the size and shape of the other object.
Courtesy: Symmetrical
Courtesy: Wildthings
Courtesy: Symmetrical
Bright colors will attract the viewer's eye. Knowing this, it is important that the videographer consider the color and background color of what they are shooting. Wearing green in a video shot in a green forest will cause difficulty for the viewers. Watch for bright colors that capture the audience's attention in the video. While some bright colors are desired, some may appear in the background of the video and attract viewers to them, distracting them from the desired focal point.
Courtesy of Bigfoto
Courtesy of Bigfoto


All objects have three physical dimensions. These include height, width and depth; together it is referred to as 3-D. In video only two physical dimensions are present, height and width. To create a sense of depth in video one can shoot at an angle. Shooting at an angle allows the viewer to see two sides of the object and creates a sense of depth. Remember the two-eye rule we discussed? This is one example of depth. By shooting both of the subject's eyes, the head must be turned at an angle that exposes its length. Other angles include shooting with the camera aimed down at the subject, which provides a sense of inferiority or shooting with the camera above, which provides a sense of inferiority. Shooting a subject from an upward or downward angle changes the subjective presence of the subject and should be approached with caution by journalists.
Even when shooting objects, angles makes pictures more interesting because they demonstrate depth and height.
Courtesy of Bigfoto
Courtesy of Bigfoto
Which of these two pictures is more interesting?
Courtesy of Bigfoto
Courtesy of Bigfoto
Frames with the Frames:
A videographer can make their picture more interesting by creating a frame within a frame of the subject they were shooting. In the art world, one might call this matting the picture. By creating a frame within a frame, the videographer can make the composition more interesting and obstruct or hide unwanted elements in the video.
Leading Lines:
Natural and structural lines often appear in video. The danger is that they can often distract and lead the viewer to an unintended focal point. When composing a picture one should be aware of this potential distraction and be conscious of them when they erupt in composition. Several effective ways exist to turn leading lines into more interesting visual presentations, such as place a subject at the leading lines intersection, move the camera left to right until the leading lines carry the viewer to a focal point, place the key subject of the frame at the intersection of lines.
Courtesy of Bigfoto
Courtesy of Bigfoto
Courtesy of Bigfoto
A videographer has to be aware of the whole picture frame. Because the subject of the video is usually the most active area, it is easier to overlook what occurs in the picture's background. The background if busy, bright or oddly sized can distract from the focal point of the video. Three common backgrounds frequently occur among novice videographers. This includes shooting subjects in front of door frames, window frames, trees and poles. Sometimes the subject is placed in the video in a way that makes it appear that the background object is growing outside the subject's head.
Courtesy of Bigfoto
Courtesy of Bigfoto
A background that is too busy can be equally distracting. Avoid backgrounds with lots of details and in colors similar to the subject of the video.
Courtesy Florida Dept. of Transportation
Activity and movement behind the subject in the background of the video is also distracting. To correct this problem, stop the background movement or ask the subject to change locations.
Final Thoughts:
Videographers should take their time when composing video shots. What looks like a simple process, is actually a thoughtful process. When arriving on the scene consider the potential shots from high, medium and low angles. Each shot will tell its own subjective story and without a well-composed video, some of the story the videographer is attempting to tell may be lost.
Goffman, Erving. (1997). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Northeastern University Press; Reprint edition.