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Weekly Video Tip: Rule of Thirds

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By Stephen Schweickart

During the past Reel Rebel segments, we’ve taught you how to use your camera; we’ve taught you how to use green screen; we’ve taught you how to edit, but none of that matters if your shots don’t look good. So now we’re going to teach you the most basic of basic ideas for composing your shots…the rule of thirds.

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It didn’t take long for the forefathers of filmmaking to realize that applying the same rules of composition to their movies that are applied to other art forms, like photography and painting, would help make shots that are more pleasing to the eye. Sure, pointing your camera at something and hoping for the best can be fun, but approaching your shoot with some rules and a plan will no doubt yield way better results and save you buckets of time on set.

So this rule of thirds, what’s it all about? Well way back in the day, artists figured out that placing subjects in certain areas of the image created not only a more pleasing image, but added tension and made the piece more interesting to look at. They basically split their canvas, in your case the 16:9 image on your little LCD, into nine equal parts by splitting it horizontally three times, and vertically three time. One, two, three, one, two three, rule of thirds. Pretty aptly named rule, if you ask me.

Drawing these guidelines tells you where the subject should be in frame…on these points where the lines intersect. And if you’re talking about something like a horizon, that should lay right on one of the horizontal lines. It’s a really simple rule to follow. Just put your talent’s eyes on the cross and blammo, you’re on your way to a halfway decent looking shot.

Most cameras nowadays even have a built in overlay that allows you to see your screen split into nine equal parts so you can more easily be exact in your placement of subject, be it talent or otherwise. No, this doesn’t record onto your footage, it’s simply a guide for newbies like you to help get their footing.

As with every rule in art, breaking the rule of thirds can get you some great stuff. I mean, look at any Stanley Kubrick movie. He almost always frames his actors in the center of the frame, and it absolutely works. However, he’s a trained professional and his end game goal is almost always to make his audience feel uncomfortable. Applying the rule of thirds is a great place to start, but once you and it get to second base, don’t be afraid to stray outside of the comfort zone the rule creates. A little creativity can make movie magic, even for you amateurs out there.

Stephen Schweickart is the co-founder of VScreen. For more information on this topic visit VScreen’s site at http://www.vscreen.com/.

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