Tag Archives: Camera Position

Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds

The movie screen space is a confined one compared to our real life vision. It gives the ability to take a limited view of the scenery and present it to the audience. What the audience view is what has been captured through the camera. The camera position, viewing angle and the position of the characters on screen all of these play a vital role in making the visual effective.  Many a times you see a homemade video and wonder that there is something that is not right. If you watch it close then it might be how and where the camera was placed. In order to make effective visuals there is basic grammar called the Rule of Thirds. Again as it goes with many other rules many of them have broken this rule as well, but not before understanding its purpose.

This week’s Friday fundas I would be talking about rule of thirds which deals with framing a visual. Often when you see people taking vacation photography they keep the object of focus in the center of the screen. Even the Horizon lies in the dead center of the screen. Next time you click a photograph try and adjust your camera to keep the object on the one third of your frame and see what effect it brings. This is what rule of thirds is all about. This applies to movies as well.

To understand the rule of third you would need to divide your frame into 3 equal halves both horizontally and vertically. The object of focus is placed along the one-third line. For example if you have a character speaking you place the character on the vertical one third line and the eyes or forehead of the character along the horizontal one third line on top. This eliminates the empty space over the head and to the side of the character and enhances the visual along with the surrounding.

Rule of Third - Positioning the character on one third of the frame
Rule of Third – Positioning the character on one third of the frame

The shot shown above is from the movie The Prestige. See how the character Christian Bale is placed on the one third of the line with a sharp focus.

Sometimes you would need to break this rule or rather I would say adjust this rule to have the character in the center of the screen to focus attention. Still keeping the top of the character to the one third of the screen is important to eliminate the empty space. Although this looks simple it is very important to remember to use this rule when capturing a shot.  As an experiment you can take the photographs you have shot and see how you have positioned the object of focus. Next time you take a photo try applying rule of thirds.

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180 Degree Rule – Can I cross the line?

180 Degree Rule – Can I cross the line?

Let us consider you are watching a movie and there is a scene which shows a car running at a considerable speed. You see the car entering the left side of the frame and exit on the right side of the frame on a highway background. But now in the next shot without any transition you see the car entering the right side of the frame and exit on the left side. What would you feel? Would you feel disoriented in figuring out which side the car is going? And if the car is actually moving forward? Well to avoid this phenomenon the film making process has framed a guideline called as the 180 degree rule.

180 degree rule is going to be the topic for this week’s Friday Fundas. 180 degree rule refers to the spatial relationship between the characters on screen. Let us look a setup in which two characters are conversing with each other. There is an imaginary line called the axis that connects the two characters. As depicted in the figure below the camera could be placed on either side of this line. This is denoted by Camera A and Camera B.

180 Degree Rule
180 Degree Rule

The shots as taken by the Camera A and B are shown in the illustration of Shot A and Shot B respectively. You would see based on which side the camera is the characters left and right position changes. For instance the green person is on the left in shot A while in shot B he is on the right. If the scene involves dialogue between the two characters and then it is advised to keep the camera on one side of the 180 degree axis line. The camera can move to any position within the side but cannot jump over to the other side. If it jumps over to the other side then it causes the audience to get disoriented like our example on the car scene.

If the shot after the original shot has the camera on the other side of the line then it is called as the Reverse cut. This usually disorients the viewers and their ability to connect to the visuals is lost. However many directors have broken the 180 degree rule to give more conveying newer meanings. These are part of the new wave film making. At most care should be taken when breaking this rule. Some of the directors who had broken this rule and succeeded are Stanely Kubrick (Shining), Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) and the Wachowskis (The Matrix).

The Matrix Bullet Time
The Matrix Bullet Time

In the movie The Matrix the bullet time technique is used and while crossing the line the frame is frozen on that time and the logical arrangement of cameras produces a continuous motion to cross the line there by adjusting the orientation of the viewers as well. Many film makers use a buffer shot while crossing the line. The buffer shot would involve a shot along the 180 degree line which separates the two sides. This minimizes the jolt and help in re-orientation of the audience.


In the movie Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Peter Jackson has crossed this line to show Gollum’s split personalities of the good and the bad. The shots in which the Gollum is speaking good, he is on the right side while the shot in which he speaks evil, he is on the left side.

180 degree rule is not a hard and fast rule but film makers should give due respect to this and use this diligently to produce a visual connect for the audience with the movie.

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Friday Fundas: Types of Shots in movies

Friday Fundas: Types of Shots in movies

Based on the distance of the camera from the object the types of shots can be broadly classified into the following categories

  • Close up / Extreme Close up Shot (CU/ECU)
  • Medium Close up Shot (MCU)
  • Medium Shot (MS)
  • Medium Long Shot (MLS)
  • Long Shot (LS)
  • Extreme Long Shot (ELS)

The type of shots are mentioned in the shooting script of a scene. This is determined by the director and cinematographer. Let us look at some examples of the shots from popular English movies

Close up / Extreme Close up: Camera is so close to the object that it fills the entire screen. These shots are used to stress the importance of a character or a moment in the film. The close up shot of the eyes of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill emphasizes her sharp focus and alertness in the fight sequence

Extreme Close up shot
Extreme Close up shot – from Kill Bill

Medium Close up Shot: Close up of one or more characters including their shoulders and head is an example for this shot. This is used mainly when focusing on conversation and dialogues between the characters. Some of the most powerful dialogues in The Dark Knight from Joker has been taken as a Medium Close up Shot.

Medium Close up Shot
Medium Close up Shot from The Dark Knight

Medium Shot: The shot is generally from Waist up or knees down for a character. Usually the character occupies two thirds of the screen. This is mainly used in indoor sequences placing emphasis on a character or relationship between two characters. The medium shot from Amazing spider man when Peter Parker is in his high school is an example of this shot. This shot reveals the physical state of Peter Parker and his feelings for Gwen Stacy.

Medium Shot
Medium Shot from Amazing Spiderman

Medium Long Shot: This shot is between the Medium and Long shot. This reveals almost full length of a character and is used to reveal the relation of the surroundings to the character. The character is usually in the middle of the frame. The focus is also on the entire attire of a character. The shot of Clint Eastwood’s appearance in the movie The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is an example of this shot.

Medium Long Shot
Medium Long Shot from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Long Shot: The characters or object is in full view of the camera and they are seen along with the surroundings. Most of the Action sequences are taken as long shot. The scene from Expendables 2 is an example of this shot. This used a lot of long shots to give importance to the ensemble rather than the single character.

Long Shot
Long Shot from The Expendables 2

Extreme Long Shot: The subject and the characters become the background to the shot and the environment takes precedence over the objects. This is used to reveal the entire atmosphere. Movies like Avatar, Hobbit, Gravity, Jurassic Park used a lot of Extreme long shots to make the audience acclimatized to the environment.

Extreme Close up shot
Extreme long shot from Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Lot of thoughts go in before capturing the visual into a frame. Each shot would place different emphasis on the characters, emotions and surroundings. All these contribute to the viewing experience of the audience. Next time when you are watching a movie, check out for the kind of shots used in various situations.