The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a popular composition technique that often produces more engaging and balanced images.  You simply divide up the frame into 2 horizontal and 2 vertical lines (see picture below).  You can create these lines in your mind or in some cases, your camera can display them on your monitor (known as overlay guides).  You then put your subject (like an actor) along these lines or where the lines intersect.


The main idea of this concept is that off-center composition is more interesting to look at.  The Rule of Thirds also creates negative space in your shot (the empty space around your subject).  This negative space allows your audience to better focus on your subject.  It leads your viewers eye to what is important in the shot.  It is the Cinematographers job to help the audience focus their attention on what is most important on the screen.  This serves the story.

Rule of Thirds -

In this shot, the woman is framed using the Rule of Thirds.

Common Shot Types

It is important for a Cinematographer to be familiar with the different types of shots at his or her disposal.  Learning the common names of shots helps the DOP explain to the other crew members what he or she is trying to capture.  The benefit is clear communication, which often leads to higher efficiency and cooperation on the set.  On the right, are several examples of common shot types, including:


Extreme Close-up


Medium Close-up

Medium or Mid Shot

Medium Wide or Cowboy

Full Shot

Cut-in or Insert Shot

Long or Wide Shot

Two Shot

Over the Shoulder


Common Shot Types/Framing in more detail:


Over the Shoulder:  This type of shot is usually a medium shot with two actors in it speaking to each other.  The main actor takes up the majority of the frame and we can easily see them speak.  The other actor has his or her back and shoulder to the camera.  These types of shots are useful in a dialogue scene because they help connect the two people talking.  You will usually cut between two over the shoulder shots (one featuring the first actor, the other featuring the second actor).


2 Shot:  This shot simply encompasses two actors in the frame.  A 3 Shot would have three people in it.


Cut-in or Insert Shot:  This shot is generally a close-up of something in the frame that can be seen in the wider shots before it.  For example, you cut to a close-up of a clock on the wall if the time of day is important in a scene.


Cutaway Shot:  This shot is a shot of something that can not be seen in the wider shots before it.  A cutaway shot is the interruption of a continuously filmed action by inserting a view of something else. It is often followed by a cut back to the first shot.


Generally, the Wide shot is used to establish a scene.  It allows for the audience to get the lay of the land by understanding where the characters are in relation to each other and their surroundings.


As we move into medium shots, we (the audience) become more connected with the characer and with what they are saying because their are less distracting things going on in the background of the frame.


Close-up shots are the most powerful shots, because they make the viewer even more focused on what the actors are saying and how they are reacting.


When creating a shot list or a storyboard, a Cinematographer and Director can plan the sequence of shots they want to use in the scene.  For example, a scene may start with a Wide Shot, then cut to a medium shots to better focus the viewers attention to the characters.  Close-up shots would then be saved for powerful dialuge or important charater reaction moments in the scene.  Knowing the kind of impact each type of shot has on the viewer, the DP and Director can pick a shot sequence that benefits the story.

Cropping Actors -

Proper Cropping/Framing of Actors

It is important that the framing of your shots serve the story and are not distracting.  One way shots become distracting is when they are cropped at the actors joints.  In fact, unless you are going for shots that purposely generate a feeling of amputation, you should crop your shots between limbs and NOT at joints.  The black lines in the graphicabove, represent the correct places on an actor to crop your shots.

The 180 Degree Rule

The 180 Degree rule makes sure that scenes involving multiple actors shot at at different camera angles cut together smoothly in edit.  Basically, you dreaw an imaginary line bisecting two actors having a conversation on screen, as long as your camera does not cross the line, the actors eyeline will stay consistent.


The graphic to the right, demonstrates the proper use of the 180 degree rule.  Shot 1 is a shot of a man and a woman talking at a table.  The man is on the left side of the frame and he is facing right.  The woman is on he right side of te frame and she is facing left.  When we cut to shot two, the man is still on the left and facing right.  When we cut to shot 3, the woman is still on the right and facing left.  As long as the camera never crosses the imaginary red line bisecting the two actors, their eye line will always stay consistent.  This creates smooth cuts between shots.  It also helps the audience understnad where objects and characters are in a scene and the relationship between them.

Breaking the 180 Degree Rule/Crossing the Line

The graphic on the right demonstrates what happens when you break the 180 Degree Rule.  This is also called crossing the line.  Lets take a closer look.


Shot 1 is a shot of the man and woman talking with each other at a table.  Like in the earlier example, the man is on the left side of te frame and he is facing left.  The woman is on the right side of he screen and she is facing left.


When we cut to shot 2, he man is still on the left side of the frame and facing right.  Shot 1 and shot 2 cut together nicely.  However, when we cut to shot 3, the woman is now on the left side of the screen and she id facing right.  It no longer looks like she is talking with the man.  This shot does not cut well with the other two shots and instantly confuses the viewer.


Shot 3 does not work because the 180 Degree Rule was broken.  The camera angle in shot 3 crossed the imaginary red line and now the womans eyeline does no match the other shot.

Lead Room

Lead Room, sometimes called nose room, simply refers to leaving more space in front of the direction a subject is facing or moving.  Although, putting lead room behind an object is not always a bad choice, it sometimes causes a feeling of uneasyiness or tention.


The key thing to remember with all of these rules, is that they can be broken for creative purposes.  The important thing to know as a Cinematograper is the consequence of breaking a rule and how it will impact your film.  Always make the right choices for the emotional impact you are try to achieve that benefits the story.

Composition -

Proper shot composition will elevate the look of your film almost instantly.  There is a language to visual story telling that you need to learn and its been around for a long time.  Your audience may not know when they see poor shot composition, but they will feel it and it will take them away from your story.  Therefore, it is important to learn the rules of good shot composition.  On this page we will cover:


1.  The Rule of Thirds


2.  Common Shot Types


3.  Proper Shot Cropping


4.  The 180 Degree Rule


5.  Proper Lead Room

The Art and Science of Composing Your Shots

Extreme Close-up -
Close-up -
Medium Close-up -
180 Degree Rule -
Crossing the Line -


Common Shot Types/Framing













Lead Room 2 -
Lead Room -
Lead Room 3 -

Examples of Lead Room

"Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out."


- Martin Scorsese