Jan 262016
 

What can we learn: Movie Composition

The Darjeeling Limited

The Darjeeling Limited

The other day, I spotted an article about the 70 Most Beautiful Cinematic Shots, and I wanted to see what techniques directors use in movies that we can use in our photographs.  People often say that they would like their “Pictures to tell a story.”  So what better place than the movies to do a little research.  After scanning the highlights, I selected a handful of the movie stills so we could see what techniques they use in the movies.

What did I find?

There were four major techniques that I found most popular in movie making.  In some images they are overlapping, like Figure to Ground AND Atmospheric Perspective, but for simplicity I grouped them by the strongest element in each frame.

  1. Figure to Ground
  2. Atmospheric Perspective
  3. Linear Perspective
  4. Central Composition

 

While most photography teaching will command you “Do not put the subject in the center of the frame,” movie making will tell you that central composition works with amazing frequency, no matter how many times we see it.  I tend to agree with the movie makers.  The other more subtle techniques of Atmospheric Perspective, Linear Perspective and Figure to Ground are the basis of my online courses and “The Photographer’s Tool Box.”

For those who insist there are no rules in photography, remember that there might not be hard-wired rules like in a board game, but there are DEFINITELY tools.  The whole purpose of training is so that our actions become intuitive reactions to a given situation.  The key word in that sentence is “become.”  Intuition without training is like picking up a guitar for the first time and making sounds…trust me, it will not sound like Jimi Hendrix no matter how much “intuition” goes into the performance.  Cameras are no different.

Here are a selection of stills from movies in the last 40 years.  As we can see, by using these techniques the movie makers are not limited in their creativity.  The options and expressions are endless.  What good technique does is  allow the viewer to have an effortless viewing experience, which is one of the many reasons movies are popular.

Figure to Ground

City of God (2002) Figure to Ground

City of God (2002) Figure to Ground

Days of Heaven (1978) Figure to Ground

Days of Heaven (1978) Figure to Ground

Dear Hunter (1978) Figure to Ground

Deer Hunter (1978) Figure to Ground

Exorcist (1973) Figure to Ground

Exorcist (1973) Figure to Ground

Truman Show (1998) Figure to Ground

Truman Show (1998) Figure to Ground

Atmospheric Perspective

Apocalypse Now (1979) Atmospheric Perspective

Apocalypse Now (1979) Atmospheric Perspective

Children of Men (2006) Atmospheric Perspective

Children of Men (2006) Atmospheric Perspective

Gladiator (2000) Atmospheric Perspective

Gladiator (2000) Atmospheric Perspective

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) Atmospheric Perspective

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) Atmospheric Perspective

Jarhead (2005) Atmospheric Perspective

Jarhead (2005) Atmospheric Perspective

Skyfall (2012) Atmospheric Perspective

Skyfall (2012) Atmospheric Perspective

Linear Perspective

2001 A Space Odyssey (1968) Linear Perspective

2001 A Space Odyssey (1968) Linear Perspective

Alien (1979) Linear Perspective

Alien (1979) Linear Perspective

Inception (2010) Linear Perspective

Inception (2010) Linear Perspective

Saving Private Ryan (1998) Linear Perspective

Saving Private Ryan (1998) Linear Perspective

Se7en (1995) Linear Perspective

Se7en (1995) Linear Perspective

Tron (2010) Linear Perspective

Tron (2010) Linear Perspective

Central Composition

American Psycho (2000)

Gravity (2013) Central Composition

Gravity (2013) Central Composition

L.A. Confidential (1997) Central Composition

L.A. Confidential (1997) Central Composition

Memories of Murder (2003) Central Composition

Memories of Murder (2003) Central Composition

Stand by Me (1986) Central Composition

Stand by Me (1986) Central Composition

The Tree of Life (2011) Central Composition

The Tree of Life (2011) Central Composition

Wrap Up

When a photographer can begin to think more like a director and less like a surveillance camera operator, their pictures will become infinitely more powerful, interesting, and stand a much better chance of telling a story in a single frame.

To read the original article visit here: The 70 Most Beautiful Cinematic Shots in Movie History

Best-AM

  14 Responses to “What can we learn: Movie Composition”

  1. Thanks for this Adam. I so often “see” photography while I watch movies (I am a big movie fan) and I really liked the way you paralleled photography tools. Makes me want to note specific scenes now so that I can remember them! Donna

  2. I always try to think while watching films how did they frame there scenes. Sometimes I subconsciously feel like I want to click the shutter xD you can see that more apparent in old ones with there long scenes and there fixed camera placements.

    P.s one of the greatest directors of all time, Stanley kubric, was a photographer. I remember reading that while he was shooting “The Killing” he got in a fight with his cinematographer, who was more known at the time, about using a wide lens at close distance instead of a longer one from afar.

  3. Great article Adam! I look at movies all the time to see how they frame and arrange the elements in their movies. I heard George Lucas say, in the DVD commentary of Return of the Jedi, I am using a rectangle to shoot a scene with a bunch of vertical lines. From a design perspective that doesn’t make sense! I instantly thought of your teachings and smiled.

    • Hi Gary,

      Haha! That’s great. It is nice to be able to listen to the cryptic language of artists and know what they are really saying.
      Well done.

      Best-AM

  4. Great article Adam. I love to read American Cinematographer for inspiration. It is very interesting to read how cinematographers think, solve problems and create memorable images that further the story they are helping to tell.

    • Hi Peter,

      So nice to hear from you…It is nice to see the range of story telling options that exist in films. Essentially we are all doing the same things. It’s great for there to be some overlap between mediums. We can all learn lessons from the open conversation.

      Best-AM

  5. Great post. Cinema is a fantastic inspiration and I’m constantly amazed by the cinematography of great filmmakers. Only a slight exaggeration, but I can take a Kubrick film and literally pause it almost anywhere at random and the shot will generally work as a really good still photograph.

  6. I love cinematic composition. This is why I love to use my XPan II panoramic camera. Thank you for your insightful analysis.

    • Hi Richard,

      Yes that wider format will definitely open up some more cinematic options. I’d love to see photographers play more with formats, with intention, rather than just arbitrarily cropping to take out mistakes.

      Best-AM

  7. Hi Adam, Great article again.
    It reminded me of the reverse direction. A great Dutch photographer called Anton Corbijn made a movie called The American (with George Clooney) where he applies a lot of his photographic composition and lighting techniques.
    Grtz, Jan

    • Hi Jan,

      Anton Corbijn can frame a good scene…though can I ask you, did you enjoy that film? The concept would be right up my alley, but I found it super boring and Clooney to unbelievable in the role. It had all the right elements that just never came together. Thought it was such a shame as Im a sucker for Bond-esque films set in Italy. : )

      Best-AM

Add Comment Register



 Leave a Reply

(required)

(required)

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>