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Cinematic Composition. Three simple visual concepts. 1. Vertical lines suggest strength, authority, and dignity 2. Diagonal lines crossing the frame suggest action and dynamic movement

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Cinematic Composition

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Cinematic Composition


Three simple visual concepts

  • 1. Vertical lines suggest strength, authority, and dignity

  • 2. Diagonal lines crossing the frame suggest action and dynamic movement

  • 3. Curved lines denote fluidity and sensuality; circular movement evoke feelings of exaltation, euphoria, and joy


Cinematic Composition

  • Every shot must be designed with the goals of cinematic composition in mind

  • 1. Directing attention to the object of greatest significance

  • 2. Keeping the image in constant motion

  • 3. Creating an illusion of depth


Focusing attention on the most significant object

  • Size and closeness of the object- the eye is directed toward larger, closer objects

  • Sharpness of focus- the eye is also drawn almost automatically to what it can see best

  • Movement- the eye is also drawn to an object in motion

  • Extreme close-ups- brings us so close to the object of interest that we cannot look elsewhere


  • Arrangement of people and objects- the director focuses our attention by his or her arrangement of people and objects in relation to each other

  • Foreground framing- the director generally emphasizes the most important subject with the brightest lighting and sharpest focus

  • Lighting and color- high-contrast areas of light and dark create natural centers of focal interest, as do bright colors in a subdued or drab background


Keeping the image in motion

  • Fixed-frame movement- the camera remains in one position, pointing at one spot, movement occurs within the shot in three ways: lateral (side to side), in depth (toward and away the camera), diagonal (combination of first two)

  • Panning- moving the camera’s line of sight in a horizontal plane, to the left and right

  • Tilting- moving the camera’s line of sight in a vertical plane, up and down

  • Zoom lens- a series of lenses that keep an image in constant focus- allows the camera to appear to glide toward or away from the subject


Creating an illusion of depth

  • Movement of subject- lateral movement exclusively creates a flat image, so diagonal or head-on movement is used

  • Movement of camera

  • Apparent camera movement- using zoom lenses

  • Change of focal planes- created using rack focus, one continuous shot focusing the camera lens, in turn, on objects in different planes of depth

  • Deep focus- the use of special lenses that allow the camera to focus simultaneously and with equal clarity on objects anywhere from two feet to several hundred feet away


  • Three dimensional arrangement of people and objects

  • Foreground framing- subject is framed by an object or objects in the near foreground

  • Special lighting effects

  • Use of reflections


Specialized cinematic techniques


Camera angles

  • Low-angle shot- the camera is placed below eye level, the size and importance of the subject are exaggerated

  • High-angle shot- the camera is placed above eye level, seems to dwarf the subject and diminish its importance


Special lenses

  • Wide-angle lens- exaggerates the perspective so that the distance between an object in the foreground and one in the background seems much greater than it actually is

  • Telephoto lens- compresses depth so that the distance between foreground and background objects seems less than it actually is

  • Fish-eye lens- bends both horizontal and vertical planes and distorts depth relationships


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