Advanced Composition

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

When I first watched the film “The King’s Speech” I noticed straight away how ‘bad headroom’ was used in the composition of a particular scene. It wasn’t strong enough to distract the viewer from the story, but still very noticeable, although this may be due to my career choice. The framing was obviously implemented deliberately; possibly to make the audience uncomfortable in that particular scene. There are rules to filmmaking and camera language and in the case of this particular scene these rules were deliberately broken for a particular effect. Humans love to apply standards and rules to everything, even subjective pursuits such as art, and we love to break these rule if we have good cause to. Filmmaking has rules and they absolutely should be broken in order to aid the story. But first you must understand the rules before you can break them, only then will you know what you are visually adding or subtracting to the story.




Composition is the combining of distinct parts or elements to form a whole (American Heritage Dictionary, 2011) and is an important ingredient in story telling. The definition of composition is basically ‘putting together’ and can apply to more or less any form of work deemed as art, from music, writing and photography, that is arranged or put together using conscious thought. The elements in your frame can be anything. However you can break them down into lines and shapes. Subjects in your frame such as horizon lines or building tops can be lines and doorways, cars or people can be your shapes.



The use of lines within an image has several different meanings. Straight lines give an impression of masculinity as the male body is more angular than the curved female body, therefore curved lines come across as feminine.

Line are also used to create shapes that are pleasing to the eye and can be used to create depth. Vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines can be arranged in different ways to convey meaning within an image.



Tall vertical lines representing the strength of supporting a great weight as they are not broken.



The crossing lines of the rigging further portray the conflict between the two men.


S Lines are interesting to the eye because they are a contrast with any straight lines and suggests liveliness.



Depth plays a large part in the escapism of cinema as it creates a three dimensional illusion when it is actually two dimensional. Depth is used to make the composition more interesting and lines are one of ways to create it.

Lines can be used to form shapes within the composition. When placing these shapes within the Golden Section they create a proportional representation.


The use of Depth in Moon (2009).


Circular Composition

Circular composition suggests safety and completeness. Circular compositions can work well with triangular compositions.



Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man showing the mathematical relations between humans and a perfect circle.


Triangular Composition

The triangular composition suggests strength and stability.


Knife in the Water (1962) was Roman Polanski’s directorial debut featuring three characters in a story of rivalry and sexual tension.

Andrzej and Krystyna are married and driving to a lake to go sailing when they come upon a young man hitchhiking in the middle of the road. After nearly hitting him, Andrzej invites the young man to pick his seat and to take a nap while they continue driving. When they arrive at the docks, instead of leaving the young man behind, Andrzej invites him to sail with them for the day. The young man accepts the offer, and, not knowing much about sailing, is forced to learn many hard lessons from Andrzej. Meanwhile, tension gradually builds between Andrzej and the unnamed hitchhiker as they vie for the attentions of the young wife.

Knife in the Water

Roman Polanski represents this love triangle with a literal triangle. In the story Andrzej finally confronts the unnamed hitchhiker about his feelings for Krystyna. During this scene, Andrzej forms a triangle with his arms and Krystyna is right in the middle of it.


L Composition

The L composition conveys informality by its incompleteness. It allows for a partial frame within a scene and is used to divide up dead space directing the viewers eye into it. It can also be used to point out a single figure against a background.


L Composition

Leonardo da Vinci’s Saint Jean Baptiste demonstrating the use of L shape composition.



In this scene from Stanley Kubricks Full Metal Jacket (1986) the soldier closest to the camera, Animal, is questioning the squad leaders orders. The L composition suggests that the hierarchy and discipline in the squad is a mess.



When composing a frame there can be more than one frame in the image. By placing characters inside frames within frames notions of being trapped, isolated or blocked can be suggested.



This shot from Black Swan (2010) can convey that Nina is trapped by her multiple personalities as her character appears to suffer from schizophrenia.



The Feast in the House of Levi (1573) by Paolo Veronese uses frames to show three different stories at once.



Rhythm is the used in the edit to show repetitions of compositional elements such as shapes and lines within a shot. This is pleasing to the eye like a repetitive musical beat can be pleasing to the ear. It is a visual version of rhythm and repetition in music.




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