Knowing how to tell a story through images and sound alone is not an easy task, yet is is essential in the art of filmmaking. The resources are endless when attempting to translate a script into images, but there are a few elements that are key to say things through images without saying them with dialogue. Here we will go over some of the keys of visual composition for storytelling in film.
How to Use Visual Composition in Storytelling
While you may already know it, it’s worth mentioning that framing your shots is a key pillar of visual composition. Beyond looking for a pleasing alignment of the elements in frame, your camera placement in relation to the subjects or objects pictured serves to tell things to the audience about them.
Using a close-up shot instead of a full shot marks a pretty stark difference in meaning. Whereas the first one may be used to show us the emotion in someone’s expression, the second one works more as an establishing shot to introduce a character, for instance.
Rule of thirds
Those coming from the world of photography might be familiar already with the rule of thirds. The gist of it is that your frame is divided into three imaginary sections both horizontally and vertically, creating a grid of “thirds” of the screen.
Now think of the lines of the grid as guidelines. The intersecting points of the grid are points of interest where you can locate your subject or object to make the frame aesthetically pleasing. The eye is naturally drawn to these points, so any elements you place on them will be getting the viewer’s attention.
Depth of field
Of course, the lens you choose to shoot a scene with will also influence the final look of said scene. Going with a 50 mm will portray your characters pretty similar to how you and me would see them in real life, but using a zoom or an ultra-wide angle lens might make your subjects look flatter or outright distorted.
There are times when you definitely want to go for those looks, and knowing how to make depth of field work in your favor has multiple applications. For instance, you can also use a lens with a shallower depth of field to intentionally bring the background closer to the subject in camera.
Contrast and lighting
Last but not least, you want to take advantage of your natural resources too, which is why knowing how to use lighting and contrast is also necessary to be able to say more with images. Solid cinematography also consists in how to compose the lighting for your shots.
Setting up your scene just right can help you picture a character in trouble, using a background that contrasts with the color of their clothes, for example. With lighting, a classic technique is to illuminate only the character of interest while keeping the rest of the people in the shadows. These are just a few examples, but once you consider all these elements, your visual composition will take a role on its own in your story.