Film Composition and Theory

180° Rule


  • A contingency rule within film that suggests the camera should support the idea of the left-to-right relationships of characters, to prevent direction confusing.
  • First practiced in Western Europe, some time during the early 20th century to keep clarity within film.

In practice:

The line of action or axis in a shot, is down the centre of the two people facing each other.

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Because of the 180º rule; if the wide shot on done on one side of the line, the single shots must also stay on that side of the line also.

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However this balance can be thrown off if the single shots are taken on the other side of the line, as it will appear as though they switched sides.

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Another way of confusing your audience is putting one shot on the opposite side of the line. This will make it appear as though they are both looking off in the same direction.

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The 180º rule is also very crucial for screen direction. For instance if you have two people running towards each other, one should be going from screen left to right and one should be going from screen right to left.

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This insinuates that the two characters are running towards each other.


On the other hand, this line may not work if you have more than two characters. You may have to introduce a new line. Don’t panic, here are some ways you can do this without confusing the audience:

One of the easiest ways, is to include a tracking shot which shows the camera arcing across the line while being filmed continuously.


Another option is a cut way, which is interrupting a continuously filmed action with the shot of something else.


Lastly you can cut to the master or establishing shot, which is a long shot that shows the whole scene.


The Rule of Thirds


  • The Rule of Thirds is a guideline that suggests that when composing a shot, you should divide the frame equally between 9 parts consisting of two horizontal lines and two vertical lines that intersect. It is to help you when choosing where to place important compositional elements within a frame.

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In practice:

To correctly use this rule, you should align your objects of interest on these lines or at the points where these lines intersect. The theory is that it adds more energy or interest into shot, which is the baseline for why we do any thing in film.

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This theory can be used for more than one subject within a shot; in the example below the first and second vertical cross-sections are the ones mainly being utilised.

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Thought this is not always possible. So you can also use the lines as middle marker between two objects as if treating them as one.

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Because most shot “rules” are only guides, you will not be put in prison for putting an object only NEAR a third. (but it’s good to know the rules before you break them!)

The Rule of Thirds is also great as a guideline for shooting people. In an off-screen conversation, your shot should be framed with the majority of space IN FRONT of them. This allows them room to talk into the space.

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This “empty space” is known as lead or nose room.

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It can also start to get complicated if at some point your actor needs to turn around in the shot, you MUST follow the subject as they turn CORRECTLY.

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Again you don’t HAVE to do it this way, but lets be honest, if its not a specific artistic choice, it will look extremely amateur and feel wrong to the audience. Like this:


Just no.

But moving on…

Camera Angle


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