Keep your audience glued to the screen with these simple filmmaking techniques and methods that can push a story forward.
A good filmmaker knows how to catch and keep a viewer’s attention on screen. A great filmmaker uses techniques to draw a viewer’s eye to a specific area on screen. These methods can either push a story forward or help deliver a cinematic punch.
In this tutorial, we’ll take a look at a few of these techniques.
Framing and Composition
When blocking a shot, there are a thousand different ways to place a subject on screen. The best way to figure out the framing and composition of a shot is to first consider how it aids the story. Think about the subtext of a scene, the emotional state of a character, or even the atmosphere of a location, to help drive your shot decisions.
In this example, I’ve captured my subject in two different compositions. The first is a close-up shot of her face. At this point, the audience doesn’t know what she’s looking down at, and we can’t really tell where she’s located. However, I can clearly see any reactions she has.
Cut to the wide shot, and now the audience has additional information. We can now see what she’s looking at (a phone), as well as where she’s located (a park bench). While these background items provide the audience with additional information, they’ll also introduce further questions. What’s she doing at the park? Is she waiting on someone? Who is she talking to?
At the most basic level, I can use the closeup to focus on my subject’s reactions and emotions, and cut to the wide shot to show location and give added context to the scene. Before framing up your next shot, think about what you want to reveal to the audience and why.
Reframing in Post
Naturally, most of the framing and composing of shots is carried out on set. However, if you’re shooting in a resolution that’s higher than your editing/delivery format, you’ll be able to reframe your shots in post-production. This particular shot was captured in 6K. I’ll be able to crop and reframe this shot significantly, as I’m editing in an UltraHD 4K sequence.
For the shot of my subject on the bench, I’ve zoomed in a bit to crop out the bathroom in the background. Again, the more you put on screen, the more opportunities your viewer has to get distracted. Naturally, keeping a tight frame will help keep the viewer’s attention right where you want it. For example, if I’m showing a dramatic reaction, I’ll want to have the eyes and face of my subject clearly visible. Shooting in a higher resolution gives me more options.
Another great way to draw a viewer’s attention is via a character’s eyeline. When you see someone intently looking at something, your natural reaction is to turn and follow their eyeline to see what they’re looking at. The same is true when you’re watching someone on screen.
Even the most basic reaction shot will pique a viewer’s curiosity. They’ll immediately want to see what’s inciting the reaction. Again, the eyeline is telling the viewer that something important is in this particular direction. They’ll be waiting for a cutaway, a whip pan, or some other action to reveal the action and/or object. If I want to keep the viewer hanging on edge, I can rest on the reaction shot.
Another option is to have everything in frame at once. In this example, I have my subject looking into the background at several people. We’re not sure which person has caught her attention, but her eyeline draws us to this part of the frame.
The eyeline is also known as a leading line. These are exactly what they sound like — lines in an image that lead a viewer’s attention.
Certain objects on screen can form natural lines. These include roads, walkways, buildings, and even people. In conjunction with framing and composition, you can use leading lines to help direct attention to a specific area on screen.
Here, my subject is looking down a walkway. Not only is her eyeline leading us in this direction, but so is the walking path, the building, and the tree line.
Here’s the same shot, but from a different angle. This flat shot doesn’t work nearly as well.
Here’s a more obvious example, where my subject is ascending a staircase. The natural lines of the handrails, stairs, and ceiling are all guiding her as she moves through the scene.
Depth of Field
Knowing how to control the depth of field will help control the viewer’s focus. A few adjustments to exposure can create a shallow or deep depth of field. A shallow depth of field provides a very small plane of focus, giving all foreground and background objects outside of the plane a blurry look.
Creating a shallow depth of field allows for isolating objects on screen. The more shallow the field, the more blur you’ll introduce. On the other hand, if I want to show multiple objects in the frame at the same time, I can adjust for more depth of field. This can be controlled via the aperture. Open up your aperture to achieve a more shallow depth of field, and close it for more depth.
Secondary Color Correction
One of the final options for controlling a viewer’s eye is via secondary color correction. When making primary color correction adjustments, you’re simply balancing and correcting the image. For secondary, you’re actually refining specific areas of the frame.
In this shot, I’ve made several adjustments to help bring the viewer’s attention to the eyes of my subject.
First, I isolated the background via tracking a mask. Once isolated, I lowered the luminance. The bright red phone case was a bit distracting, so I made sure to mask it out and bring the brightness down, as well. Next, I tracked a mask around her eyes and slightly brightened it up. These changes are subtle, but certainly help.
Naturally, these techniques go hand-in-hand. The real power unlocks when you combine them to create a truly unique shot.
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