Audio & Video Design Module 3: Visual Composition I


Over the next two weeks I will learn about shooting and editing a video montage. At first, this seemed like a strange request. I had never thought much about the montage, except as a cheap way to move the story along. Of course, this wasn’t a dig… my favorite show – 30 Rock – is a big fan of the montage. I just hadn’t ever really thought about them as an important part of storytelling. Then I realized that some of my favorite movie scenes are montages.


This week, I went back to The Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video. The first chapter, Basics, covers just that. This chapter explains how generally how film, video and digital cameras record an image, explains exposure and light temperature, and gives helpful tips on using different types of lenses and how to properly focus your camera. This chapter tends to discuss in depth shooting on film as there are many more requirements to match your film to your environment in order to get a good photo. I must admit…as I read much of the portion about setting exposure on a film camera, my brain said “math math math” and confirmed I am not interested in learning how to shoot on film. This chapter also made me realize how much I take my miraculous sight for granted.

Chapter two covers composition. This chapter begins by explaining that the cameraperson holds a huge amount of power in conveying a visual story by deciding what to include in the shot – and therefore, what the viewers will see. Composition is arranging your shot to tell the proper story. The chapter discusses the importance of using a tripod or at least three points of support for the camera if a tripod is not possible. A shaky photo or video is distracting to the viewer and pulls their mind out of the reality of the photo. The chapter also discusses the Rule of Thirds, or dividing your shot into thirds and then making sure your subject falls along one of those lines or points, and the importance of balance in mass, color, and leading looks. Having unbalanced shots can make the viewer feel uneasy or annoyed, even if they can’t quite put their finger on why, or they could draw the attention away from the intended subject.

In chapter five I read about camera moves and how they can be used to convey a viewpoint. Zooming in can show that the subject is important, and zooming out, panning and tilting can reveal more information. The chapter offered several tips including always begin and end a movement with a static shot, and make a move from an uncomfortable to a comfortable position to ensure a clean and natural camera movement. The most important tip from this chapter was to not use a camera movement unless it has a purpose. Adding too many unnecessary camera movements can limit what you have to work with in the editing process. Always have some additional static shots that can be used along with the movement shots.

Chapter six covers montages in 1.5 pages. The montage is a group of images or short videos grouped together to convey a message, passage of time or distance, or set a mood. It is important for images in a montage to convey the same information, but each be distinct from the next.

The article Video Planning Check-list – 12 Keys for Success covers the steps that anyone tasked with creating a marketing video should follow to ensure a successful outcome. These steps are:

  1. Define your business objective
  2. Define your audience
  3. Develop your messages
  4. Establish a budget
  5. Plan distribution
  6. What type of video
  7. What’s the concept
  8. Treatment & storyboard
  9. Length
  10. Get approvals
  11. Pre-production meetings
  12. Scheduling & production planning

The main takeaways from this article are that it is extremely important to define your message or objective, audience, and budget before even beginning to think about the creative aspects of your video. Creating a marketing video just to have one on the website is a waste of time and money. Knowing what you want the specific outcome of the video to be, and then creating a stunning piece around that outcome, marketed specifically toward the correct audience and where they stand in the buying process, will be time and money well spent.

The article also discusses the importance of storyboarding, understanding who needs to sign off on a project, who needs to have input in the process, and making sure you line all of those things up ahead of time so that you’re don’t present a final piece to someone in a supervisory role only to find out that you didn’t have the messaging correct.

Storyboarding Tips: How to Plan & Visualize your Next Video explains the concept of the storyboard and why it is important. The article compares the storyboard to a combination of your grocery list and the recipe. It should ensure that you have everything you need to start filming, and that you know what you need to do once the filming process has begun. It is important to storyboard before you begin filming, and be comfortable with the storyboard changing as you go since this part of the pre-production process allows others to give input on your vision, what to add, and what to leave out to have the strongest possible product in the end.

Finally, I read about the 12 Camera Shots Every Actor Should Know. This article discusses the types of camera angles that are used most when filming TV and movies and what the type of shot is meant to convey. These shots are:

  • Establishing shot
  • Close-up (CU)
  • Extreme close-up (XCU)
  • Medium shot (MS)
  • Dolly zoom
  • Over the shoulder
  • Low angle
  • High angle
  • Two-shot
  • Wide (long) shot
  • Master shot

The over-the-shoulder shot, for instance, shows two characters speaking to one another which allows the viewer to feel as if they are a part of the conversation. The “extreme close-up” zooms in on one particular aspect of the character such as the eyes or lips, for dramatic effect.


Rule of Thirds

I liked this video that shows how the rule of thirds is used in filmmaking because it not only gave examples of the Rule of Thirds for subjects, but also pointed out using the horizon line for this rule. The best example, in my opinion, comes at minute 5:40 with the farm scene from Inglourious Basterds. It really shows how the subjects and the horizon line can both fit into the rule of thirds to create stunning visual shots that help the viewer understand where their focus should be directed.

Leading Lines

The film Stand By Me uses train tracks as guiding lines to demonstrate the journey the boys will face. A great example of this begins at 0.07 in the above clip showing the tracks spreading into the distance (bonus for the bridge as a natural frame) and goes on to show the boys, from behind, walking across the bridge while discussing the distance in miles their journey will take.

Depth of Field

The famous “swipe scene” from Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great example of depth of field. The golden idol, while at times in both the foreground and the background, is always the focus. This use of depth of field to make the idol the subject of the viewers focus helps us understand how it is also the subject of Indiana Jone’s intense focus while he tries to switch it out for a bag of sand.


My creative project this week was two-fold. First, I had to complete a photo scavenger hunt during which I had to take pictures using various photography best practices such as the rule of thirds, balance, and depth of field. This process was like pulling teeth for me. I don’t particularly like taking photos, and I found myself getting really frustrated with both my camera skills and lining up the shots. I did enjoy being able to work with my dog on sitting for photos and being able to showcase some of my favorite trinkets. My Rule of Thirds images are probably my favorite, and I found the depth of field images to be the most difficult, but I’m fairly happy with how they came together. You can check out my scavenger hunt shot list here:

Huckleberry shows off the Rule of Thirds.

The second part of my project was a pre-production planning document for the video montage I will create next week. I intend to create a 3-5 minute video that uses short scenes to show how easily we can lose ourselves to monotony and isolation. I believe that sometimes a person can’t see themselves becoming isolated until it’s already happened. Montages are often used to show the passage of time so it felt like a natural way to convey how a person can lose themself in doing the same thing day in and day out. I think the challenges I will face in making this short film is that I do not want to use any narration – only music and sound effects. The song I want to use is These Days by Nico because it captures the longing, but not quite depressed feeling that I’d like the viewer to understand. I will likely need to find different, license free music if I want to post this publicly. You can read my pre-production plan and (VERY ROUGH) storyboard here:

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