My mentor once told me that there are only really about a dozen or so real basics in any given field of endeavor, including the arts. Entire books and chapters might make it seem otherwise, but you’ll find that all the other countless rules and laws described in laborious detail will be found to stem from those few rock core basic ones. “And”, he said, “when you know those rules, when you have them down cold, only then can you break them.”
I understood that clearly one day when I was composing a shot for a film. The scene had one person in a large room who was going a bit batty at the moment and about to storm out a door at the edge of the frame, but in the last moment just stopped and banged his head against it. I walked up to the un-manned camera during a rehearsal and discovered one of those happy accidents; the idle camera was composed so that the actor was at the extreme right of the frame, seeming to be leaning against the edge of the camera frame itself, the door frame just visible. It was a wildly “mis-composed” and unbalanced shot, yet somehow it seemed perfect. I quickly realized why: the entire message of the shot was one of un-balance and mis-composure. So that’s how I shot it. A lone figure at the extreme edge of the camera frame, with a huge empty room behind him. It violated all the “rules”, but then what are the rules of composition about in the first place. That’s right--forwarding a message.
I was reminded of this recently by noticing a seeming trend in some wedding videography: Tilting the camera. Actually, it’s a technique that was developed in the early days of movie making, probably popularized by directors like Hitchcock and was called a “Dutch tilt”. It was generally used to forward a message of severe emotional instability. So what’s it doing in a wedding video?!
Well, that’s an example of gimmick or fad or trend trumping message. Which is the same as not really knowing that the entire purpose of composition in the first place is the forwarding of a message.
It’s just one of those pesky little rock bottom basic fundamentals in the field of art.
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