Module 25


Updated: 02/05/2017

Part IIIModule 25







 In this last section on Composition we'll cover guidelines 11 through 15.   

Convey Meaning Through

Colors and Tones

11. A scene that is dark with many large shadow areas (a dark bedroom or a large shadow area back alley at midnight)  produces a far different feeling than a scene that is brightly lit (the stage of a variety show or a beach at noon).

The predominance of bright or dark areas carries strong psychological meaning in itself, regardless of what else is going on. 

>>Just as the selection of lighting for a scene suggests mood and meaning, so does the choice of color.

In general, bright colors add energy to bright colorscomposition, while lighter hues impart a serene, harmonious and stable look. 

Interestingly, color preferences vary with the viewer's age, sex, and race.

We also know that people prefer to see colors "in their place."

Magenta-to-red colors may be popular -- until they are brought into a hospital setting.

Surrounding colors also greatly affect color preference.

When a color is used near its complement its preference rating usually rises -- as long as the complementary color is subdued and is not more intense (saturated) than color wheel the original color. (Recall that complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel.)

Just as people prefer a balance between mass and tone in composition, they also prefer a balance in colors, as seen on the color wheel. In particular, they prefer a balance between calming and stimulating colors. 

In balancing colors in a scene be aware that it will take a larger area of cool colors to balance hot colors.

Many times a videographer will want to intentionally skew this balance to achieve an intended psychological effect.  

For example, if a scene contains primarily cool, pastel colors such as light green, the effect on a viewer will be quite different from a scene that contains fully-saturated, hot colors, such as deep orange and burgundy.  

Finally, keep in mind  that our eyes initially tend to be drawn to the "warmer" areas of a picture. So, all things being equal, things that are yellow, red, and orange will be noticed before those that are blue, green or purple.color to draw attention to center of interest

You can draw attention to your center of interest by making it warm in color or light in tone, or both.  You see the effect of this in the photo above.


Avoid Mergers

12. The twelfth guideline for composition is: avoid mergers. There are

  • tonal mergers

  • dimensional mergers

  • border mergers.

Tonal Mergers

Tonal mergers result when important objects in a scene appear to blend together and lose their identity.

This may be because of a lack of lens sharpness or because the objects are of similar tonal or color values. Can you find the butterfly in the photo on the left below?


Note how much easier it is to see the butterfly in the photo on the right.

tonal mergerOn the left we see a common example of dark hair blending into a dark background.

As we will see in the next section on lighting, a backlight or a background light would separate the child's hair from the background.

Whenever separate elements in a scene merge together in this way you have a tonal merger.

Dimensional Mergers

Next are dimensional mergers. We've noted that the eye sees selectively and in three dimensions.

By closing one eye a videographer can often get a better idea of how a scene will appear when the third dimension is removed.dimensional merger

At best, dimensional mergers can cause important scene elements to run together and lose meaning; at worst, they look ludicrous, such as when palm trees are seemingly jetting out of this girl's head. 

Although selective focus could alleviate this problem, the best solution is to recompose by shifting the camera angle. Simply taking a couple steps to the left or right would have solved this problem.

Many of these examples of what not to do seem obvious.  However, because our eyes see things differently than a video camera -- primarily in three dimensions -- when shooting scenes we need to remind ourselves how subjectmatter will appear on two dimension video screens.

Border Mergers

The last type of merger, the border merger, occurs when subject matter is cut off by the edge of the frame at an inappropriate point.

A side view of a car showing all but the back wheels will probably give you an uncomfortable feeling that the back end of the car is just hanging in air without any visible back support.

A shot of an individual cropped at the knees also looks awkward. (Note the difference in the photos below.)

unappropriate image cropping

unappropriate image cropping fixed

Cropping off feet or hands in shots gives a similar result.


Control the Number of Prime Objects

13. The thirteenth guideline for effective composition is: control the number of prime objects in the scene.

Generally, an odd-number of primary objects provides stronger composition than an even number. 

divided composition example #1  Note on the left how the boats seem to divide the composition.  

When a third object is added (below), the composition improves.

But when a fourth object is added (on the right, below), the composition again seems divided. 

divided composition example #2 divided composition example #3

In the picture below there are two prime objects, but the composition has "cohesion" because the subjects are looking at each other.two prime objects without a composition problem

Consider how different this scene would be if the two subjects were simply looking at the camera.



Balance Complexity and Order

14. The fourteenth guideline is balance complexity and order

This aspect of composition can be stated as: complexity without order produces confusion; order without complexity produces boredom. 

A medium shot of a banana against a medium gray background will probably end up being a rather dull visual experience.

Add a few apples, some grapes and an interesting fruit bowl, and you'll have a more engaging picture, with the banana still standing out from the darker colors. 

But throw in 50 randomly arranged bananas on top of this and you'll end up with a visual muddle.

Suffice it to say, the most interesting composition is a balance between order and complexity.   


Movement and Meaning

15. The final guideline is: utilize the meaning suggested in the direction of  movement.

Where action comes from and moves to is significant. Movement from dark areas to light areas can symbolize liberation or emotional uplift.

direction of movement


Upward motion -- even something as simple as an individual getting out of a chair -- catches attention because it suggests progress or advancement.

Downward motion often connotes the opposite -- for example, a man collapsing into an overstuffed chair. 


Action that progresses toward the camera is more powerful than action that moves away from the camera. The object, itself, may be moving, or the camera shot may change through a dolly or zoom.

Often, televised speeches are worked out with camera operators so that the camera is zoomed in to add emphasis to a certain part of the speech.

With this in mind, it's generally better (psychologically) during a speech to zoom in for emphasis and then cut (rather than zoom) back, as necessary, to a medium or wide shot. 

Left-to-right movement is more engaging than right-to-left movement (although this may change in countries where text is read right-to-left).

left-to-right movement
right-to-left movement

>>The most engrossing type of movement is diagonal, especially when it's from the lower left of the frame to the upper right.

Related to this concept, a canted camera shot (a tilted camera angle, also called a Dutch angle), especially from a low angle, is often used to connote energy or power.  

At this point take a look at  - Composition Examples II.

>> Also see - these photos on the use of shadows in effective composition. 

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