For part two we’re going to focus on two important concepts before we move on to the actual shooting: shot composition and lighting. I’m also going to give you some common shot types to build on so when you go out to shoot your prepubescent, scallywag of a movie, you won’t be naked in the wind.


First, let me inform you, there is a megaton of information that goes into a shot creatively, artistically, whatever. I’m going to attempt to keep this simple enough that you learn some relatively easy theories and move on with your day. I’ll cover composition more in depth in another post.

If you’re good at taking photographs, you’ve already got this down. How you compose a shot is how you tell your story, and a lot of information can be conveyed in one shot. So as a rule of thumb, (FYI the better you get better at composition, the more you’ll realize there are a lot of “rules of thumb”) when composing your shots, lead with this one question:

What do I want my audience to focus on?

Keep that in mind at all times, and you’ll be fine.

So how do we do this? I’ll give you an easy way– depth of field.

Depth of field refers to the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene. For our purposes, simply keep your subject or point-of-interest sharp and let the background blur.

[lightbox id=”thumb” media_type=”image” thumbnail_url=”http://leonterra.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/depth-of-field.jpg” url=”http://leonterra.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/depth-of-field.jpg” width=”100%” height=”auto” align=”left”]Answer the phone, Neo! Depth of Field (DOF)[/lightbox]

Let me also offer you the classic “Rule of Thirds” which divides a frame into thirds (9 equal parts total) and places your major points of interests on any of the four intersections of the interior lines. The idea is that by placing your subjects on these points, there is more interest perceived.

[lightbox id=”clap” media_type=”image” thumbnail_url=”http://leonterra.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/rule-of-thirds.jpg” url=”http://leonterra.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/rule-of-thirds.jpg” width=”100%” height=”auto” align=”left”]”M.C. Clap Yo Hands” Rule of Thirds. Isn’t exactly on the convergence point, but you get it right?[/lightbox]


If it’s daytime when you shoot, you’re probably not going to be lighting any scenes, or more specifically, you’ll be manipulating that light. More on that at a later time. But having a basic grasp of lighting techniques is still useful for the lone filmmaker to have.

There are three reasons why lighting is important to your film:

1. You need enough light to induce proper exposure from your camera (the technical reason).

2. To help create the illusion of depth through shadows and highlights.

3. Establish a mood for the scene being lit (the artistic reason).

[Note: depth is also created in the composition, but that’s more of a larger discussion best saved for a more extensive explanation later.] [lightbox media_type=”image” thumbnail_url=”http://leonterra.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/lighting.jpg” url=”http://leonterra.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/lighting.jpg” width=”100%” height=”auto” align=”left”][/lightbox][For a hospital where doctors need to see what’s going on, it sure is dark and moody. Oh drama, you’re everywhere.]

Your tools for lighting are various. Some expensive, some free (the sun). I won’t talk about what specific lights to use, that’s your choice altogether. For this part we’re just going to talk about the idea of lighting.

Flat lighting, or high key, is ugly and we’re not going to discuss that. But for the sake of not having to get into it later, it’s basically lighting where there are minimal shadows. You may see these in sitcoms and late night talk shows. They have their purposes, and if you feel it suits your purpose, have at it.

Introducing the legacy of 3-Point Lighting

In a 3-Point Lighting setup you have, well, three points.

– The main light, or key light.

– The fill light.

– The backlight, or accent light.

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The key light is placed off-camera. Either side of the camera facing toward the subject but not too far that it lights from the side. Although that effect, does look nice.

[TIP#1: Your key light can be the sun if it’s available.] [TIP#2: Your key light will look more realistic if it’s a motivated light source, meaning, if it’s coming from a place where a light source would actually be. Although it’s not uncommon to find some films that don’t have motivated light such as when a couple is walking down a dark street and they happen to both be lit from an unknown source off screen.

[lightbox id=”light” media_type=”image” thumbnail_url=”http://leonterra.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/unknown_lightsource.jpg” url=”http://leonterra.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/unknown_lightsource.jpg” width=”100%” height=”auto” align=”left”]Seriously, where is that light from the right coming from in this dark house?[/lightbox] [Seriously, where is that light from the right coming from in this dark house?]

The fill light, stands on the other side of the key light at lower intensity to fill in the shadows to allow more detail in your image. Sometimes another light source isn’t necessary because there is already enough detail in the shadow. Use your eyes.

The backlight is positioned behind the subject off to the sides, or behind to create an accent that pulls the subject from the background.

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This lighting setup sets the formula for other variations. Experiment and see what happens.


Close-ups, mediums, chokers, cowboys, ECUs, fulls, singles, two-shots, clean shots, dirty shots.

Let’s make this easy for now. Keep in mind, shots are loosely defined, as with a lot of film terms, depending on who you’re working with or where you’re working, there will be slight variations.

From part one, if you recall, I already went over two shots: Master, and OTS. The master covers all the action that takes place in a scene and used as a guide for editing later on and the OTS covers the characters as stand alones.

To keep things easy I suggest keeping three ranges in mind:




You can slightly alter each one of these shots so feel free to make changes, but in terms of visual storytelling, these three can cover most of your scenes, given that you use them in a way that provides the priority information you want to convey. So let’s go over application.


[lightbox media_type=”image” thumbnail_url=”http://leonterra.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/wide-shot_example.jpg” url=”http://leonterra.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/wide-shot_example.jpg” width=”100%” height=”auto” align=”left”][/lightbox]

The WIDE shot is almost always used as your MASTER shot to guide your action. But you can also use it to establish the setting of the scene (often called ESTABLISHING shots*) or the geography of the scene, to give your audience information to where your characters or subjects are located within an area.

*ESTABLISHING shots aren’t always tied to WIDE shots, but most are.


[lightbox media_type=”image” thumbnail_url=”http://leonterra.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/medium-shot_example.jpg” url=”http://leonterra.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/medium-shot_example.jpg” width=”100%” height=”auto” align=”left”][/lightbox]

The MEDIUM shot is closer than a wide shot and closer to the action. An exact line is blurry but in most cases it’s from the waist up. In this type we’re able to see more detail such as a character’s clothing, and better vision of their facial expressions and gestures. It’s more involved which is why most of your shots will probably be in this range.


[lightbox media_type=”image” thumbnail_url=”http://leonterra.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/close-up_example.jpg” url=”http://leonterra.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/close-up_example.jpg” width=”100%” height=”auto” align=”left”][/lightbox]

The CLOSE-UP is an even more involving shot, especially when it comes to characters and the expressions they project. Use this to intensify a character’s expression.

Close-ups are also used to bring attention to an object of significance say for example, if you have a character in a previous shot looking towards her left, the next shot could be a single close-up of a phone if the phone were ringing. This would also be known as an insert.

If all you did were keep these three types of shots in mind, your movie would be fine. There’s enough variation between them so when you go to edit, it would keep the flow of your movie interesting.

Let’s recap.


Two ways to compose our shots are by using depth of field and the Rule of Thirds.

Basic lighting is followed by using the 3-point lighting setup.

Most common shots are found in three ranges: wide, medium, and close-up.



In the next post I’ll talk about deciding what to shoot, blocking your shots with your actors or friends, and what coverage is and how much is enough.