Why does bad framing work? Looking beyond the rules of composition

Oct 17, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Why does bad framing work? Looking beyond the rules of composition

Oct 17, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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The only thing over which we always have control in photography or video, no matter what your camera, is composition. We’re taught these “rules” and theories to help improve how we frame our work. But how much do these rules really need to be followed? And how does our viewer perceive the work when they aren’t? And is it still really bad framing when the work doesn’t follow the rules but we can’t look away?

In this video from YouTuber Brain Flick, we take a look at the psychology of pleasing compositions. The rules we’re taught as photographers, and the effects that breaking them can have on the work and how it is perceived.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hx9HB92X_p4

I didn’t think much about it when I was watching Mr Robot first time around. Some scenes did appear a little jarring, but it played well into the context of the story. Despite the nature of the compositions, it just felt natural. I have spotted it in other movies and TV shows. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s usually noticeable. Most often, because it’s not part of the regular composition of the show. So it sticks out.

Even when it is just part of how a show or movie is filmed, it can still be obvious to many. So much so, that it features as part of a joke on Saturday Night Live.

YouTube video

While there needs to be motivation for breaking those compositional “rules”, it can be done. It can be done very effectively, too, as shows like Mr Robot have proven. But it can also be done badly. If you’re going to break them, figure out why, before you try to work out the how.

What do you think? Do you stick with the rules? Or do you regularly break them to get shots that convention tells us shouldn’t work? Are you successful? Let us know and show off some of your own in the comments.

[via Reddit]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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13 responses to “Why does bad framing work? Looking beyond the rules of composition”

  1. Hendrik Bervoets Avatar
    Hendrik Bervoets

    .
    “bad” framing “rules” OK,
    but bad exposure => No thank You !

  2. Donald Wright Avatar
    Donald Wright

    I have a theory that I never heard or read anywhere. I wonder if the rule of thirds makes us unconsciously feel good because it is how we actually see with two eyes.

    When we look at something with both eyes open, we typically put the subject in the center. If we close one eye then, the subject is now close to the third line on one side or the other (depending which eye you close).

    Our brain combines the two images (one from each eye) into one image…but typically each eye is actually seeing the subject at a third point in the image…and sending this image to our brain.

    So, we feel comfortable with the subject at the center (combined image) but also with the subject at a third line…because that is how each eye sees it…

    1. Sanguine Studio Avatar
      Sanguine Studio

      That sir is a brilliant deduction. I believe that you may have answered a question art majors have been asking for a very long time.

  3. John Flury Avatar
    John Flury

    And I thought I was the only one watching this show thinking: That’s a bold composition! LOVE IT!!

    1. Ed Selby Avatar
      Ed Selby

      I was enthralled with the framing of the shots. It jarred my visual expectations. I think it was a well-crafted way to alter our perception

  4. Snugge Dr. Avatar
    Snugge Dr.

    what was the snl joke?

  5. Eduardo Veríssimo Avatar
    Eduardo Veríssimo

    The same all the time. People trying to turn a guideline into a rule and calling it science.

  6. Stefano Angeletti Avatar
    Stefano Angeletti

    You know the rules and you realize when rules are broken. But also the average viewer perceives that there is something strange, something disharmonic, and I believe that it is precisely a desired effect.

  7. Jayson Carey Avatar
    Jayson Carey

    TL;DR: Know the rules an you’ll know how to break them effectively.

  8. bosscock Avatar
    bosscock

    Mr Robot, uses a lot of lower quadrant framing, to accentuate his character’s position and relationship with his surroundings/society i.e. marginalised, aloof, etc . This form of composition is not normally used in photography as the quadrants are used through the editing process to develop narrative, tension, etc
    depending on where actors are placed..

    1. bosscock Avatar
      bosscock

      Forgot to add, this is NOT BAD FRAMING

  9. Sanguine Studio Avatar
    Sanguine Studio

    This show is framed on a rule of fifths guideline …. it is not breaking a rule. Rules are never broken, only bent or shifted to a different rule.