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Digital Literacy Concepts: Framing and Composition

Information about concepts related to digital literacy.

Setting Up Good Looking Shots

The Rule of Thirds

A fundamental strategy for composing an image is using the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is a guide for composition that divides the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically. You can use these dividing lines as a template for arranging elements within your composition.

Here are some examples:

An example of the rule of thirds         An example of the rule of thirds

In each of these images the rule of thirds is used to strategically place strong visual elements. In the first example, the figure in the foreground and the horizon in the background fall along the dividing lines, while in the second example the thirds help balance the image by using the water to frame the centered rock. Using the rule of thirds can help you create visually interesting images that are balanced and images that draw the viewer’s eye to the most significant elements within your composition.


Headroom

Headroom is the amount of space between the top of the person’s head and the top of the frame. A lot of headroom will make the shot appear spacious, while no headroom will make the shot seem cramped. Generally, you should aim to leave some space between the top of your subject’s head and the frame, but not too much. A standard approach to headroom is to position the subject's eyes along the Rule of Thirds about 1/3 of the way down from the top of the image. Experimenting with different amounts of headroom can create feelings of isolation or claustrophobia for the viewer.

Here are some examples:

Very closeup headshot of a man Medium, well-positioned interview shot of a man Wide-frame shot of a man with lots of background visible

The the photo on the left leaves no headroom or comfortable viewing space, while the photo on the right contains an excess of headroom that makes the subject appear small and isolated within the frame. The center photograph leaves an appropriate amount of headroom to create a balanced image and comfortable feeling.


Lead Room

Lead room is the open space within the frame that allows the viewer to follow the direction of the subject’s gaze or movement. In the examples below, you will notice a difference when lead room is created in the shot and when there is no lead room for the viewer’s eye to follow where the subject is looking or moving.

Here are some examples:

Cheetah running in a close-cropped frame                Cheetah running into empty frame space

Close-cropped photo of man shooting pictures                Man shooting photographs into empty space

The images on the left do not give enough lead room for the viewer to follow the subject's movement or gaze, while the images on the right allow enough lead room to see where the subject is moving or looking.

  • Last Updated: Jan 21, 2021 12:12 PM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.unc.edu/mdc/digitalliteracyconcepts