Cinematography: Activity 3

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Framing the Shot

The "framing" of a shot simply indicates where the cinematographer has placed the borders of an image. For every individual shot in a film, someone has to decide where the camera will be in relation to the actors and the space they are in. The cinematographer's decisions about the movement of the camera are critical in telling the story effectively.

At the beginning of a new scene, the cinematographer will generally include an establishing shot. This term is sometimes used in a very literal way—to describe a shot of the building in which the next scene will take place, for example—but more often it refers to an initial wide shot that establishes the spatial relationships of people and other details that will be shown later in the scene in closer shots. The establishing shot helps the viewer become oriented to the new location.

Framing is not unique to filmmaking, as your students will see as they view and discuss paintings and still photographs in the first section of the activity sheet. You might also want to discuss with your students the staging of a play as a form of framing.

Constructing a cardboard viewfinder: The standard aspect ratio of a screen image until the mid-1950s was four units wide and three units high (this is expressed as 1.33:1), which is still standard for television screens. For film, the ratio is 1.85:1. To construct a viewfinder with the same ratio, students will need a piece of cardboard that measures 8.5" x 11". They should mark three points that are 2.25" from each edge on the 8.5" sides and three points that are 1.8" (approximately 1 7/8") from each edge on the 11" sides. They should connect the points, outlining a 4" x 7.4" (approximately 7 3/8") rectangle. Students should carefully cut along the lines to create their viewfinders.

Supplementary Activity:

Have your students view a recent film. As they watch, ask them to pay special attention to the framing of important scenes in the film. Students should analyze each scene using the same criteria they used for still pictures and paintings.

Animation: Creating Movement Frame by Frame

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Complete Cinematography Activities Guide (PDF)

Activity 1: Angling the Camera

Activity 2: Lighting the Scene

Activity 3: Framing the Shot

Activity 4: Learning from the Best

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