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Visual Exercise 1 - Rule of Thirds vs. Central Framing | John M Morelock: Storyteller
November 5, 2020

Visual Exercise 1 – Rule of Thirds vs. Central Framing

By In Blog, Cinematography

In film making, one of the most common debates is between central framing and rule of thirds. Some directors, such as Wes Anderson, will strictly use central framing, while some others will use strictly rule of thirds. Both methods have their merits, and their downfalls. I find that using a balance of these two methods makes the most effective cinematography.

In the following exercise, I directly compare central framing to rule of thirds in wide, medium, and close-up shots.

Wide Shots:

Central Framing
Rule of Thirds

In the wide shot, using rule of third’s creates some more interest, drawing the eye to multiple places within the image.  Using centre framing makes the shot feel more balanced, like the couple is on more even footing within the relationship.  Especially with the foreground and background details, and a deep focus, the centre framed image does not feel too flat, as they often do.

Medium Shots:

Central Framing
Rule of Thirds

Medium over-the-shoulder shots are staples of any dialogue scene.  Here, I prefer the central framing of the first one (though there are aspects of the framing, such as blocking and background interest, which I find to be contribute to my preference.)  Again, I like the balance of the centre framed image more, where in the rule of thirds, the man being positioned on the 1/3 line as well as blocking her some makes him more imposing in the image.

Close up:

Centraal Framing
Rule of Thirds

In the close up, I find the rule of thirds to be best.  Without the reference of having the other actor in the shot, having “looking room” in the image helps give a feel of space.  Especially by using some of the images above as establishing shots, we have more than enough room for this, so they two actors do not feel too far away.  The rule of thirds also creates interest in the sides.  Where the centre framed image, the eye goes straight to the actress, without exploring the negative space of the frame.

From doing this exercise, my biggest realization is that there are difference reasons to use both centre framing as well as rule of thirds.  Depending on the effect you want to create in a scene, either of the framing methods will do.  In general, I find the rule of thirds generates more interest in the background, and gives the illusion of depth.  Centre framing makes the image feel flat, but also quite focused on the actors.