Composition: Rule of Thirds

You may have seen two similar images before, but for some reason you liked one of them more than the other. For reasons you couldn’t put your finger on. It’s very possible this had to do with the rule of thirds. For some reason the human mind finds images most pleasing when its subjects or regions are composed along imaginary lines that divide an image into thirds, both vertically and horizontally.



How To Use The Rule Of Thirds

 When shooting a scene or a photo, imagine the lines shown in the above image. For some reason our minds enjoy when the subjects and other aspects of the image are along the lines or the intersections of these lines. Many cameras actually have options that you can turn on to show this grid, you just may have not known their purpose.

They do not have to be perfect, but the closer the better.You may need to move around to get a better composition. This may require more careful consideration when shooting, but this is a good habit to get into whether you are using the rule of thirds or not.



When shooting people your instinct may be to center them in the frame. I would encourage you to place them on either the right or left vertical line and place their eyes at the intersection of the top horizontal line (while maintaining proper nose/lead room).


When shooting landscapes, people usually place the horizon at the the center of the frame, however this gives the image a split-in-two feeling. Try placing the horizon on the lower or upper third and any other important aspect along the vertical and intersections.

The Golden Mean

This is what is working behind the scenes of the rule of thirds. Something found every where in nature. The seemingly subjective world of film and photography have a pretty solid basis in mathematics (just when you thought you wouldn’t have to math in film or photography).

The Golden Mean is defined by a mathematical sequence of numbers known as the Fibonacci sequence. The first two numbers are 0 and 1, and the remaining numbers are sums of the previous two.

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89… and so on.

Illustrated these numbers create a spiral, a pattern that shows up repeatedly in nature. Being a part of nature ourselves, it makes sense that we would be attracted to this spiral.



In the image above the Fibonacci spiral is in black, and the rule of thirds is in pink. As you can see it lines up pretty well. I encourage you to look deeper into this spiral as to better understand why this all works.

Breaking The Rule

As with all rules (at least in composition), the rule of thirds doesn’t apply to absolutely every situation. And when you know what your doing, you can break it and still end up with amazing eye-catching images. Learn to use it before you start breaking it. Experiment with different compositions and find out what works for you!


Exposure Triangle

There are many things that comprise a good photo. The most important however, is exposure. This goes for video as well. If a shot is over exposed or underexposed (unintentionally) the image has lost information that you can probably not retrieve, even in post. Today we will discuss the 3 points of the exposure triangle and how you cannot change one of these 3 points with out adjusting the others to compensate.



The aperture (f-stop) is the eye that lets light onto the sensor. The more closed the aperture (larger the f-stop) the less light is getting to the sensor. The more open the aperture (smaller the f-stop) the more light reaches the sensor. Aperture also affects your Depth of Field (depth of focus). The more open the aperture the shallower your depth of field and vice-versa. If you want a really deep depth of field, you want a closed aperture. But to maintain proper exposure you will have to adjust the other aspects.

Shutter Speed

 Shutter speed is how long the shutter stays open. The longer the shutter is open, the more light reaches the sensor and vice-versa. Shutter speed also affects motion blur of your image. If you want a nice crisp image, you want a fast shutter speed to capture the motion with out blurring. If you want some motion blur to add effect you will have to slow your shutter speed. Again you cannot slow your shutter speed with out either closing your aperture or lowering your ISO, or both.


ISO is your sensors sensitivity to light. It also adds noise to your image. The higher your ISO the more sensitive your sensor is to light, but also the more noise is introduced. Unless you want a grainy image for effect, your ISO should be the last thing you increase for proper exposure. ISO is necessary when shooting in extremely dark places, unless you can keep the shutter open for quite some time, you will have to use ISO to compensate.

The Triangle

Just like on a triangle you cannot adjust one corner without it affecting the other two. If you adjust one side of the triangle you must compensate and adjust the other two. It just depends on what you are going for. If you are going for a nice crisp image of a quick moving sport, you will have to increase your shutter speed and open your aperture and possible increase your ISO. It takes practice but is a necessary skill when shooting anything.

Young Filmmakers

There is no better way to become a filmmaker than simply to start making films.

I head this at some point in my studies and and while I cannot attribute the quote to anyone specific, I think it rings most true with young filmmakers.


There are thousands and thousands of books and websites you can access when searching for information on the art of film making. All of these resources can be invaluable. However there is one thing that trumps all these sources – experience. When entering into a cold pool, it’s best to just jump in. Same goes with film. Just start doing it.

Find a camera. Your schools, your parents, your friends, your grandmas, your cousins, your neighbors; someone somewhere has a camera and they will let you borrow it. Many, MANY independent filmmakers borrow equipment. They very rarely own everything on their production, and you can do this too. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, the worst thing that could happen is they say no and you move on. Do you have a smart phone? Start with that, cameras on phones are actually pretty decent these days. It is necessary to have some equipment, but the quality of the equipment is less important, its more about finding your own methods and style.

You can read and read about the best way to shoot something, and while it’s not a bad idea to have some knowledge of framing, you would be surprised how much you can figure out by just following your instincts and being mindful of what you would want to watch. If you would enjoy watching it, chances are someone else will as well. Think about all the shows and movies you watch and emulate different shots and put your own spin on them. Practice, practice, practice. It’s not a bad thing to attempt to emulate someones style, its good practice.

Use your friends. If you want to be a filmmaker, there is a solid chance you have some friends that would love to act or use the camera, or write a script. Us creative types tend to gravitate towards each other, and when working with friends it just adds to the fun.

Not everything has to be a full length motion picture. More and more people enjoy consuming short films and videos. Today we consume media at an extremely fast pace, including entertainment.

The most important thing is to just jump in. Start making projects you would like to watch and that you have fun making. If you are having fun making it and would have fun watching it, you are doing it right. There are plenty of resources out there to get you started in terms of technique and ideas for projects, but you have to put it in motion. You can even get tips from other youth filmmakers.

Get going! Have Fun.

The Edit

Editing is an incredibly involved process. The editor, in collaboration with the director, has the final say on the project. It is a delicate process and it truly is an art form. Every editor develops their own rhythm while editing and a workflow that works best for them. However there are mistakes all editors should avoid when working on an edit. This list is not all encompassing, in fact it is far from it, but it does contain the most basic practices this editor was taught to avoid.


Jump Cuts

 While jump cuts have become commonplace in places like Youtube and Vine, they are generally something you would want to avoid in a traditional editing project. A jump cut is when a small portion of a shot is taken removed. This causes the character in the scene to jump forward. For example; if we are watching an interview and the subjects hand is on the table and then suddenly its gone and their body has moved. We have lost the moment when the subject removed their hand from the table and re-positioned.

This is jarring to a viewer and even disorienting in some cases.

Bad Transitions

Just because there are transitions that make it look like the scene is melting away, doesn’t mean you should use them or that they add anything of substance to your project. There are places for more involved transitions, the key is to know when they are appropriate. If you find yourself wanting to use a transition just because the transition itself is cool, odds are it isn’t adding anything of value to your production.

 Too many dissolves can slow down your edit, and too many tacky ‘packaged’ transitions can completely distract the viewer and disengage them from the material.

Proper Pacing

Finding the proper pacing for each scene and each project is vital to the overall tone of the final product. Editing really is like conducting music. If you were wanting the band to play slow and thoughtfully, you wouldn’t wave your arms around like a madman.

Same is true for the edit. If you are editing an action scene, chances are you will want quick edits to mach the fast paced scene. Always watch over your work, if you feel like something is dragging, try changing it up and see how it goes. Don’t fall in love, everything is subject to change.

Audio Mixing

In some cases there are separate people who focus on the audio. However more often then not, when working on our own projects we must mix our own audio. Audio is extremely important to get right. Most viewers will turn something off if the audio is of poor quality. Audio can make or break a production.

Just as you have background, middle ground and foreground in your shots, you also have a background, middle ground and foreground in your audio. When someone is talking, and what they are saying is the most important information in that scene, their voice needs to be heard overall, the foreground. If you have the background, named just so, playing over your subject, the message is lost.

When adding sound affects you must remember to properly adjust your levels as to avoid clipping and poor quality. You must also listen to your project through different sets of speakers. This allows you a chance to catch something your other speakers may have not conveyed.

To the edit.


Having problems finding music for your project? Be it film, PSA, commercial or literally any other project there are artists out there that sound infinitely better than the stuff you are making on garage band…probably…well at least better than what I make. 4 words you need to know; Creative Commons Attribution License. You can find tons of artists out there via Sound Cloud, Audio Jungle, Youtube and many other audio hosting sites who put there music/sounds up online under a creative commons attribution license. What does this mean? Here’s what google tells you.

A Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted work. A CC license is used when an author wants to give people the right to share, use, and build upon a work that they have created.

Basically you can use their work for free, as long as you give them credit in your work/post to their site. This is a great way to get a sound track to your work. Many artists even take requests. It seems crazy buy I myself have used music like this and lots of these works are amazing. Recently I used music from an artist named KabbalisticVillage. All I had to do to use his amazing work was to put his site and name in the credits. A simple price for amazing work.

There is something more to this idea. Many artists, including filmmakers like yourselves, put their work out for free.


Passion. This is what we love to do, to create. To attempt to move people through our own individual mediums. That is what Reel Spirit is all about. Giving you a medium through which you can share your passion for film. All these artists want to do is to get their work to as many people as possible, to get their ‘voice’ heard. So why not help spread their work through your work. It truly is an amazing concept and a wonderful execution of artists collaborating to make amazing products.

Creative Commons Attribution License

A way for artists to collaborate and come together to spread their work as far as possible. As always their are ways people/companies can take advantage of things like this, but that’s a post for another time.

Artists helping artists, it’s a wonderful thing.

Keep Creating


Congratulations! You have found the Reel Spirit Youth Filmmakers blog. This blog is associated with Reel Spirit which is the youth division of the Kansas City Film Festival. Reel Spirit (RS) was founded in 2005 by three educators. Their goal was to highlight the cinematic endeavors of children. RS truly believes that by giving children the spotlight and letting them put on their own show, they can truly shine and might surprise you.


Here we will be discussing all kinds of topics relating to the film industry. Covering topics ranging from DIY film equipment, ideas when starting a project, new technologies in the industry, new talent on the scene and anything else we think you might find valuable. Feel free to share any ideas of topics or posts you would like to share. Also if you would like to be a guest blogger please let us know at

We will also be discussing the Reel Spirit Youth Filmmakers Showcase when it draws near and let you know when, where and how to submit projects. Currently the categories of submission include: narrative, documentary, PSA, news feature, commercial and animation. The RS Youth Filmmakers Showcase is truly a fantastic event for young filmmakers to show their families and friends their talents in a true cinematic experience. Their entries are placed into the categories mentioned, then the top 3-5 in each category/age group are invited to show their entries on the big screen. Filmmakers are encouraged to dress up and walk the red carpet. Before and after the event they have an opportunity to be interviewed by Ms. Reel Spirit herself. After the showcase filmmakers and their families have the opportunity to take part in workshops. The workshops could be anything from animation to screen writing. This past year Bob Gale, writer of the Back to the Future series and KC native, put on a screen writing workshop for the filmmakers.

This experience is invaluable and FREE! Refreshments and many opportunities to meet professionals in the industry, its a great way to get involved in your child’s art and perhaps catch the film bug yourself.

We will post at least twice a week, more depending on community involvement. If you enjoy consuming news on film, film tech or perhaps talking out writing strategies this is a place you will want to keep visiting.

Inspiring and empowering young filmmakers and celebrating their cinematic visions is the wide-screen projection of Reel Spirit and here we hope to help create a community that helps to further this goal.

We hope you enjoy.