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Composing good shots is a skill that can always be improved, but steady shots, with a full screen of information guided by the rule of thirds, are sure to be effective.

Avoid pans and zooms, and use them only with a good reason, when they are motivated. A person who is talking or walking should have the proper amount of head room and lead room.

Leave Head Room

The amount of space between the top of the head and the top of the screen is referred to as head room or scan room. The amount of head room varies depending on the style of the shot, but it is always minimal, if there is any at all.

The amount of head room can relate to the formality of the shot. A shot of an anchor on the news set is more formal than a shot of an interviewee in the field. The anchor shot resembles a formal portrait of a U. S. president. The president's eyes will fall along the top imaginary horizontal line in the rule of thirds, and there will be some space between the top of the head and the picture frame. Although it's not a professional term, the space is never more than a sliver.


In formal shots and portraits, the eyes fall along the top horizontal line in the grid.When a shot is less formal than an anchor presenting the news from an impressive studio set, it may be tighter. Imagine a shot of a man framed so that the cutoff point is just below the knot in his tie at upper chest level. In this shot, the man's hair may disappear off the top of the screen. The shot could be framed even tighter, so that the cutoff is close to the top of the collar and the top of the screen falls along the hairline, at the very top of the forehead. In an extreme close-up, the cutoff could even be at the chin line with the top of the screen at the top of the forehead. The composition of the shot can vary greatly, but when the cutoff is at chin level or above, the photographer must provide some indication that the body continues below the chin.

Without a bit of neck showing, the head can look like it's been chopped off and is sitting on the bottom of the screen. Whether the indication that there is a body attached to the head comes from a shoulder behind the face, from the back of the neck or from some other clue, the camera work should not perform a video decapitation.

The framing of the shot may depend on the subject matter. In most evening news stories, the framing often has the bottom of the screen close to the level of the top button on a man's suit jacket, and there is some space above the head. The subject matter is general and the style is formal. When the mayor is being interviewed in front of City Hall about his campaign for re-election, the framing may fall below the knot of the tie and along the hairline. But if the topic is very intimate and sensitive, the shot may be framed more tightly. When a celebrity is somberly confessing to a drug addiction and the resulting pain to family members, the shot should be framed so the audience can concentrate on what the person is saying—the focus needs to be on the eyes and the mouth during the sensitive moments. This variation reflects the way we interact with others. For a job interview, we sit farther apart and take in a wider view of the person and surroundings. In a very personal conversation with a friend, we sit close together and look into the other person's eyes. Conversely, we would not tell a personal secret to someone from across the room, nor would we engage in a job interview sitting close and looking deep into someone's eyes. In a sense, the camera should reflect the level of intimacy we are accustomed to in our daily interactions.

Leave Lead Room

When you compose an interview shot or a shot that follows an action, you must give the subject forward space to talk into or move into—lead room. In the case of an interview, the lead room or space in front of the subject is also referred to as talk space or look space. In the stationary interview shot, the interviewee will be facing one side of the screen or the other, rather than facing the camera directly. This composition indicates that the subject is talking to the reporter, who is close but off-screen and out of the shot.

If a person is talking toward the edge of the screen with the nose close to the edge and extra space behind the head, viewers can feel uneasy even if they don't understand why. Exhibit below (A) illustrates inadequate lead room.Again, apply the rule of thirds. When you are interviewing a person, using either a chest shot or a tighter shot on the face, you want the person's eyes to fall along the top horizontal line. Frame the person in the screen along one of the vertical lines, facing in the direction of the other vertical line. Example B shows proper use of lead room.


If a story includes more than one interviewee, it is advisable to have the subjects looking in different directions. In one interview, place the reporter to the right of the lens; in another, place the reporter to the left of the lens. This allows variety in editing. Consider having the subjects with one viewpoint all appear on the same side of the screen, and those with opposing viewpoints on the opposite side of the screen. In this case, the variety in the setup carries additional meaning and purpose.

It is best to avoid a profile shot (Below A); the viewer should see both eyes. However, because the person is being interviewed, we don't want him or her to look directly into the camera, as a reporter would do. Instead, the interviewee should be angled somewhere between the profile and a direct look into the camera, with both eyes visible—probably at about a 45-degree angle, as shown in B. The person should be talking or looking into space, which the viewer will understand is the space between the interviewee and the reporter who is asking the questions.


When recording interviews where the reporter and subject are standing or seated beside each other, the photographer must be very careful that the shot of the subject doesn't turn out to be a full profile shot (Below). If you frame up the shot before the conversation begins, you must account for the possibility that the subject may turn his or her head to look more intently at the reporter at times. Be sure you know exactly where the reporter and subject will stand or sit and in which direction they will look so that you get a clear view of the subject's face. You may want a two-shot—a profile of the two people facing each other—to establish the setting, but you should then move the camera closer to the reporter' shoulder to get a desirable framing of the subject for the rest of the interview.


Not all interviews take place with the reporter and subject sitting or standing motionless. Adding action to the interview can create interest.

Include Action in the Interview

Consider shooting the subject talking to the reporter or camera while carrying out an action. Imagine interviewing an artist while she is painting a mural on a downtown building. Frame the artist with a chest shot and shoot the video while the artist is simultaneously painting and talking to the reporter.

After the interview, you will shoot the B-roll and capture a variety of shots that can cover narration or the interview. As always, shoot wide, medium and tight. The wide shot would show the building and the artist, including enough information to give an idea of the setting where the artist is working. The photographer might frame a medium shot so that the artist and a portion of the wall she is painting fill the screen. The tight shots might include the artist's palette, a close-up of the artist's face and perhaps some interesting angle shots from the ground toward the artist.

Talk to the police officer while she is putting up the crime-scene tape. Talk to the Civil War re-enactor while he is tapping gunpowder into his gun. Whenever possible, let the interviewee demonstrate something that gives extra information to the audience. Keep in mind that people will generally feel more at ease talking in the presence of a camera if they are engaged in some activity.

An action within the viewfinder requires the photographer simultaneously to apply the rule of thirds and to allow lead room for the person to move into. A person's profile should not be close to the edge of the screen: if a woman is walking with her profile close to the edge of the screen, it will seem as if she is pushing the edge of the screen out of the way in order to keep moving. 

Without proper lead room, the subject seems to be pushing the edge of the screen (A). With proper lead room (B), the subject is aligned with a vertical line in the rule of thirds grid and has space to walk into.

Picture a football player running down the field—the runner needs space to run toward. Imagine the tic-tac-toe grid over the video screen. To follow the player, the best shot would have him lined up on one of the vertical lines and facing the other vertical line, so that he is constantly running into space. The player should not be in the center of the shot. The photographer will want the runner's face—or more accurately, the runner's helmet—to be at the intersection of the top horizontal line and one of the vertical lines, or at one of the top corners of the inside box.

During a football game, the videographer pans the camera to maintain the subject's position within the viewfinder. The same principle applies to someone walking. If the person is walking from left to right, begin your shot with the person aligned with the left imaginary vertical line and walking toward the right part of the screen. Move the camera as needed to maintain this composition. This technique gives the feeling that the person is walking into open space. In contrast, if the person is walking from left to right and is aligned with the imaginary right vertical line, it appears that the person is pushing the edge of the screen out of the way to continue moving. If you're following a car in a race, you don't want the car in the middle of the screen—instead, provide space or lead room for the car to move into.

Maintaining lead room when there is an action within the viewfinder requires panning the camera. A movement of the camera for the purpose of following an action is called a motivated pan, which was discussed earlier in this article. However, pans and zooms generally are less desirable than other techniques for capturing images.