At its most basic and dictionary definition, composition is about the arrangement of elements, about combination, about parts joining into a whole.

The question for composition is not only the selection of elements, but their arrangement. At first, cinematic composition assumed the position of the onlooker of the audience member, as fictional narrative came to prominence, composition began to interact with mise-en-scene. What the camera saw was no longer merely a matter of selection, of where the camera stood. The world did not have to be accepted as it was. Now, what the camera saw could be constructed, and its point of view could be large or small, wide or narrow, deep or shallow. Composition gained a new level of design, to direct the viewer’s eye and emotions.




What is the golden ratio?

There is a special relationship between the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci Sequence, if you take any two successive (one after the other) Fibonacci Numbers, their ratio is very close to the Golden Ratio:

Fibonacci Sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144...) is a sequence of numbers that started as a way for 12th century Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci to calculate the breeding habits of rabbits (seriously). Each new number in the sequence is the sum of the two numbers before it, (i.e., 3+5=8, 13+8=21, etc.). Any two of these numbers is an approximation of the Golden Ratio, or 1.618, and the approximation gets more accurate the higher you progress in the sequence.

The Golden Ratio appears countless times in nature and art, and is considered to be the ratio most pleasing to the human eye.

How to apply the golden ratio?

A shape called the Fibonacci spiral is overlaid on the image. There is no particular orientation that the Fibonacci spiral needs to be in. Now by placing our subject on those lines, we create a traditionally pleasing shot.

Why the golden Ratio?

We could compose our subjects in the center of the frame. Many directors from Stanley Kubrick to Wes Anderson have built strong visual styles with a center composition. But the center composition can be too powerful – you may want to create a shot that is not quite as strong by placing the subject off center.


What is the rule of thirds?

The rule of thirds is one of the basic principles of composition. The rule of thirds is probably the most famous and effective one for creating a well-balanced compositions. It’s essentially a simplification of the golden ratio.

Although rules are definitely meant to be broken - you can make interesting compositions and well framed shots without applying this rule however keeping the principle of the rule of thirds in mind will often work for the better and you will end up with a more desirable result.

How to apply the rule of thirds?

The rule of thirds consists of breaking an image down into thirds, horizontally and vertically, so that you end up with nine parts. Keeping this grid in mind when taking a photograph or framing your camera, you can identify four important parts of the image that you can use for placing points of interest.Those points are the places where the lines cross. You also get four lines where you can position certain elements in your composition.

Why the rule of thirds?

When viewing an image our eyes naturally tend to concentrate on one of the intersection points rather than to the center of a shot. The human eye looks first at some key structures when looking at an image. Using the rule of thirds will enable the viewer to interact more naturally with the picture.

Placing elements on the intersections or along the lines will create more energy and tension in your picture than when placing the elements in any other location in the composition.

Points of interest don’t have to actually fall precisely on the lines or intersections to take advantage of this rule. When they come near the lines or intersections, you can already create a more balanced, esthetic feel in your picture.


The centre of the frame

We use the centre of the frame when we want the viewer focused on a subject, it can also help create symmetry in at the frame and help create depth with in the frame especially with one point perspective. Don't be afraid to use the centre of the screen! as the video below will demonstrate.



There are millions of colours so rather than trying to remember names it is more convents to break colour into three different categories:

Hue: This is the identity of a colour, there are millions of colours but they can be broken into seven distinct families blue, violet, red, orange,yellow, green, brown and gray. 

Value (also known as brightness or tone): This defines how light or dark the colour is. The hue remains the same but different level of white and black are added to give paler or darker versions of the hue. This is known as changing the value of the hue. Value is the gradient tone between white and black, for convenience it is normally broken into 9 steps. Three light, three middles and three darks, nine is a useful number to break it into as you will have equal number of light, middle and dark values, as well as perfect middle value.

Saturation: This defines how intense the colour will be remember that changing saturation those not influence value. You can check this by placing a black and white filter on top of your image and change saturation and you should see no change however remove the filter and the hue should be different in appearance. 

The colour wheel is the most common way that colour will be displayed in a design programs in photoshop for example the default colour wheel displays value & saturation in a wheel with the hue in a separate slider.

colour wheel.png

Lewis Bond’s color theory video, Colour in Storytelling, posted on Channel Criswell, is not only a practical analysis of how movie colour palettes enhance storytelling, but also an engaging historical recap on the maturation of colour in film.


Colour Harmony

The colour of the light will effect every object in a scene, so having a dominant colour family to create a good colour harmony is important. So if the scene is a cool palette the dominant colour family will be most likely blue. This does not mean you cant have any other colours in your scene, it just means they will all have a some blue in them reflecting the quality of the light in the scene and so harmonising your scene.


You have probably heard of different colour harmony theories such as 'complementary', 'triad' or 'analogous'. We will cover these next but it is important to remember that like every thing in the creative world these are not hard fast rules but instead should be used as a starting point.

How can colour tell a story?

Simply put, colour can affect us emotionally, psychologically and even physically, often without us becoming aware. Colour in our story can build harmony or tension within a scene, or bring attention to a key themes. When telling a story, colours can,

  1. Elicit psychological reactions with the audience
  2. Draw focus to significant details
  3. Set the tone of the movie
  4. Represent character traits and more
  5. Show changes or arcs in the story

We must choose our palette carefully to maximize emotional and visceral effect.


Monochromatic color schemes come in shades of a single color such as red, dark red, and pink. They create a deeply harmonious feeling that is soft, lulling and soothing.

The Matix is a good example of a monochromatic movie color scheme. Nearly every scene set within the world of the matrix has a green hue. Shades of green permeate everything in the frame to create an unnatural, “lulling” effect (representative of those “asleep” inside the Matrix).



Complementary Harmony

This is when any two hues which are opposite to one another on the colour wheel are used in conjunction with each other. One of the hues should always be dominant creating the overall light in the scene. This is by far the most commonly used pairing. A common example is orange and blue, or teal. This pairs a warm color with a cool color and produces a high contrast and vibrant result. Saturation must be managed but a complimentary pair are often quite naturally pleasing to the eye.



Analogous Harmony

Analogous colors sit next to each other on the color wheel. They match well and can create a overall harmony in color palette. It’s either warmer colors, or cooler colors so doesn’t have the contrast and tension of the complementary colours. Analogous colours are easy to take advantage of in landscapes and exteriors as they are often found in nature. Often one colour can be chosen to dominate, a second to support, and a third along with blacks, whites and grey tones to accent. Since the colours don’t have the contrast and tension of the complementary colors, they create an overall harmonious and soothing viewing experience.




Triadic colors are three colors arranged evenly spaced around the color wheel. One should be dominant, the others for accent. They will give a vibrant feel even if the hues are quite unsaturated. To subdue some of your colours in a triadic scheme, you can choose one dominant color and use the others sparingly, or simply subdue the other two colors by choosing a softer tint. Triadic is one of the least common movie color schemes, but it can be striking and vibrant even when the hues are unsaturated.


Discordant colour palettes

Discordance is a deliberate choice to deviate from the balanced colour schemes mentioned above to refocus attention. Discording colours can help a character, detail, or moment stand out from the rest of a scene.


Psychology of colour