Joining up the shots
If the basic shot is equivalent to a word, then the visual sentence is the sequence. But how do you connect shots so that they make a fully grammatical sentence?
The first thing you’ve got to think about is how why and when do you cut between two shots. What makes a good cut or a good edit. I could fill a whole book with dos and don’ts, but let’s just think about the basics for now. There are three basic rules: Always cut on movement if you possibly can; never cut until you have to (and there are many reasons for cutting), and always cut to show something different. But that’s not the end of the story….
Let’s go back to my earlier sentence: Do with the camera what you would do with the eye. It’s obviously not quite that simple – does your eye see what the director of the average pop video shows you? Of course not, but it’s a jolly good start. Try watching yourself watching people if you can. One of the first things you learn is that you don’t necessarily look at the person who”s talking.
Imagine being in a room with two people. One says to the other “Where on earth did you get that hat? My oh my what a creation! I’ve heard of bird’s nest soup before, but never on someone”s head”. Where were you looking? At the hat, of course, not at the chap who’s talking. Then when the second one chips in with “Never mind my hat, what about your nose”, you cut to a picture (shot) of the nose owner.
So we’ve now got a series of shots cut together, either in the camera or the eye. If you were shooting this conversation with the camera you wouldn’t actually take a picture of person A, then get him to pause halfway through the sentence about the hat while you move the camera (and possibly the lights) to person B. What you do (presuming for the minute that this is a drama) is shoot all the conversation while the camera is seeing person A, then do it all over again on a shot of person B. In a real drama you”d do even more – the whole sequence again on a two shot, and then some close-ups (cutaways – another new term; shots of things – inanimate objects) of the hat and the nose.
Optimising the View
So far I’ve been talking (or writing) as if the camera remains physically in one spot and just pans around to get different shots. That would sort of work, but imagine the scene again; the two people are looking at one another, not in the direction of the camera or eye, and unless you”re very close you”ll be seeing the sides of their heads (profiles – a not very new term). But given that people, whoever they are – actors, politicians, lecturers – communicate visually with their faces, particularly their eyes, let’s try to see the better view of them. We’re idealising the view, not sticking to the eye/camera simile, but I expect you can easily see that it’s a better way to photograph people.
For instance, if you want to shoot a conversation between two people:
If you were standing near them, you’d probably see them like this – profile shots.
Optimising the view by getting nearer the eyeline – seeing them full face – makes for much more interest in what they’re thinking and saying.
So neither had a funny hat and they both had perfectly normal looking noses. I”m not an artist; but I hope you get the idea. In general, shoot people as near full face as possible. Absolutely full face isn’t usually possible (or desirable – he’s looking at the girl, not the viewer) when you’re shooting a drama or an interview, but David Attenborough talking to the camera (and therefore the viewer) should be full face.
So far I’ve been talking about two people. What if you’ve got two shots of the one person and you want to cut between them? The first thing to ask yourself is why.
One possible reason is because of heightened emotion – the chap is rooting around in an old chest and comes across a blood-stained stiletto or a thousand pound note or something. He’d react and you’d want to cut closer. But you have to do it right; the rule here is:
The Closer the Fuller
In other words the tighter shot should be on the better eyeline.
These shots don’t cut well together.
This cut won’t make your viewer’s eye jump:
The closer shot is on the better eyeline.