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Basic Aspects of Storyboarding – 3 : 5 C’s of Cinematography (Part 1 : Composition)

So we talked about storyboards being mostly rough pieces of art, other than a high end final image as long as they contain the basic information needed to guide the shooting. What is that basic information? What the director should be able to see in the panels to help him envision the sequence he’s about to shoot? Or in other words which tricks, modifications, techniques you are going to use to make your scene look professional and appealing?

Of course this is a very detailed study essential for any film making major so we’re going to be able to cover only the key titles, what they mean and how can we relate to them in terms of storyboarding. The book by renowned cinematographer Joseph Mascelli ‘5 C’s of Cinematography’ – often refered as the Holy Grail by most cinematographers – pretty much sums up the whole story in 5 sections : Composition, Continuity, Camera Angles, Close-ups and Cutting.


Composition refers to the frame of the image and how the elements of the mise-en-scène appear in it. It is simply the key element to make the scene look esthetic.

Composition consists of different aspects: arrangement of the objects within the frame, lighting-shading, placement of the characters into the scene etc. Visual storyteller should use these aspects to create a scene which should look good to the audience but also  which serves the story. He should avoid creating dull scenes and a way to do that in order to create a successful composition, is that he should have a basic visual taste and knowledge about various visual design aspects such as photography, architecture etc.

Some guidelines are here to help of course. And these guidelines go way back than motion pictures, or even photography. Instictional or not, mankind uses these basic rules for thousands of years in painting. No matter how much it evolves in terms of techniques and tools used, visual storytelling is visual storytelling.

One of the most essential rules of photography is ‘Rule of Thirds’. Ever wondered why your digital camera screen shows the frame in 9 equal rectangle pieces (if the option is switched on of course)? Basically, imagine your frame is divided into 3 equal pieces vertically and 3 equal pieces horizontally. The intersection lines are your points of interest. Human eye tends to capture the information on those points of interest first. So, the important elements of the frame (main characters, a prop that has an important role in the scene, an element which you want to attract the attention to etc.) should be placed in those points. Take a closer look to the examples below.


Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)


Seven (1995, David Fincher)


In Bruges (2008, Martin McDonagh)

‘Lead Room’ should be taken into consideration when creating the composition as well. If a character is looking ‘frame left’ (movement towards left) then he should be placed frame right so that he’s looking to an open space in front of him. This open space is called ‘lead room’ or ‘lead space. Now that’s a comfortable frame. In case this rule is not respected, say the character is frame right and facing frame right; then the character would be placed at the edge of the frame, which creates a claustrophobic weird feeling.

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Terminator 2 – Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron)


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1968, George Roy Hill)


Enemy at the Gates (2001, Jean-Jacques Anneaud)

Dynamic vs. Static Composition: 

Compositions with the majority of lines being horizontal or vertical are called Static Composition, while the ones that have many diagonal lines are called Dynamic Composition. Theoratically, horizontal and vertical lines are somehow smoothing, calm and peaceful. The diagonal lines on the other hand, reflects a sense of dynamism, excitement and action. Below, see how the different use of lines affects the mood of the scene.


Inception (2010, Christopher Nolan)


2001 : A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)

‘180 Degree Rule’ and ‘Screen Direction Rules’ are vital aspects of composition as well but we’ll cover them separately soon after the 5 C’s of Cinematography chapter. We’ll go on with Continuity and Camera Angles on next Youngsday. Catch you all later!

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