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What is Framing?

Framing is one of the many elements of cinematography, the frame can be defined as the edge of the shot, the rectangular shape created by the cameras perspective. Choices are made as to what elements to include within this area. This is known as framing. There are several elements of framing, crucial areas to consider are angle, level, height and distance.

Angle

There are an infinite number of angles that could be used by a director, however there are generally three angles that are commonly used, the straight on angle, the high angle (looking down at material within a frame) and the low angle (looking up at material within a frame).

Level

Level in framing is often straight forward. It is more often than not parallel to the horizon. On the occasions it is not i.e. tipped to one side or the other, it is cantered. This technique is rare, but can be seen in Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels.

Height

Used to give a sense of being stationed at a particular height in relation to objects or characters. Important to note that whilst it is related to angle, there are distinguishable differences.

Distance

Whilst this element can be considered as framing, camera distances such as, medium close-ups and extreme long shots are worth explanations in their own right and will be at a later date.

Open Framing

Open framing is the idea that an object or character is shot within the frame surrounded by space, in which to move freely in.

Closed Framing

A contrast to open framing. A character for example framed in a door way appears restricted, closed in if you will.

Functions

Framing is like most cinematic codes a useful tool for generating meaning. However there is no hard and fast way to suggesting something. For example a cantered camera angle in Inception may suggest that reality is out of kilter, but it will not always mean that from film to film. The context of a film determines the functions of meaning.

The King’s Speech motivated this entry on framing and is a useful case study for application of the outlined areas. Framing is used in this film to create a multitude of meaning and emotions. Firstly let’s consider angle. The picture below demonstrates the use of a low angle shot looking up. The shot conotates the intensity of the situation but importantly lets the audience know how small and weak King George VI (Firth) is feeling. There is no doubt that this affect is enhanced by the use of a super wide lens but none the less the same emotion is conveyed.

The images that follows is a prime example of closed framing. We, the audience look upon Firth through the microphone. His face is partially obscured by this object and cropped. Distance also important here, the proximity to him exaggerates the emotion. Consequently we sense his anxiety and how trapped he is, thus creating empathy amongst viewers.

This final shot is perhaps the most interesting. It demonstrates both open and closed framing. Firth sits in a wealth of space, but is not a visual metaphor for agency but for his isolation. He is trapped by the sofa on which he sits, crammed in a corner unable to move, you may think it is a stretch, but the framing one could argue is closed. Distance in this shot is also important, if we were any closer as an audience we would not get the sense of isolation in the on screen space. This shot also highlights how the film constantly broke a cinematographic convention, the rule of thirds. The idea that the frame is split equally into thirds both vertically and horizontally. It is accepted that characters eyes are often on or in the highest third of the frame. The image below shows quite the opposite, perhaps another way of compounding the characters lack of power.

Comments welcome.

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