Simply changing a frame size, distance, or camera angle can dramatically alter how your audience perceives the morality or factuality of “You” and the event taking place on-screen.
How you “frame” yourself on camera – has a powerful subconscious impact on your audience, and can manipulate our viewer’s perceptions and emotions, so it’s worth knowing some of the basics best practices and avoid the common rookie mistakes seen in many self-produced videos.
In terms of online video, framing has exactly the same meaning as a picture frame on the wall, i.e. it is the rectangular border that frames the image inside it.
It’s also important to remember that your filming device is a substitute for your viewer’s perspective. This means if you are careless with your camera placement, it’s framing, and your positioning you’ll put your audience into a viewing position that might not appeal to them psychologically, or contravene social norms.
For example, adult entertainment and sex scenes depicted in movies infringe on these norms, not so much with the act that is occurring on-screen, but with the camera placement, the framing, the viewing distance, and camera angles being used. Essentially, we are right in there with them.
Viewers Respond (in a Subconscious way)
to how Images are Framed
Depending on the camera framing, we can make our viewers feel comfortable, neutral, emotionally detached, uncomfortable, anxious, or even claustrophobic.
Simply changing a frame size, distance, or camera angle can dramatically alter how your audience perceives the morality or factuality of the event taking place on-screen.
How you “frame” yourself on video – has a powerful subconscious impact on your audience
Headroom is the amount of space between the top of your head and the top of the frame. A common rookie mistake is to have the camera is too close. In general, you don’t want to cut the top of your head off.
The exception to this rule is if you are filming an extreme close-up shot or full close-up (where cropping is unavoidable). In this case, my recommendation is to crop the frame at the top of the forehead; here you’ll keep all of your face (your expressive features) fully in the frame, your chin, and a little of the neck.
However, avoid cutting off your chin. This is unflattering to your facial features and distorts our natural human viewing experience. We don’t walk around with our chins cut off. But we do walk around with the tops of our heads cropped i.e. caps, hats, fringes, etc.
Close up shots are not generally recommended when presenting business videos. A close frame can register as being too intimate onscreen, especially for newcomers to your brand.
Unless a close-up frame is in context with your video topic i.e. you are filming close-up shots of products, hair, make-up, or are cutting away to a close-up shot of a person’s facial reaction, etc, then you’ll need to question why you want to use such intimate framing in the narrative of your video.
Another Common headroom mistake is showing far too much headroom. This wastes valuable frame space and it can make you appear swamped or enveloped by your environment, which diminishes your on-screen presence and power.
What Will Your Viewer see?
Everything within your frame is important. Everything within your frame becomes emphasized, including yourself.
First, check your camera’s viewfinder or monitor for anything in your film space background or foreground that could either upstage you or distract your viewer.
- Remove things that don’t have relevance or support your video’s message.
- It’s important that your visual elements set the scene for your topic i.e. business topic, professional coaching, etc.
- Avoid filming in a bedroom environment for obvious reasons. It can detract from your professionalism and message. It creates an atmosphere of private, or intimate activity, and contravenes social norms of how we usually engage with people. We generally don’t meet strangers in their bedroom.
- Remember the camera stands in for your audience. Wherever the camera is placed and whatever you have framed in the shot is the room you are inviting your viewer into.
- Remove things that don’t have relevance or support your video’s message.
Watch Your Edges
Pay attention to what the viewer can see at the edges of your frame.
- Wherever possible, avoid cutting things off, i.e. don’t show half of an object or half of a person. It’s not a natural viewing experience to see half a face or half of a person.
- Also, try not to cut yourself off at the joints. The bottom of the frame can cut across your waistline, but don’t cut off at your knees if you are standing up. It creates an amputation effect and doesn’t look right on-screen.
You’ve Been Framed – Time to Shoot!
There are three broad categories of camera shots: close-up shots, medium shots, and long/full shots.
- Close-up shots convey intimacy
- Medium shots are social
- Long/full shots are impersonal (often used to set the scene, location, time, and place).
There are several sub-categories but I will keep things as simple as possible for the purposes of this article.
Getting too close with a shot size can feel invasive or claustrophobic for the viewer
How Close Should You be?
Extreme close-up shots focus the viewer’s attention on a person’s feelings or reactions. By manipulating the distance between yourself and the lens, your viewers can experience feelings ranging from emotional detachment to emotional engagement, to intrusion.
- For example, during the interview shows like 60 Minutes, the camera will often zoom up close, making the interviewee’s face occupy the full-frame. This creates psychological tension for the viewer – in life, we simply don’t get that close to someone we don’t know well.
- This level of close scrutiny (created by the camera) can also imply that a person is lying or guilty (whether they are or not) its a subtle way to emotionally manipulate the viewer too.
Extreme close-ups are rarely used when filming important public figures (unless they are under media scrutiny). In western cultures, the space within about 24 inches (60 cm) of a face is felt to be an intimate zone.
Getting too close can feel invasive or claustrophobic for the viewer until they become familiar with you. Close up shots represent what we would refer to as “intimate distance” in life. This distance is reserved for our intimate relationships when we are embracing, touching, or whispering to someone.
On camera, this distance may be too intimate or intrusive or make your viewers feel claustrophobic.
Go the Middle way
I recommend the medium shot if you are filming yourself standing. The lower frame passes through your waist; so there is space for your hand gestures to be seen.
This is how you normally see a person “in the flesh” when you are having a casual conversation. You don’t normally pay attention to their lower body, so that part of the picture is unnecessary.
- If you are standing, I recommend filming yourself in a medium close shot. If your framing is too close it can reduce your editing options
- If you are filming yourself while seated (e.g. at a desk), you also want to have your frame pass through at your waist. If you are plus-sized you may want to be a little more strategic with your camera framing
- If you cut yourself off at the chest, it focuses the viewer’s attention on your chest, which can create unwelcome attention to that area for female presenters.
In general, I do not recommend my clients film themselves seated. See: How to Give Good Face (in a TV Interview) and Common Cheating Techniques to Look Good on Video.
For Appealing, Persuasive On-camera Positioning. Go Off-center
Rather than placing yourself in the dead center of the frame, the visual appearance is better if you appear slightly off to one side by applying “the rule of thirds” composing technique.
Artists, photographers, and filmmakers use this technique to create more visual interest and eye-engaging compositions within the frame. Use this tool to your video messaging advantage.
Everything you see or hear in movies or on TV has been meticulously and deliberately placed within the frame
Watch your favorite film on mute for the first 5mins.
- Note the different types of framing choices used and ask yourself why you think they used them?
- What visual meaning is the filmmaker conveying with this frame size – for the scene or character?
- How does it make you feel about the character or scene?
- Does anything bother, or attract your attention within the frame?
- What keeps you watching / interested?
- Remember, everything you see or hear in movies or on TV has been meticulously and deliberately placed within the frame to create the desired effect: to influence the audience into thinking, feeling, or responding in a certain way, whether the audience is consciously aware of it or not. The more subtle it is the more it will bypass your conscious mind and sink deep into the depths of your unconscious.
Keep these concepts in mind particularly if you find yourself captivated by a piece of visual media and you don’t know why. The brain is wired to notice images, novel things, and metaphors. It’s here that you will begin to see clear examples of how the pros adhere to these rules and moved you in an unconscious way.
Established in 2006 Bianca Te Rito, founder of STEBIAN.com provides an exclusive, consulting service helping business thought leaders, speakers, award-winning authors & VIPs productize their thought leadership and present themselves, their products, services, or brand message to their target audience in the most effective way possible on video. Get the tailored expertise from a real-world operator with over 20 years of TV/Film industry experience working in front of and behind the camera. Learn more about our custom offers here.
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