Shot composition (Over the shoulder, down and up angle, to center or not center)

By ToddFriday - October 25th, 2013Categories: Articles, News

In my last article on how to make comics, I discussed shot composition with wide, medium, and close up shots, and all the variations in between. In this installment, I will talk about the over the shoulder shot, as well as utilizing up and down angled shots, and whether to center your subject or not. These articles are more geared towards people who are new to creating comics, but hopefully there’s something here for the veteran creators as well.

THE OVER THE SHOULDER SHOT

The over the shoulder shot is exactly what it sounds like. You are seeing what the character in the foreground is seeing, without the shot actually being a point-of-view (POV) from that character. This shot is also commonly used for conversations, which we will get into more in the next article.

Shot composition - Over the Shoulder

A variation of this shot could be showing the foreground person at waist level or ground level near their feet. This gives a different mood though, and in terms of having a conversation between the two characters, probably wouldn’t work as effectively if that’s the only shot you used between the two people talking.

THE DOWN ANGLE AND UP ANGLE SHOTS

These two shots are specifically used to convey size, as well as weakness and power. Look at the down angle POV example. He’s tiny and looking up at you slightly worried. You could squash him like a bug if you wanted to. The shot implies that the person or object that the character is looking at is quite large. This character could be looking up at a giant castle, an enemy about to hit him, or at a bird that’s about to go in for a bombing run.

The opposite of this is the up angle, which implies power or dominance over something. The shot can still be considered point of view, but now YOUR viewpoint is subservant to the character in the shot. He is towering over you, he is in command.

Shot Composition - Up and down angle

TO CENTER OR NOT TO CENTER

When it comes to shot composition, where you place the subject matter in each panel is just as important as where you place your virtual camera. Some people make the mistake of putting the focal point dead center in each panel, and this can dull the compositional strength of the artwork. There are times, however, where centering something is the best choice, but most times if you would just shift the subject matter slightly over one direction or the other to off center it, the panel becomes more interesting to look at.

Shot Composition - Center or Off Center

Now something else to consider is the 1/3rd grid line. Again, this is another film/video term, but I find it works well because it doesn’t matter if you’re shooting video, taking a photograph, or drawing out a comic panel, it all applies. If you take your panel and break it up into a 3 by 3 grid, you can play around with the placement of your characters and objects a little more. Take the above image, then expand it to be wide screen and apply the 1/3rd grid lines, and you can have this…

Shot Composition - Center or Off Center 2

Isn’t this far more interesting to look at than being dead center?

I can hear you say, “But if I don’t put my subject in the center, no one will know I want them to pay attention to it!” This is not true, because you are in control of the panel. You can create the artwork to direct their eyes to what you want them to see. Notice above how the planet in the top left is pulling your eye down to see the buildings, and the buildings draw your eye to the horizon line, which then draws your eye over to the robot. If you look at the top right, the smaller planets in the sky draw your eye back down and to the left towards the robot. It’s subtle eye manipulation, and comic artists use this technique a lot, even in MUCH busier panels than mine.

On a side note, now that you know about the 1/3rd grid line, watch your local news on television. You will find that the newscasters eyes are at the same intersecting point as the neck and head of my robot above.

In the next article, I will discuss one of the last shot composition techniques for this series, called the 180 rule. Stay tuned!

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Shot composition (Over the shoulder, down and up angle, to center or not center) by Todd Tevlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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