Shot composition (The 180 degree rule)

By ToddFriday - November 1st, 2013Categories: Articles, News

In my last article, I focused on over the shoulder shots, up and down angles, and whether to center your content or not. This week I’ll talk about something that most people don’t even think about in comics, and that’s the ‘180 degree rule’ for shot composition. Out of all the things I’ve talked about so far, people will probably think of this one as the most trivial of them all, but it’s actually important so that readers don’t get confused on what’s going on. Let’s continue our crudely made drawings from last week…

Shot Composition - The 180 Rule - 1

Very standard conversation using two over the shoulder shots, nothing exciting.

THE 180 RULE – WHAT IS IT?

The 180 rule is an imaginary half circle that you place near your subject matter, and the rule is that you are only allowed to move your virtual camera on the outer edge of that half circle. Breaking this rule will result in confusing your readers because you’re now criss crossing your camera angles and they will lose any sense of “grounding” you are giving them with a scene. Using the image above, this is how that rule would apply…

Shot Composition - The 180 Rule - 2

As long as both cameras are on the same half circle on the same side, then you’re fine. If you move one camera out of that half circle, then you are breaking the 180 rule and things start to get confusing because people will lose track of where THEY are located in the story. Remember, even though you’re creating a comic, you are also placing this virtual camera for the readers to see one frame of the action!

I can hear you say, “But Todd, I never have two people talk like this in my comic! All my comics are action based! Why should I listen to this 180 rule?” Good question voice in my head, let me explain with another set of drawings…

Shot Composition - The 180 Rule - 3

Now we have crudely drawn action figures! One is racing towards the other, sword held high. The more experienced warrior just stands there, waiting for his prey to get closer. Notice that they still follow the 180 rule as both “camera angles” are from the same side, which makes it look like they are heading towards each other. What happens if you move your camera out of the 180 half circle?

Shot Composition - The 180 Rule - 4

Now you have both warriors facing the same direction! You just confused your readers because they are no longer running towards one another.

CONSIDERATIONS

This 180 rule does not apply to every single panel in your comic. For example, you may have an establishing shot of a cityscape in panel one. Panels 2-5 could zoom in on an alley way where these two warriors are located. The establishing shot doesn’t have to be on the same 180 plane as the shot where the two warriors are.

This 180 rule really only applies to two or more subjects in the same scene because the rule is there to establish where each of these are in relation to their surroundings. This ties in nicely to the establishing shot I talked about a few weeks ago, because it also helps ground you in the scene so you know where everything is in relation to one another.

I highly recommend reading the Wikipedia entry for this 180 rule, because it does a great job expanding on what I’ve said already.

In my next article I will start getting into the nitty gritty of comic conventions, and what you need to do to prep for them!

Creative Commons License
Shot composition (The 180 degree rule) by Todd Tevlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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