Filmmaking Uncategorized

The Rule (Principle) of Three

Oh sure, everyone knows the “Rule of Thirds”.


Everyone knows that you divide your frame into thirds and make sure that important elements in your frame happen on those lines. It often makes for a more interesting image than one that just lies in the center in your frame. Even consumer cameras often have overlays available for their view-screens dividing the image into “thirds”.

This post is not about the “Rule of Thirds”;  It’s about the “Principle of Three”.

The “principle of three” is something I carry in my mind every time I step out the door with my camera.  It’s an instruction I give to my DP every time I’m a director on set.

It comes in two parts:

In Filming:  Wide/ Medium/ Close Up

This is actually as old as classic Hollywood. When you’re filming, make sure you go for the wide medium and close up (throw in some cutaways and you’ve really got something you can work with). That’s pretty straight forward, but it’s easy to forget when you are on set and the pressures and demands of direction come upon you.

In Editing: A series of three cutaways is (generally) better than two.

When I sit down for the edit, I find that a series of three quick b-roll clips can really tell the story more quickly and more interestingly than just one or two.  This is not always the case, but when we start out with it as a principle, I think it helps.


Note how the three clips together give you a more complete and interesting sequence than just a shot of the van going by.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.


Is Your Camera Controlling Your Image?

Believe it or not, I was once a ranch hand.  Besides the usual excitement of feeding the horses, chickens, dogs, and other animals, my days consisted of lots of time alone, walking the acres of the East Texas ranch.

This stoic season left me with lots of great memories.  My favorite memory, however, was not walking by the beautiful pond, or across the emerald green  pastures; my favorite memory was saddling up the horses to get that “darn bull” back into his pen.  During this time, the rancher would put me on a rodeo winning, 3/4 thoroughbred, cutting horse.  I’m serious, this horse knew more about “rustlin’ up that old bull” than I did.

During these exciting rides, my horse would run full gallop across the field, get in front of the charging bull and “cut” back, leaning nearly to the ground. It was all I could do to keep from being thrown for a country mile. I was having a great time, but that rancher was not impressed.

“You’re a rider, not a passenger!” he would yell at me. “You need to control that horse!”

I see the same thing when I look at video sites like youtube or vimeo.  While there are many true artists out there, a lot of videographers seem to point their nice cameras at pretty things and hit record.  Instead of controlling the image, they let the camera define it.  What I say to myself as well as others is: “You are videographer, not a passenger!  You need to control that image!”

Just because my camera has a shallow depth of field, should I really use it for every single shot?  Just because the image looks good with natural light, will I get more depth if I light the background separately? Will my story be told better with fast falloff, or with flat lighting?  What items in the frame move my story/ interview/ promo video forward?  Should I make sure all of them are in focus, or does a little blurriness create a sense of mystery?

As videographers, we have an opportunity to move the story forward.  Don’t settle for pretty… Control your camera and go for art.