The role margins play in picture composition is not easy to explain. What''s worse, different books and training courses provide slightly different explanations. Here is a simple example of open vs closed framing.
When composing a shot, what we choose to frame has a direct impact over the viewer's emotional response. This applies both to real world filming and to synthetic imagery.
I often suggest my students to read Steven Katz''s "Film directing: shot by shot" as it's really an excellent resource. Chapter 15, Open and Closed framings, seems to be the one providing most trouble. This may also be due to different books providing different explanations of this open/close terminology.
What happens in practice when framing the picture
In short, when dealing with open and closed framing, we have to decide if the subject can cross the picture borders and appear to be partially inside and outside of the picture.
To better understand the meaning of this choice, have a look at the following shots. Content is the same in both, but the visual impact is different.
In the closed framing shot on the left, the viewer is led towards a stronger emotional response. This framing also stresses the importance of whatever the actress is looking at. This does not depend on the subject being larger. Rather, it''s due to the subject overpowering the image.
The open framing shot on the right is more objective, requires a lower emotional response and allows the viewer to wander over the frame. We can consider this more theatrical because the picture borders relate directly with stage boundaries.
In cinematography, the lower border is usually exempt from framing rules. Just like in real world, we tend to ignore what happens below the point of interest.
A master's lesson on framing
A great example of open and closed framing is found in Sergej Ejzenstein's analysis of a painting by Valentin Serov, depicting actress Yermolaeva standing in front of a mirror.
By cropping the painting along the composition lines found in the background, Ejzenstein turns an open frame picture, with the actress standing entirely within the margins, into progressively tighter shots that ultimately become a closed frame.
Digital cinematography makes framing easy
In digital cinematography, choosing between an open or closed framing can become a post decision. Just use only closed framing when shooting. Images can then be converted rather easily to open framing with a little zoom in. Shooting HD the resolution loss is negligible.
Obviously doing the reverse is not possible as in open framing what lies outside the picture frame has not been captured at all.
- Steven D. Katz, "Film directing Shot by Shot", Ann Arbor, Michael Weise Productions, 1991, ISBN 0-941188-10-8
- Sergej Ejzenstein, "Izabrannye proizvedenija v sesti tomach", Moscow, Iskusstvo, 1963-1970