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MAGAZINE
STUDIO
SCHOOL

The Camera Diagram

Lesson 1
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Lesson 2
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Lesson 3
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Lesson 4
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Lesson 5
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Lesson 6
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Lesson 7
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Lesson 8
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Lesson 9
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Lesson 10
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Contributed By Glen Berry

IMPORTANT CONCEPTS
  1. Camera Diagram refines our Visualization
  2. Know the Physical Space
  3. The Camera Diagram Finds Redundancy
  4. Identify Your Camera Positions

Given this familiarity with the space, the director can place his actors in the scene and then position the camera around the actors. It used to be that the camera was so immobile and difficult to move that actors were staged around the camera. Now, with lightweight cameras and camera support gear, we can stage the camera around the actors. Place your actors in the scene and determine their general movements. In this scene, it is a simple entry in the door and sitting down at a table. Our first camera position then is in a place where we can get far enough away from the table and the door to cover all action in the restaurant and establish the space.

The camera could have been placed up in the Northwest corner of the restaurant. However, if we move the camera down parallel to the table, we can pan from the door and follow Joe to the table when he sits down. The advantage to this camera position is that we can shoot a 2nd shot, the 2S of both actors at the table from the same camera position. We will just change the lens/framing of the shot with the camera without having to move the camera. This makes for a more efficient use of time and eliminates unnecessary resetting of lights, sound and camera gear.

Once we have established our first camera position, one important rule of perspective that we want to keep in mind is the 180 degree rule. This rule dictates that once a perspective has been established between two subjects in a scene, all subsequent camera positions should take place in the same 180 degree hemisphere as the first angle. The hemisphere is defined by the eye line between the two subjects.

Eye lines are incredibly important when planning out our camera positions. The relationship between objects in a scene and the viewpoint of the audience is going to be determined, to a large extent, by the relative position to the subject and where the subject is looking. The direction where the subject is looking gives us an eye line. If we look on the reverse angle and see what the subject is looking at, it should be on the same side, or hemisphere, as the subject.

In our sample diagram, Joe and Mary are looking at each other across the table. When we see the subject on camera, the eyeline is the angle in which they are looking. The eyeline is represented by the orange line in the diagram. Once we establish the camera on position one, we can only position the camera on that same side of the orange line. If we have any set-ups on the opposite side of the line, we will be breaking the 180 degree rule and risk an uncomfortable and awkward perspective problem.

You can break the 180 degree rule by moving the camera across the line in a dynamic shot. Some directors intentionally break the 180 degree rule for effect. There’s no reason why you can’t break the 180 degree rule in your project but if you are going to break the rule, know that the rule exists for a reason and ignoring it will most likely yield undesirable results.

SUMMARY

  • The camera diagram helps us see our shots, the movements of the actors and the physical space in a new way.
  • It is critical that we know the properties of the physical space we will be working in to design the camera diagram.
  • Seeing our camera placements laid out on the diagram helps us see which shots are similar and which ones can be eliminated.
  • The camera diagram helps us identify where each set-up will be made in advance. It is critical that the director know each position before production begins.
LESSON
The Storyboard
An intro into storyboarding and why it is helpful in preproduction.
Storyboards are not Art
An interview with Martin Scorcese and Michael Chapman, the Director and Director of Photography of Taxi Driver on Storyboarding.
Taxi Driver Storyboard Example
A sample storyboard from Taxi Driver with matching shots from the finished product.
Murder Storyboard Analysis
An examination of the script, shot list, storyboard and final product for the "How to Get Away With Murder" project.
The Camera Diagram
The importance of the camera diagram as a tool to refine the director's visualization, as well as the importance of eye lines and the 180 degree rule.