Coming from a background in photography, I have always been taught that the single most effective way to create visual impact is composition. There are a couple of simple rules to remember when composing a shot, so that it is more interesting for the viewer. They also help tell the story (a good photograph either has its own narrative, or makes the audience ask questions and construct their own understanding and their own story).
The golden section and the rule of thirds
This is a classical rule, originating from fine art. We divide the horizontal and the vertical axis of the image in three:
People (especially artists) found out it makes an image more interesting if the important elements are closer to the points where these lines cross. It also helps if the horison in landscapes is not in the center, but rather closer to the upper or lower third. That way, the eyes can focus on either the land/waterscape or on the sky.
Beginners in photography and visual arts often assume they need to place the important objects in the middle of the photo so it is in the centre of attention. Most of the time however, it doesn’t work. The result:
Horison in the middle:
Quite bland and boring. These photos don’t really say much.
Other types of composition
• Triangle composition
The main objects in the image form a kind of triangle. Another example:
• Circular composition
And another, probably not so obvious example:
• Lines that guide the viewer’s eye
Different example of composing with lines:
Another important rule in composing a scene is leaving enough ‘air’ in the direction the subject is looking at. Here is an example of wrong composition:
Much different from this one:
Of course, following or intentionally breaking these rules are different ways to create visual impact. I think the next image is a good example of creating impact by breaking the rules. The eyes are almost in the exact centre of the photograph, but it works well:
(sidenote: the images in this post are from my own photography archive)
Using photography techniques in video
One of the most photographic music videos (at least for me) is the one for ‘Wonderful Life’ by Black. Note how each shot is composed, and even though a lot of the sequences are quite static, there is a beautiful feeling of movement:
Composition vs. editing in video
Here is a great example of using long sequences vs. editing and telling the story by guiding the viewer through the scene: