Anyone who has ever been disappointed with the look of home video knows that making good programs involves more than mindlessly pointing a camcorder at whatever is happening. Good shots have a certain balanced look, with the elements of interest positioned in the frame as though the viewfinder were an artist’s canvas. But just where do you position things to get great-looking results?
Play by the Rules
For years, videographers have used a technique called the rule of thirds to help them frame shots in a more appealing way. The rule of thirds simply indicates that if imaginary lines divide a camcorder’s viewfinder into thirds, horizontally and vertically, elements of interest should fall along those lines. The theory works. Video composed using the rule of thirds really does look more appealing. What you may need is a reminder to use the rule as you shoot.
Make Your Mark
Many professional camera operators use a permanent marker to draw guides directly on the monitors they shoot with. If your camcorder has a flip-out LCD monitor, you can do the same thing. But wait! Don’t take the cap off that Sharpie yet! This handy rule of thirds template gives you all the advantages of professional-style monitor guides, without permanently defacing your LCD display.
In the Clear
The secret is to cut a piece of lightweight plastic to fit the size of your flip-out LCD display and make your marks on the plastic shield. We found a blank overhead transparency to be the ideal material for this purpose. Start by carefully measuring your screen and marking off the measurements on the transparency. These initial markings will serve as guides for cutting.
Working from the corner of the sheet will ensure that you have at least one perfect corner (the one pre-cut at the factory). Fortunately, you have up to four opportunities per sheet to get it right if you need them.
Cut out the screen-sized area and lay it over your LCD display to see how well it fits your viewfinder. Cut the plastic template just slightly wider than the visible area of your screen so that when it is flexed it can slide under the plastic lip surrounding the screen. On most camcorders, this lip will hold the plastic template in place without the need for transparent tape. Trim your template until you have a good fit.
Grab that ruler again and make marks at the 1/3 points on each side of the template. Using a thin permanent marker and a ruler, connect the dots. The result should look like a tic-tac-toe board.
Place the tic-tac-toe template back onto your LCD display and fire up your camcorder. Each line will serve as a guide for shooting.