Photography & Videography Basics

Rule of Thirds

Everyone in TV is expected to understand and follow the rule of thirds in EVERY interview and every b-roll clip. This is IMPORTANT. The good thing is, it’s also super simple if you enable grid bars on your phone or camera. DO NOT shoot without your grids enabled.

  • The rule of thirds means that the important compositional elements or subjects should be along the lines or at the intersections of the lines. 
  • Usually, a person’s eye, nose or the bridge of their nose should be at the upper right or left intersection of the lines. They should look across the screen. This will give them lead room. One of the only times you will intentionally break this rule is if you’re trying to create a negative emotion in your viewers. DON’T do that in this class. That is much more common in film. You will rarely find a reason to break this rule for TV news. If you think you want to try, always shoot two versions. I’ll almost always tell you to go with the version that includes lead room and follows the rule of thirds.

Not all rules are meant to be followed all the time. But you have to know what the rules are, so you know why and when to break them.

Framing Overview

  • If you’re conducting and in-person interview, the interview subject should be on either the left or right vertical grid line looking across the screen at the interviewer.
  • If your’e conducting a remote interview like on Zoom, for example, they should be centered looking into the camera.
  • If you’re on camera for a reporter standup, you should look into the camera. If you have a reason to be off centered because you’re demonstrating something, you do not need to be centered. If you’re not actively showing something and you’re just talking to the camera, you should be centered.


  • Shooting outside when the sun is high in the sky. It creates shadows under people’s eyes and nose.
  • Too much backlight. You will either blow out your background or create a silhouette of your subject.
  • Using a flash for still images.
  • Shooting under a tree when the sun is out. This creates shadows on people’s faces.
  • Placing your subject up against a wall. Create depth by shooting farther away from your background.
  • Too much or too little headroom and lead room.
  • Zooming in while recording video. Use your feet, not your zoom, (unless you’re intentionally trying to create a shallow depth of field).
  • Shooting vertical video (if your’e shooting for TV).

Tips to Shoot Better:

  • Shoot outside when skies are overcast. The clouds create an even light filter which means no shadows.
  • Shoot in the shadow of a large building. If everything you are shooting is in the shadow, it creates an even light distribution similar to overcast skies.
  • Always think about headroom and lead/nose room.
  • Shooting action is more interesting. Capture moments
  • Get a variety of shots
    • wide (sets the stage)
    • medium
    • close-up
    • extreme close-up (reveals emotion)
  • Get a variety of angles
    • put your camera on the ground
    • hold your camera above your head
    • shoot your subject’s reflection in a window, mirror, puddle, etc.
  • Enable the grid view in iPhone’s camera app to follow your rule of thirds.
  • You should also use grid view in Android phones like Samsung, but you should also hold the phone still for longer than you think when there’s low light.

Lighting can help you or hurt you depending on how you use it. I took these two pictures while I was sitting in the same seat. Notice what a big difference the lighting makes when I turn slightly. The first picture is way too backlit. The lighting coming from the window behind me forces my camera iris to close so my face is too dark. The second photo uses the lighting to improve the photo quality.

Interviewing in person & inside

If you’re interviewing someone in person inside use a window as a source of diffused light. The light must hit their face, not their back.

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In-person interview framing BAD 7.png

Interviewing in person & outside

If you’re interviewing someone in person outside keep them AND the background in the shade to create even lighting. The main source of light (like the sun) should always hit the person’s face, not their back. Make sure you create lead room or nose room and follow the rule of thirds.

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In-person interview framing GOOD.png
In-person interview framing BAD.png
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Interviewing remotely

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These are examples of acceptable centered reporter standups. They are well-lit and properly framed:

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These are examples of acceptable in-person interviews. They are well-lit and properly framed:

These are examples of unacceptable shots:

Do not shoot an interview or standup inside unless you have a lighting kit OR a natural source of light like a large window or glass wall. This lighting is not acceptable. I don’t care what background you’re trying to show. The priority ALWAYS needs to be light on your face or the face of an interview.

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Your interview should NOT be centered and looking off camera. This is unacceptable:

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NEVER EVER EVER interview two different people in the same exact spot. This makes the interviews feel staged and inauthentic. You should also pull the people you’re interviewing away from the background. The following interview is unacceptable because it’s in the same location as the previous interview, the rule of thirds is not being followed and the person being interviewed is too close to the background.

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This interview subject should NOT be centered. They should be on the left vertical line, looking across the screen. 

AVOID vertical images and videos at all costs when making TV. TVs are still horizontal for now. So your content must fill the entire screen. NO black bars EVER. If you absolutely must include a vertical photo or video, you’ll need to think of a creative way to visualize it. You could:

  • record over the shoulder video of the person holding the photo
  • add the vertical photo to a motion array template that matches the mood and style of your video
  • In very rare instances, I might ask you to at “blurred wings” where you zoom into the photo, blur the photo, then add the vertical image on top in Premiere Pro, but this is for emergencies only.

This interview is not airable because it was not shot properly. There’s no way to rescue this because the sky is way too blown out. The iris was way too open and the interview never should have been set up in front of a bright sky to begin with. The shadows on his face are distracting and the colors look poorly edited.

This interview is out of focus and not well lit. If you’re shooting with your phone, make sure to tap and hold on the person’s face to lock the focus and exposure before you record. If you’re shooting with a DSLR or ENG camera, zoom all the way in, then focus, then zoom out.

This interview lighting and focus is unacceptable:

This reporter should have stepped like 20 feet away from the wall behind her so she’s much closer to the camera and has proper headroom. DO NOT stand so close to walls. This is not acceptable:


This is unacceptable because the woman’s lav mic cable is showing, she’s in the shadow of a tree, the camera tripod is not eye level and there is improper lead room.

More tips

More Examples

Take a look at the following photos and identify what’s wrong and right about each one.

photo 2
There is too much backlight in this photo. It makes it difficult to see the details on the people’s faces. If you have light behind your subject, tap on their faces with your camera phone, or increase the aperture/ISO on your DSLR, or open your iris on your EFP camera. Or just move so that you are not facing the window.
The resolution of this photo is poor because the light coming in the window creates too much backlight. The photo was edited to lighten the woman, but that also means the details in the background were lost and blown out.
Backlight is used intentionally to create a silhouette. There is plenty of lead room and negative space. And the man’s head is in the upper left following the rule of thirds.
Backlight is used intentionally to create a silhouette. The sunlight creates solar flares around the boy and illuminates his lightsaber.  The boy’s shadow is intentionally included in the shot. However, this would have been even better if I were farther away from the boy and included his entire shadow. I intentionally did not follow rule of thirds because I like the lines created on either side that point towards the center.
This is an example of intentional backlighting creating a silhouette. There’s a little too much headroom.

I adjusted the shot to frame it more precisely to the rule of thirds:

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Use negative space intentionally. Lead room should create space in the direction the person is looking.
Check out this lead room.
Create negative space on the upper left because that is where the baby is looking.
Layer your shots. Look for opportunities to create depth and focus. This is taken with an iPhone. Tap the person or item you want to focus on, and it puts the rest out of focus. This has a shallow depth of field. It also has a dark vignette to ensure people focus on the light part of the shot.
Frame your shots. Get close.
Here’s another way to frame a shot.
This has a shallow depth of field. It also shows how effective extreme close-ups can be. Also note the height and angle. The camera is nearly touching the table, pointing in an upward direction. This also has vignette.
This has a shallow depth of field. The flower in focus is an extreme close-up.
Extreme close-ups and a creative angle makes a huge difference. Remember to get close to people and things you’re shooting.
Get close. Use extreme close-ups often.
The right angle tells a better story and looks more interesting. Angles also help create shallow depth of field. If this photo were taken from standing up several feet away, it would not create the same effect. A shallow depth of field gives photographers power to control what people focus on.
This is a reflection shot. The sun is setting in the reflection of the man’s sunglasses. Remember to look at things differently. A sunset is great, but it’s more interesting when you see it through someone else’s eyes.
Lead room & reflection shot. Notice your subject’s headroom should get smaller as you get closer to them.
Angles make all the difference
The camera is touching the ground looking up because it fits with the overall emotion of the photo. Your angle and height should match the feeling. In the same way that an extreme close-up would evoke emotion, this wide shot and the angle evoke power, and plays on the over the top comic scene.
Your viewers become more immersed in a scene when you include shots from behind or over the shoulder.
Editing Apps
  • Instagram
  • Adobe Premiere (video)
  • Adobe Photoshop (images)
  • Snapseed
  • iPiccy

It’s easy to make good pictures better with simple edit tricks:




When editing becomes unethical

The picture we just looked at is clearly improved after adding a few effects. But when can edits be unethical? The following video discusses the controversy surrounding one editor’s decision to darken O.J. Simpson’s face on the cover of TIME magazine.

Here are more photos from Instagram to inspire you to use different angles and lighting techniques:

cool pic
lead room
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Once you learn the basics of photo composition, you can really start to tell stories. When you use photos or video for storytelling, make sure your framing and lighting help you tell an emotional story.

Get inspired by taking a quick free course on Poynter’s News University website called “Best of Photojournalism: What Makes a Winner.”

5 Tips To Keep In Mind Before Your Next Shoot

Al Tompkins created this video with examples of good lighting and better video. This video is from a few years back so ignore 5:40-6:06. 16:9 is now the industry standard.

I encourage to you refer back to his tips before your next shoot:

  1. Put the camera on the shadow side of the subject you’re shooting.
  2. Use steady sequenced video. Stop panning and zooming!
  3. Pay attention to natural sound and keep your headphones on.
  4. Pay attention to framing. Smaller screens need close ups.
  5. Work closer to your subject. Zoom with your feet, not your lens.

While you watch any video (TV, film, ads, etc.) pay attention to each photography technique:

Don’t forget audio

  • Natural sound (nats) help immerse your audience in your environment. Listen to your surroundings.
  • Always wear headphones to hear what your mic hears.

Watch and learn. Follow Storytellers on Facebook:

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You can also check out some inspiring work on their YouTube channel TV News Storytellers.

Get Involved & Get Inspired

The National Press Photographers Association has a great website with lots of beautiful photography examples.

Connect with Bob Dotson. He’s been an NBC correspondent for four decades. You can watch many of his stories in the “Make It Memorable” section of NBC Learn.

Published by JeanetteAbrahamsen

I am an instructional designer and TV news instructor at the University of South Florida. My passion for innovating learning led me to pursue my PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Instructional Technology. I love creating media to enhance eLearning and foster online engagement. I teach students to create multimedia stories for broadcast, web and social media platforms. I lead the Florida Focus class where students produce daily news shows that air on Tampa's PBS station. My reporting classes collaborated with Tampa's NPR station to produce award-winning stories. I am an Emmy Award-winning journalist. I produced thousands of hours of TV news in some of America's largest media markets at Tampa's NBC station, San Diego's ABC station and the San Diego Union-Tribune. I also produced immersive 360-degree virtual tours at the University of South Florida and reported for Hashtag Our Stories.

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