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Live from J Street, Part 2: Framing Tips for Conference Shooters and Webcasters

Jan Ozer passes on several key tips on framing panels and applying the rule of thirds (and when to break it) gleaned from his recent gig webcasting the national J Street conference on Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Tough Shots at the Table

Once the speakers finished at the podium and the discussion started at the table, the rules changed and became much more fluid. If the speakers were far enough apart, Zottig would frame them normally. You can see this in Figure 5 (below), where the speaker to the subject's right was visible, but not distractingly so.

Rule of thirds for panel speakers
Figure 5. Normal rule-of-thirds positioning when the speakers are sitting far apart

What happened when the speakers sat closer together? Zottig would violate classic positioning to avoid noticeably cutting off the adjacent subject. You can see this in Figure 6 (below), where author Gershom Gorenberg is speaking. Rather than place him in the center of the frame, which would very noticeably cut off Dr. Klein to his left, he framed them both, almost like both of them were speaking.

Rule of thirds for panels
Figure 6. Avoid rule of thirds when it would noticeably cut off adjacent speakers.

At the other side of the podium, Zottig had the same problem plus another. That is, if he placed Daniel Levy in the middle of the frame, he would cut Dr Barghouti in half and expose the edge of the curtain on the right. To avoid both issues, he framed the shot to show both, even though Levy was doing the talking (Figure 7, below).

When to violate rule of thirds
Figure 7. And avoid rule of thirds when it would noticeably show the edge of the stage.

I've long followed this "don't cut-off" in my concert productions, for example, where zooming into the banjo player would cut the adjacent guitar player in half. Basically, your job is to create the most attractive picture in the frame.

Let's add 2 more to our rules above:

  1. Follow speakers to and from the podium.
  2. Ignore the rule of thirds when it would noticeably cut off an adjacent subject or expose some other unattractive component of the setup. Remember: Only pros know what the rule of thirds is. All viewers know that it's awkward when you cut adjacent speakers in half.

You're certainly free to disagree with how Zottig (Figure 8, below) framed his shots. What's most important is to understand the issues that are at stake, make decisions about how to address them, and then apply those decisions uniformly.

Manrico Zottig
Figure 8. The master at work

I didn't participate in the exercise to write about it; it was a purely commercial venture. However, it was fun and instructive watching the precision and care that Zottig used while framing his shots; over two days, the framing never looked awkward. Looking at his résumé, which includes training at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and years of TV and event production, it's no surprise. And there are obviously a lot of valuable pointers that any of us can pick up when collaborating on shoots with others who have different backgrounds or levels or types of experience than we do as shooters, producers, and webcasters.

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