Filmmaking: Lead Room, Head Room & Anticipatory Framing

Lights Film School is about to publish over 60 minutes worth of cinematography video tutorials. Here is our first video tutorial entitled “Head Room, Lead Room & Anticipatory Framing”. Over the next week we will be publishing the rest of the videos on our facebook page. Click here and make sure you “like” our page to get access to our newest videos.


Hello and welcome to our tutorial on Head-Room, Lead-Room and Anticipatory Framing. For this tutorial we’ll discuss all of these concepts providing visual examples along the way. Let’s begin by talking about Head-Room. 

What is Head-Room? – Head-room is the space between the top of your subject’s head and the top frame of the composition

Let’s look at our first shot “here”. Our actor is sitting and reading a paper. At first you’ll notice we’re not giving him much breathing room above his head so let’s “inch up” just a little bit so we’re skimming the top of his head with our frame. There we go. Much better.

As a general rule of thumb your subject’s eyes should be placed roughly in the top third of the composition. 

As you can see, if we tilt up further we add an undesirable amount of head room above our subject’s head. The space above his head becomes what is known as “dead space”. 

Now let’s push it to the extreme to see what too much head room looks like. As you can see our subject’s eyes are now placed on the bottom third of the frame and we have an astronomical amount of dead space above our subject’s head.

Let’s move on now to discuss “lead room” and “nose room”. 

what is lead room?

Lead room is the space where dramatic energy is directed. For close up shots, lead room will often be referred to as “nose room”.

Let’s have a look at this composition with the man looking camera right and reading a book. 

Notice how we left more space in front of his face because he’s projecting energy in that direction? 

Now let’s look at what happens when you don’t leave enough lead room.

Notice how the energy being projected forward towards camera right is being pre-emptively cut off by the right wall of the composition. There is more space behind the subject than in front of him.

Almost everything you’ll be interested in filming will have an energy to it: For example, a rolling ball, a moving car or a man reading a book. You need to take this into consideration when framing your shots. 

It should also be mentioned that these rules should be used as guidelines that work most of the time. However, there may be times when you might find creative or narrative motivation to include less lead room or more head room. David Lynch’s film “Elephant Man” for example uses an abnormally large about of head room, while some filmmakers may wish to use less lead room to give the shot a bizarre sense of balance or to purposely hide visual information from your audience. So experiment with what feels right for your story.

Now lets discuss anticipatory framing

Anticipatory framing establishes that the camera needs to anticipate the movement within a scene rather than react to it. If you’re reacting to movement you’ll generally end up with jerky, reactionary shots. You want to be able to predict the movement within a frame. This is even more difficult for documentary filmmakers who often don’t have the privilege of marking or blocking out their scenes. For this reason it’s important that filmmakers practice camera operation.

A great way to practice camera movement is to have a friend walk back and forth in the frame while you try to keep them properly positioned within that frame. Try to “feather in” and “feather out” at the end of your movements. Remember that your camera represents your audience within a scene.

You’re supposed to be creating an “invisible 4th wall” between your actors and your audience. An uncontrolled camera won’t be strong enough to support the 4th wall and instead of engaging in the story, your audience will be constantly reminded of the people standing behind the camera, which will break the illusion you’re trying so hard to create. The camera shouldn’t draw attention to itself. It should be controlled, subtle and motivated by the movement within the frame.

If you’re editing other shots or shooting on more than one camera make sure the movement and dynamism of each shot can be integrated into other shots in the scene. This is called the choreography of movement. And to us filmmakers it’s our own little ballet. So you need to figure out the “tempo” of your movement which will then in turn determine what type of dance you’re doing.

Here is an example of what not to do

You need to avoid jerky, corrective and reactionary shots. If you’re operating a camera and you make an adjustment for a framing error, simply retake your shot. Do not use these shots in your final video. A shot with uncontrolled movement will temporarily draw attention to the camera and pull your audience out of your story. Your goal as a filmmaker is to keep your audience as engaged in your story as possible. You want your stories to be creatively as well as technically well constructed.

Movement is an essential part of cinematic expression and it’s important that you don’t prioritize convenience or ease over technically well-constructed shots.

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One comment

  • Brian Self August 23, 2011  

    Amazing! Love the quality of these new ones, you guys should change all the old logos to the new one, it is really nice!

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