I suggested yesterday that many student DPs should be photography majors. Ironically, today I'm going to suggest that a major factor in the "student film look" is poor framing.
I'm not a professional DP so I can't tell you what the difference is, but I can see it. Student films contain several shots that make me wince. The framing, while technically perfect, is wrong. I rarely notice such shots in major motion pictures. I wish I could tell you the technicalities of getting a blockbuster shot, but I can't. There's probably a lot of math involved and yet the practical outplay is artistic/feelings based. One shot will feel better than another. One framing setup will look better than the other. And great DPs, I believe, have had enough practice to get it right.
Consider the following two frames:
The framing is very similar, but it's not the same. I lined up the left eye perfectly, so they are technically the same as far as thirds and all that is concerned. So, from a technical standpoint, they are identical. But the quality of the framing is very different.
I like the first one. It's shot from a slightly higher angle (how I see the world from my height), her smile is great, and the leaves make a diagonal line almost directly to her eye. It's a friendly shot.
The second shot, however, is better. She doesn't feel like she's falling off the frame because there's a little more fence. The angle is lower so we feel more connected to her and we can see over the fence in the background; this expands the world in the frame. There's more color contrast all the way around her face. This makes her stand out more. This is a great shot for a movie. It's not as friendly, but it's more comfortable.
How do you get better framing?
I learned what shots were best to get after I edited nine hours of footage I'd shot down to a single presentation. Pure experience is the best tutor I can suggest. Trust your eyes, yes; but train them too. Get a friend of yours to go out shooting with you for a few hours. Take hundreds of pictures. Keep snapping while you move around in various locations. Try higher and lower angles. Move slightly to the left and right. Move farther away and then closer. Give yourself a ton of material to drink in later.
And then flip through your pictures.
I've found that if I take 250 shots, I'll find maybe eight that I think are really good.
If that's my shooting ratio, it's little wonder my shots don't line up with the professionals.
Your Media Production Mentor