Understanding Cinematography’s 180-Degree Rule
by eguaogie-eghosa Feb 02, 2023 Views (623)
In the world of film and video, there are a lot of rules to learn. Rule number one is to always keep track of where you put the lens cap after removing it. Learn to break every rule as frequently as you can, from rule two to rule a million.

It's amusing to consider how difficult it once was for filmmakers to decide how to handle even the most straightforward of scenarios. Consider a straightforward series of images showing two people conversing. How do you position the subjects in these images to suggest that they are genuinely speaking?

One of the numerous filmmaking guidelines that was developed out of necessity is the 180-degree rule. It still plays a key role in how scenes are filmed today, and it also influences how viewers have developed their ability to combine visual cues from movies and other visual media.

It may, and occasionally should, be broken, just like every other film rule before it (apart from the lens cap one). Let's take a moment to examine this well-known film rule and see how you may use it—oor disregard it—iin your video and film productions.

This principle keeps viewers engaged; breaking it frequently causes a viewer to get disoriented.

But it doesn't mean there aren't instances in movies where this rule can be broken. In this article, we'll discuss how to apply the 180-degree rule as well as circumstances in which you may deviate from it. Let's begin with how it functions in movies.

According to the "180-degree rule" of cinematography, the camera should remain on one side of a hypothetical boundary between two people to maintain visual coherence.

The 180-Degree Rule: What Is It?

The 180-degree rule is a cinematography guideline that is applied in movies to determine the spatial relationships between characters. The camera must always be on one side of a hypothetical line separating two characters, such that each character always appears to be looking in the same direction, regardless of where the camera is located. By maintaining the camera on one side of this artificial line, you may retain the left-right relationship between your characters and offer the spectator a sense of visual consistency. This means that regardless of the type of shot you use, the spectator always knows where everyone in the scene is situated.

Tips for Applying the 180-Degree Rule

When filming, there are several strategies to make sure you always adhere to the 180-degree rule.

  1. A storyboard should be used to plan out your photos. Planning ahead will help you avoid mistakenly choosing a camera stance that goes against the 180-degree rule when shooting. Before you begin filming, make some straightforward storyboards that illustrate the camera angle and the actors in each frame. A two-shot with both characters in the frame (which establishes your imaginary line) and a single medium-close-up view of each character from the same side of your imagined line are the most common camera choices for simple two-person discussion scenes.
  2. Create a scene block and then a line in your mind. Decide where your actors will be standing on the set, then mentally draw a 180-degree line between them. You should then decide which side of the line to shoot from.
  3. Keep an eye on your eyeline. In a discussion scene, you want both characters to appear to be facing each other when transitioning between single shots. Characters should be positioned so that the character on the right side faces the camera from the left and vice versa. This guarantees that the eyelines are parallel. The 180-degree rule has been breached if both characters appear to be staring in the same direction in their single shots, in which case your eyelines won't line up.
  4. Add a new line to accommodate moving characters. If any of your characters cross the imaginary line, draw a new one and switch to a wider shot to reposition the audience. Cutting back to the actors after cutting away to a shot without your characters allows you to create a new line (and without any established orientation).
  5. Recognize that it is acceptable to breach the line mid-shot. When you cut to a scene that is outside the acceptable range, you have probably violated the 180-degree guideline. However, you can cross the boundary without confusing the audience if you change the camera during an uninterrupted shot. This technique can be used to signal a shift in the scene's emotional tone.

Can you break the rule of 180 degrees?

It varies. While there are instances where it is done on purpose in movies, generally speaking, I would advise aiming for the 180-degree rule. But as video technology advances, things that were formerly considered inappropriate (such as lens flare) are becoming mainstream.

Here are some filmmakers and cinematographers who disregarded the 180-degree rule, along with their justifications:

In the film Requiem for a Dream, cinematographer Matty Libatique and director Darren Aronofsky defy the 180-degree rule to indicate a tone shift:

The 180-degree rule, or stage line, is film terminology. It is the main difference between the two sides of the line intended to signify a shift in tone. For these characters, life has changed drastically in a split second.

Stanley Kubrik, who is usually hailed as history's best cinematographer, provides another illustration of a tone shift. In his well-known horror film, The Shining, he defies the 180-degree rule to induce a change in identity.

The 180-Degree Rule: When to Break It

A "reverse cut" is when the 180-degree rule is broken. Reverse cuts should only be used sparingly and to convey a clear message because of how startling they can be for the viewer. Spike Lee, for instance, deviates from the 180-degree rule in his film 25th Hour when Edward Norton's character is taken aback by a drug bust at his house. Norton is perplexed by the chaos taking place, and the audience is similarly confused by the reverse cuts.

Using the 180-Degree Rule as a Beginner:

The storyboard artist, as well as the cinematographer and director, are typically in charge of larger productions. However, the idea still holds true for a lone filmmaker using a single camera setup. With just one camera, it's actually more difficult. It is considerably simpler to visualize the 180-degree plane and keep the cameras on one side of it when there are two cameras. Therefore, when filming interviews, be aware of where your 180-degree plane is and have a marker that indicates the location of the subject but is not in the shot. Have a good reason for breaking the rule if you wish to.


As you can see, using the imaginary line as a guide, the 180-degree rule stipulates that any screen direction should have a neutral shot to establish the general placement of the on-screen characters. Your camera position and screen orientation should be set up to maintain this fictitious axis (or invisible axis) between these two individuals, whether it is for a dialogue scene or another form of unbroken shot.

You can still use a variety of photo types, such as extreme close-ups, wide shots, and other impartial shooting choices. The crucial thing is to remember this straight line when you establish orientation and choose the subsequent images in your sequence.

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