Production: Understanding Head Room

Head room refers to that space between the top of your frame and your subject's head. In both photography and video production, observing the proper head room can spell the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. As a general rule, your subject's eyes should be 2/3 up your framing, giving you enough head room. Observing good head room is applicable in video production and photography. If you watch television, you will notice that this rule is generally observed in all genres. Whether you're watching news, a narrative or a movie, most frames will give you ample head room.

Avoiding Bad Head Room

Bad head room gives you the feeling that your subject is slipping out of your frame. Too much head room makes him look small and awkward and too little head room often results in a cropped forehead. One of the biggest mistakes that results in bad head room is trying to place your subject's eyes smack in the middle of the frame. To avoid bad head room, try to align your subject's eyes 2/3 up your frame. Virtually divide your frame horizontally into three equal parts. The eyes should be resting on the top virtual line. This will give you just enough head room. This rule of thirds is a classic portraiture technique that is used in both photography and video production.

Why Bad Head Room is Bad

Too much space between your subject's head and the top of your frame results in what is called dead space. You are left with a strip at the top of your shot that has no significant elements in it. Aside from resulting in awkward framing, you also distract the audience from what is truly important in your shot. Too much head room is usually the mark of amateur photographers and video producers. If done the other way and not given enough head room, then your subject ends up with a cropped head, which is aesthetically unpleasant.

Exceptions to the Rule

Of course as with any rule, the rule of thirds is not to be strictly considered at all times. Some very interesting films were able to ignore this head room rule in some shots. One such example is the extreme close up. When focusing on a face or emotion, you can frame your subject in an extreme close up. This will place nothing more than their eyes, nose and mouth in the shot, doing away with head room altogether. Some portrait artists also play around with giving too much head room in their subjects. This may be to signify the smallness of their subject or to highlight aspects of their features. In long shots and wide shots, you may opt to put your subjects right in the middle of the frame if you want to give equal attention to your background and setting.

Depending on what your wish to convey, the head room rule can be ignored if done artistically and tastefully. But oftentimes, it is one of the key elements of framing that is strictly observed.