When filmmakers choose shots within a scene, there is typically methodology and science to their shot choices.
Whether you are aware of this or not whilst watching a film, the shot choices are purposeful and powerfully build a story, taking you on a journey and allowing you to share the Director’s vision for the motion picture.
Shot choices are vast, have totally different uses and meanings and include the following:
The Extreme Close Up
This shot proves to make a strong visual statement by concentrating the audience’s attention on a small detail of a subject. This often means that the viewer associates the object as playing a crucial role in the scene.
Perhaps considered the newcomer to cinema speak, the close up is one of the most powerful shots, connecting the viewer with a subject. When used on a human subject, the smallest signs of emotion and behaviour are magnified. In this type of shot, the depth of field, focus length and composition are all important considerations to ensure the viewer’s focus is purely on the subject.
Medium Close Up
This shot shows off the face and shoulders of a character, whilst also allowing the viewer to take in a pretty good size portion of the background. This shot is ideal for when there is a strong connection between the subject and their surroundings.
Medium Long Shots
This shot typically includes a character from the knees up in a frame; typically wider than medium shots, but tighter in than long shots. Sometimes labelled as ‘American Shots’ due to their introduction into American western films.
These shots are great for simultaneously showing facial expressions, body language and the surrounding areas.
This shot is very popular as an establishing shot to allow the viewer to see the setting of the shot and put it in context. The long shot frames characters in their entirety, along with a large area of the background.
The Extreme Long Shot
This shot choice is great for emphasising the scale of a shot by placing a human into the shot, who typically occupy a very small area in the shot. When this shot does not include a character, it is often used as an establishing shot to set the scene for the audience.
Over the Shoulder Shot
This shot is often used for exchanges between two or more characters in a scene. As you’d expect, the name refers to the placement of the camera directly behind the subjects shoulder.
The inclusion of a character’s back to the camera helps add depth to the frame. In this shot you will see the camera placed according to the 180° rule.
This shot is typically an exterior view, showcasing a location where the action is about to unfold. As well as being used at the start of a scene, this shot is often used as a concluding part of a scene, as a form of conclusion.
The Subjective Shot
Pretty unique in its style, the subjective shot allows the audience to experience the action through the eyes of a character.
In this way a character interacts with the camera as if it was an individual.
The two shot includes two characters in the same composition. The two shot is usually achieved by using medium long, medium and medium close ups, although any shot featuring two characters can be called a two shot.
The group shot includes three or more characters in the frame. This shot is usually created with medium shots, medium long shots or long shots, since these are the shots that are best suited to the width required to contain multiple characters.
The canted shot is a powerful shot introduced in the 1930s. With this method, the camera is tilted laterally, so that the horizon is not level and the vertical lines run diagonally across the frame.
The resultant impact can create disorientation, which helps convey a sense of dramatic tension, confusion, psychological instability or even madness.
High Angle Shot
The shot looking up at a subject from someone else’s perspective is said to give that person power and authority over the other character and infers superiority and control. The shot can be created looking down from the other perspective highlighting the other characters inferiority.
The emblematic shot can communicate abstract, complex and associative ideas with compositions that reveal special connections between visual elements within the frame.
This is not an easy shot to pull off, but can be very effective at communicating complex, non-verbal or associative information.
Introduced in the 1920s, these shots empahsise colours, textures, patterns, lines and composition over their literal content. The audience may not always recognise the origin of the content, but often extract meaning from the shot, meaning it can be a powerful choice.
Introduced to films in the late 1950s, the zoom lens allowed for a change of the focal length while a shot is taken, letting filmmakers have a dynamic field of view without the need to move the camera or switch lenses.
Although the zoom shot can resemble a dolly shot, they differ in the way they depict space and movement.
Short for Panoramic, the pan shot allows the camera to scan space horizontally pivoting left or right, while remaining stationary, mounted on a tripod or possibly handheld.
This shot is often used to follow a subject as it moves across a location.
The tilt shot pivots the camera up or down while it remains stationary, typically mounted on a tripod or handheld. This movement shifts the audience’s attention from one area to another, vertically extending the range of the visual scope of the shot.
This shot often works well as an establishing shot, introducing a location and a character, as they are seen arriving or leaving it.
The dolly shot places the camera on a wheeled platform that can be moved smoothly. It is similar to a zoom shot in as much as both create a changing composition along the z axis, but with the dolly shot the camera is constantly moving and giving the audience the impression they are constantly moving.
This shot is often used to ‘dolly in’ – creating an increasingly tighter frame around a characters face to underline a meaningful moment of discovery or reflection.
Dolly Zoom Shot
Also known as a ‘counter zoom’, ‘trombone shot’, ‘contra zoom’ or ‘vertigo effect’, – the dolly zoom shot combines the dolly shot and the zoom shot, working together in tandem so that the camera dollies in towards a subject, whilst the lens is zoomed out, or zoomed in if the camera zooms out.
The resultant effect is that the characters size in the frame is maintained whilst the background perspective is changed drastically – giving an unsettling effect and reserved for times when something meaningful is taking place.
Simply put, in a tracking shot , the camera is moved to follow the movement of a subject along side of it, in front of it (also called a reverse tracking shot) or behind it.
This shot can be executed with a dolly, a Steadicam, handheld or placing the camera on a vehicle
The Steadicam shot removes boundaries that force the dolly wheels or tracks to be impractical and give expressive camera movement.
A famous use of this shot was used in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas in 1990 following the characters into a club restaurant as they skip the queues and travel through the kitchen and into their newly created prime seats.
The Steadicam maintains the unity of an actors performance in real time, whilst also reframing to create dramatic emphasis, heightening tension and allowing the audience to connect with a scene.
The crane shot sees the camera mounted on a support that can be an actual crane, a jib arm, a cherry picker, or any other device that allows the camera to be moved vertically, horizontally or in a combination of both.
The shot adds a dynamic nature to a scene and is heavily used in narratively important locations, such as wildlife documentaries, but also to underline especially poignant moments.
Amongst the most complex and difficult shots to pull off – the sequence shot incorporates a sophisticated range of dynamic camera moves over along take. Here, the action from several scenes that would otherwise be covered with a number of separate shots are instead linked.
Sequence shots are often used to showcase a crucial set of events that are pivotal to the understanding of the rest of the film.
That’s a Wrap
Next time you plan your shots and shoot your own films, be sure to consider the implications of the shot types and look at how they can add value to your films.