You don’t have to be a film connoisseur to know that there are several types of shots in a film, but do you know what they’re called or why they’re used? Getting a basic understanding of the different shot types and camera angles can go a long way toward helping you create professional-looking videos.
Common shot sizes to know
Before we talk about the all the different types of camera shots in a film, we first need to cover shot sizes, as they play a big part in choosing shots and angles.
Extreme wide shot (EWS)
An extreme wide shot (EWS), sometimes called an extreme long shot (ELS), is a shot in which your subject looks very small and/or very far away. This kind of shot is often used to show the magnitude of the environment or something else in the scene, in comparison with your subject. It’s often used to portray giant storms or other natural disasters contrasted with a subject like a person or a group of people.
Wide shot (WS)
A wide shot (also called a long shot) is very similar to an extreme wide shot. It shows the scene’s subject as very small against a large background or location. The difference between an EWS and a WS is the scale of the shot. An EWS makes your subject look extremely small, perhaps almost indiscernible, whereas, in a WS, your subject will take up a bit more of the screen.
Full shot (FS)
In a full shot, your subject will take up the majority of the screen, but the shot’s emphasis will still be on the background and scenery. An example of this would be framing an actor so that their entire body is visible with their head near the top of the screen and their feet near the bottom. Though they’re taking up as much space on screen as possible with a full-body shot, a single actor still only occupies a small percentage of the width of the shot.
Medium wide shot (MWS)
A medium wide shot (or medium long shot) is similar to a full shot, but the actor or actors are framed the knees up to the top of their head. A lot of filmmakers have used medium wide shots to film scenes of criminal line-ups. They’re also used as transition shots between full shots and medium shots, as well.
The “cowboy shot” (CS)
The “cowboy shot” (CS) is between an MWS and a medium shot, framing the subject from around the middle of the thigh up to the top of the head. It gets its name because it was incredibly popular with a lot of Westerns, especially in classic shootout scenes. This is a really powerful shot when you want to convey intimidation with a character who is standing, waiting to make their move. And, while it was highly popular in the days of the classic Westerns, the cowboy shot is still popular today in multiple genres. Patty Jenkins utilized it in “Wonder Woman” in 2017 to highlight Diana Prince’s strength, poise, and anger as she prepared to run into battle.
Medium shot (MS)
One of the most popular shots in all of the filmmaking, the medium shot (MS) frames the actor (or actors) from the waist up. This shot is chosen when you want to put the emphasis of the shot on the subject, but you still want to keep some of the background and scenery in the shot for context or atmosphere. Medium shots are often used in dialogue scenes and may be used as a transition to a medium close-up or close-up shot.
Medium close-up (MCU)
When you see a shot framing an actor from the chest up, you’re looking at a medium close-up. This type of shot is generally chosen to emphasize the subject’s face while keeping the background in the frame. Shooting a scene of dialogue with alternating medium close-ups is a good way to visually convey emotional distance between the characters. Medium close-ups are also often used when shooting a character talking on the phone because this type of shot is close enough to capture a lot of facial emotion, while still keeping the background in the shot to give a sense of place and atmosphere.
In a close-up shot, the camera frames the subject’s face to put the emphasis entirely on the subject, what they’re saying, and what they’re doing in the shot. The background is typically out of focus in a close-up, and the subject’s face may take up a third to half of the screen. At this size, the audience can see every movement and every emotion on an actor’s face, creating a sense of intimacy and focus.
Extreme close-up (ECU)
If a close-up doesn’t get you close enough to your subject, how about an extreme close-up? In an ECU of a subject’s face, the face takes up the entire screen, and the camera typically frames either the eyes or the mouth. Faces aren’t the only subjects of ECUs, though. You can get an extreme close-up of a hand or a small object. The point of this type of shot is to draw the audience’s full attention to a single subject. Director Darren Aronofsky is a big fan of using ECUs in his work, with notable examples in “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan.”
Basic camera angles
Of course, the size of the shot isn’t the only factor when we talk about framing and getting the perfect shot for any scene. Angle plays a big role in this, as well, so let’s discuss the basic camera angles that you’ll need to know for effective filmmaking.
Overhead or bird’s eye view
An overhead shot, also called bird’s eye view, is taken from high above the subject, looking down on them. Like an extreme wide shot, a bird’s eye view can give the audience a sense of scale or convey the enormity of an environment or situation. Overhead shots don’t have to be extremely long shots, though. You could take an overhead medium close-up shot of a person sleeping in bed, or you could choose a medium bird’s eye view of a farmhouse. The key is that the shot is taken from directly above the subject.
Similar to a bird’s eye view, a high angle shot is taken looking down at the subject, but it may not be taken directly overhead. This type of shot might be used to show that the subject is at a disadvantage in a situation, or that they are trying to physically or emotionally climb higher in the scene. It can also be used to show a range of emotions and situations, depending on the context of the shot.
For a low angle shot, the camera is positioned looking up at the subject. It might be placed at about knee-level on an actor to look up at their face, for example. This type of shot is often used to convey that the subject is in a position of power or that the subject is intimidating in some form. Low angles are used in film and still images to visually depict this kind of power dynamic. For example, if you pay attention to magazine covers that feature powerful athletes or executives, their portraits are often taken from a low angle to exaggerate their height and stature. You can get the same effect with your videos with a low angle shot.
A Dutch angle is a shot in which the camera is tilted to shift the horizon lines off of the horizontal axis. When a director wants to give the audience a sense of disorientation, they’ll often use a Dutch angle. Dutch angles can also be used to show that a character has been knocked off balance emotionally (if not physically). If your subject just received life-altering news that could threaten their existence, you could use a Dutch angle to show that sense of having their life pulled out from under them. Directors also use Dutch angles in dream sequences and scenes in which a character has been drugged or has taken a mind-altering substance.
Point of view (POV)
A point-of-view (POV) shot shows the audience what a character is seeing. This kind of shot is very popular with POV videos on TikTok and Instagram, but it’s also used in professional films as well. The cult classic “Being John Malkovich” utilizes POV shots whenever a character goes into Malkovich’s head to show the highly strange scenarios that they witness. When you want your audience to feel what a character is feeling, consider a POV shot to get them as close as possible to living the scene in question.
Framing: Positioning the shot for the best effect
Now that you have an idea of shot sizing and angles, let’s talk about how to frame a shot to get the effect you want for your video. There are three basic types of shot framing: clean or dirty, over the shoulder, and single and two-shots.
Clean or dirty
When we talk about clean and dirty framing, we’re talking about the clutter (or lack thereof) in the scene between the camera and the subject. A clean shot has no objects blocking the view of the subject. A dirty shot might have furniture or people standing in view, or you might be looking across a room and out a window at your subject. Dirty shots show more of what’s happening around the subject, putting emphasis on the context of the scene. Clean shots draw the audience directly to the subject.
Over the shoulder (OTS)
An over-the-shoulder (OTS) shot frames the scene so that the audience is looking over the shoulder of a character in the scene. OTS framing is often used when filming conversations when you want the audience to focus on one character more than the other, or when you want the audience to be slightly more removed from the scene than they would with a POV shot.
Single and two-shots
A single shot (often referred to as “a single”) frames only one character. A two-shot frames two characters. Directors often use alternating singles and two-shots to create movement and make a two-person scene more visually interesting.
Movement: Ways to move the camera for the perfect shot
Speaking of movement, with a few notable exceptions, filmmakers rarely leave their cameras in one place for a full video. If you’re livestreaming a gaming session on Twitch, you might not have a lot of movement. However, if you’re filming an interview or creating a POV video, you’re going to want to know a bit about movement for your shots.
The tilt refers to movement of the camera on the vertical axis. When a director wants to move the camera up or down to change the angle or shift the audience’s focus, they’ll refer to moving the tilt. A famous example of a tilt shot is George Lucas’ “Star Wars: A New Hope,” which opens with an almost dizzying effect of the camera tilting down from space to focus on a planet below.
The dolly gets its name from the piece of equipment typically used when creating this effect. A dolly is a wheeled cart that’s used to move a camera smoothly without jostling it or creating camera shake. When we talk about the dolly in terms of shots, we’re talking about the effect that’s created by wheeling the camera forward or back “on the dolly.”
“Panning” or adjusting the pan of a shot is achieved by changing the angle of the shot without changing the position of the camera. In other words, to change the pan, you’d pivot the camera to the right or left while keeping it in a single stationary position.
Crane or boom shot
A crane or boom shot is achieved when you mount a camera on a boom or crane, a large piece of equipment designed to lift the camera high into the air and to allow movement in a wide arc. Filmmakers will often use boom or crane shots to show a large space from above and then to move in on the subject of the scene without cutting from one shot to another. Crane and boom shots aren’t common in DIY videos because the equipment is expensive, but independent filmmakers often rent cranes to achieve these shots.
When filmmakers talk about zoom, they’re referring to the effect achieved by adjusting the camera’s focal length without moving the camera. By doing this, you can zoom in on a single subject or zoom out to show the background and context of the scene.
Tracking refers to the effect that you get when the camera follows (or “tracks”) a subject. Tracking is often used when filming two characters walking and talking together. Another way to use this style of shot is to change the subject that you’re tracking. The camera may follow one character into a scene but shift focus and follow another out, and so on. Richard Linklater famously used tracking throughout his film “Slacker” to move from one character to the next as the film depicted a day in the life of Austin, Texas, in 1990.
Summary: Get to know different shots and angles
Now that you have an idea of the different types of shots and camera angles available to you, we recommend watching a few of the videos you most want to emulate. Note what kinds of angles and shots they use and how you can incorporate them into your own video-making projects.
Take some time to play around and practice different shot sizes and movement types. While you may not be able to do a crane or boom shot on your phone or with a handheld camera, you can simulate a dolly shot by sitting in a rolling chair and having someone push you toward your subject or pull you away. And, with the right video-editing software, like Movavi Video Editor, you can remove camera shake for a shot that you might otherwise need a Steadicam to achieve.
Most of all, have fun experimenting and practicing with different shots – you never know what you’ll come up with!
Movavi Video Editor
* The free version of Movavi Video Editor has the following restrictions: a 7-day trial period, a watermark on the output videos, and, if you’re saving a project as an audio file, an ability to save only half the audio length.
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