Filmmaking is storytelling. There are infinite stories to tell – as well as ways to tell them. Filmmaking as an art form gives us a way to find our voices through images and sound. So, it’s important to know the basics of filmmaking when you start this search. Let’s dive into the essential shots and what each can add to your story.
1. Medium Shot
The medium shot is your standard, conversational, waist-up, framed shot. This will be your go-to shot when filming your actors. This shot represents the viewer’s perspective from a conversational distance. If you’re ever going to shoot an interview or dialogue scene, stick with the medium shot.
Some cinematographers have truly mastered the medium shot – like Roger Deakins and Robert Elswit. How you present your characters on the screen starts with meaningful and intentional framing.
The close-up shot is your go-to move for any emotional, dramatic scene that needs to convey what the characters are thinking to the audience. The frame should be tight on the head and face – the top of the head should touch the top of the frame. You can pull off one of these shots by using any type of lens with a focal length of 50mm and higher. Anything less might create some lens compression, which would warp the image ever so slightly.
3. Medium Close-Up
If the medium shot is from the waist up, and the close-up shot is tight on the character’s face, the medium close-up shot is from the torso up. This shot is perfect for capturing reactions. Think of it as an emotional payoff for your character and the audience. This framing is a good way to feel close to your character and subject, as there is not much room to move, and it helps bring the viewer into the scene that much more.
4. Extreme Close-Up
You’ll know when you see an extreme close-up shot. It’s usually something small (or a small feature on someone’s face) made huge. This type of shot is usually for directing attention to a specific object or motion. There’s no hidden meaning behind these shots, as the director is basically telling the audience exactly what to look at.
5. Wide/Long Shot
The wide shot is perfect for any action scene. The whole purpose of a wide shot is to capture as much information as possible, showing the audience the characters’ world. You can really show off your set – and locations – by using the wide shot to add production value and depth.
6. Extreme Wide/Long Shot
Take the wide shot and amplify it by 10. The extreme wide shot is meant to wow your audience, putting your visuals on impressive display. Extreme wides can be aerials, as well as tracking shots – just make sure your characters are the smallest part of the shot. It’s all about the scale and the scope of what’s happening in the story. Drones are perfect tools for capturing the most impressive, most extreme wide shots.
7. Establishing Shot
Establishing shots are basically extreme wide shots. However, they are arguably more important than any other shot in this list. They’re a brilliant way to set the scene, letting the audience know where your characters are and where the story is taking place. The best part about pulling off a convincing establishing shot is that you don’t actually have to abide by the establishing shot. You can tell the audience your film takes place in a skyscraper, while in reality, you shot the bulk of your scenes in your apartment. It’s just about setting the scene, and adding to your script – without relying on exposition or dialogue.
8. The Long Take
One of the best ways to fully immerse your audience into the world you’ve created is to pull off a convincing long take. The long take can be a great way to showcase your camera work – and to put your actors’ talent on display. It’s essentially the closest film gets to theater, in its purest form – a non-stop take that plays out in real time. If you’ve seen movies like Children of Men and Birdman, you know exactly how much intensity and realism a long take can add to a scene.
9. Crash Zoom
There’s nothing better than a good, well-timed crash zoom. Zooming in fast on your characters is a fun and effective way to bring the attention to whatever you want to highlight. (There’s no looking away from whatever you decide to crash on.) Usually, this shot is for comedic effect. However, it’s also an extremely popular technique for demonstrating scale and cinéma vérité-esque camerawork.
Now, obviously point-of-view shots have been used over and over again, with found footage films like The Blair Witch Project. This shot puts the camera in the hands of the audience – showing the world from your character’s perspective. They can feel and see everything the character sees, creating empathy for your protagonist. I recommend trying this one out. It’s hard to pull it off, but when it’s done right, nothing compares.