In this article, we shed some light on the dark art of cinematography, offering advice for beginners and answers to common questions. This resource is part of a series written by the team from Show Me Shorts Film Festival who are keen to support your filmmaking journey. You can find more useful articles and advice on their website.
SHOT SIZES EXPLAINED
Each scene in your film includes a sequence of several shots that show us your characters and setting as the action unfolds. Your choice about which size of shot affects the emotional impact and informative ability of the story, for example close-ups help show the emotion of the characters, while long shots are useful in showing us where the characters are.
This useful video explains the different types of shot sizes, and what they’re generally used for:
Shot Sizes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VE5qsNQaSZI
Here are some visual examples of shot sizes. We’ll describe how they’re used to achieve different responses from the audience:
Consider how important it is to show where your characters are. You can use an Extreme Long Shot (ELS) or a Long Shot (LS) to show characters in relation to the location. An Extreme Long Shot often shows a character as much smaller than their surrounding environment, while a Long Shot shows someone from head to foot where you can see the person in the setting.
A Mid Shot (MS) shows only the top half of the body. You can see the face and what the person is doing.
If you want to show a character’s expression or emotion, or focus on a significant prop, use a Close Up (CU) or an Extreme Close Up (ECU). A Close Up shows their face, or maybe their head and shoulders. It lets you imagine what they’re feeling. An Extreme Closeup shows just a small part of a person or thing, and is normally used to show shock or extreme emotion, or an important detail.
The camera is our eye into the action. Putting the camera in different places is important for making the story interesting. Remember that instead of just shooting everything at eye level, the camera can go above, below or behind the subject.
A High Shot looks down from above. This can make people look weaker or smaller. If you want to make a person or thing seem important or scary you can use a Low Shot that points the camera up at them.
Some more quirky kinds of shot include the Birds-eye shot, which looks straight down at the scene or a thing. These are not very common unless you have a drone. With a Dutch angle, everything in the scene is on a slant. You can use it to make things seem odd, wacky or cool.
Here’s a video which explains the different types of camera angles: Basic Camera Shots and Angles for Beginners https://youtu.be/mfcWXC-ILvo
SPATIAL AWARENESS: THE 180 DEGREE RULE
To help your audience understand where characters are positioned in the scene – especially if they are talking to each other – use these tips and tricks on how to shoot these angles best.
As well as any wide or long shots that might position the characters in the location, it is standard practice to use an Over The Shoulder Shot (OS) shot and an Over The Shoulder Reverse (OSR) to show two people talking together with closer shots.
To make this work, you MUST follow the 180 degree rule: All your shots must be from in front of the characters within a 180 degree radius. If you ‘cross the line’ by shooting from behind your characters’ imaginary 180 degree line, viewers will get confused and won’t be able to make sense of the space and where your characters are in relation to each other.
180 Degree Rule / Not Crossing ‘The Line’
Here’s a video which explains how the 180 Degree Rule works:
You’ll often hear reviewers describe movies as being ‘cinematic’ or ‘not cinematic’. Camera movements are a vital tool for giving your film a ‘cinematic’ feel. The key when moving the camera is to go SLOW and STEADY. Take your time. Here are the most popular camera movements in filmmaking:
Slow tracking shots are a cool way to explore a space or show what a character is seeing. They look a lot better than zooms and most other camera movements. They’ve got to be steady, so the camera needs to be on something like a wheelchair or skateboard or shopping trolley. It can go forwards (track in – or dolly in), backwards (track out or dolly out), or sideways (crab).
Tracking Shots Examples: https://youtu.be/RLuEskAhRGE
A tilt angles the camera on a tripod vertically up or down. It’s useful for slowly revealing somebody or something. The classic example is the shot that starts with someone’s feet and tilts up to show how big or scary they are.
Tilt Shots Examples: https://filmlifestyle.com/what-is-a-tilt-shot/
With a pan, the camera on a tripod turns left or right to scan a scene or follow a movement. It doesn’t look great unless it’s really smooth and steady, which is tricky and takes practice.
Judder Free Panning – The 7 Second Rule: https://youtu.be/ontPhH7PYS8
‘Going hand- held’ means taking the camera off the tripod, and getting the type of movement that can only be achieved without the camera attached to the ‘sticks.’ Secrets to hand held filmmaking: https://youtu.be/ibb_mN7ONbc
You can find more examples of popular camera movements here:
Camera Movement Techniques for Beginners: https://youtu.be/ZYiWIKnm8_A
It is the cinematographer’s job to shoot the right shots, angles and movements that will give your editor what they need to build a sequence of shots that tells the story of your film and conveys the emotion of each scene. A common sequence of shots is:
1. Close Up (CU) (Also known as a Tight Shot) Introduces close action
2. Mid Shot (MS) Introduces character(s) performing the action
3. Long Shot (LS) Shows full body action in relation to surroundings
4. Extreme Close Up (ECU) Shows emotional reactions
5. Extreme Long Shot (ELS) Shows the unresolved tension in location highlighting isolation
Here’s some tutorials on what goes into shooting a good sequence.
Simple 5 Shot Sequence: https://youtu.be/5g_ArBSIunA
Shooting Sequences for the edit: https://youtu.be/gJm5wtscceg
For shots to line up and look believable when you’re cutting between shots of characters, make sure that when you’re shooting a particular character, that they’re looking where the other character’s eyes would be. This is especially true when you have a character that is taller than the other, or is sitting down vs standing up, or is moving around in the scene.
EXTRA SHOTS YOUR EDITOR WILL THANK YOU FOR:
Making sure you get these shots will help your editor in post-production:
A Master Shot – this is usually a Long Shot / Wide Shot / Mid Shot but can also move position (keeping the same shot size) within the action. It shows the whole scene from start to finish. If you shoot a master shot (as well as closeups, mid shots etc) it can make editing a lot easier by giving you options. If there’s a problem with any of the other shots, you can always cut back to the Master Shot.
Cutaway Shots – shots of hands fidgeting, pictures on the wall, shots that belong in the scene, but don’t show the characters’ entire faces or mouths while they’re speaking dialogue.
Reaction Shots – if one character is speaking dialogue, make sure you also get the reactions of the other character(s) whom they’re speaking to.
CAMERA SHOTS, ANGLES & MOVEMENTS RECAP:
This video is a great way to recap everything that we’ve just learned.
15 essential camera shots, angles and movements in filmmaking: https://youtu.be/7y0ouVBcogU