Framing

The way that you shoot the film is an important part of getting the film right. Now is the time to experiment with basic camera angles. In film making, shot compositions, sizes, and angles enhance how you tell your story. You may want a close-up when two actors are talking if the conversation is an intimate one. A wide, or “establishing” film shot may be appropriate if you want to show that the actors are surrounded by a barren wasteland.

Each cinematographer and director has a slightly different definition of framing and shot sizes, but the definitions are similar enough to warrant the following list of traditional shots:

  • Wide shot
  • Medium shot
  • Two shot
  • Close-up
  • High and Low
  • Bird’s Eye shot

The wide camera shot in film making
A wide shot (WS) reveals where the scene is taking place. Also referred to as a long shot or master shot, a wide shot helps orient the audience. A wide shot also gives the actors room to move within a shot, without the camera having to follow them. Medium shots and close-ups are often cut into a wide shot for variation.

An establishing shot is a type of wide shot that can establish a building before the camera cuts to an interior office. The figure below shows a wide shot:

Wide shot from Interstellar (2014)
Wide shot from Interstellar (2014)

Medium shots on film
A medium shot (MS) in film making is a standard shot that usually shows a character from belly button to slightly above the actor’s head. A medium shot is more intimate than a wide shot, but provides more breathing space for the actor than a close-up. A medium shot in film also is used when you have an actor holding something in the frame or elaborating with his hands. In the image below it shows a medium shot.

Medium Shot from TV Series Smallville
Medium Shot from TV Series Smallville

Two-shot capture of a pair of actors
A two shot can either be a form of a medium shot that has two actors standing or sitting next to each other or an over-the-shoulder shot where one actor’s back or profile is closer to the camera than the other actor facing the camera. A two shot can save time and money when you have a dialogue scene between two actors by having them both in the frame as they carry on their conversation. The audience diverts their attention to each actor as they speak, instead of having the camera cut to individual shots of each actor speaking. This is also effective when two characters are walking and talking side by side in a two shot. The figure below shows a two shot:

Two Shot from Avatar (2009)
Two Shot from Avatar (2009)

Ready for your close-up
A film-making close-up shot (CU), or single, is usually from above a person’s chest or the nape of her neck to just slightly above the top of her head. If you get in closer, so that the actor’s head fills most of the frame, you have a tight close-up. Going in even tighter, to a person’s eyes or mouth, gives you an extreme close-up. Close-ups create a sense of intimacy and the feeling that you’re involved in the scene. They also reveal emotion in the eyes or the hint of a smile. The figure below shows both a close-up and a tight close-up.

Close up from Oblivion (2013)
Close up from Oblivion (2013)
Tight Close Up Shot from The Last Stand 2013
Tight Close Up Shot from The Last Stand 2013

The director often chooses a close-up to emphasise the intensity of a scene. Emotional or sensitive dialogue is often shot in a tight close-up to emphasise the importance of what’s being said.

High and low camera angles in film shots
A high angle is usually shot using a crane, standing on a hill, or looking out a window of a high-rise to get an angle looking down. When you shoot from a high angle, your subjects look smaller and therefore insignificant.

In contrast, you shoot a low angle from below your subject’s height — as low as the ground (or lower if you dig yourself a hole). Low angles tend to make subjects look bigger and more powerful. A character appears intimidating if you use a low-angle shot. The figures below show an example of each type.

High angle from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
High angle from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
Low Angle Shot from Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
Low Angle Shot from Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

An inexpensive way to get a low-angle shot from the ground: Get one of those beanbag pillows and lay your camera on it. Shape the pillow to cradle your camera safely and align it so that the shot isn’t crooked (unless you want it to be).

The Bird’s Eye shot — From high above
In a Bird’s Eye shot, the camera looks down on a scene, symbolizing a birds point of view looking down on the environment — also showing the audience the big picture. This can be an interior shot or a very effective exterior shot from the sky. It is often used in films to remind us that a central character is human and sometimes insignificant. The Bird’s Eye shot was used effectively in The Truman Show to symbolise the God complex of Christof who created and directed the ultimate reality show documenting the real life of Burbank Truman and televising his personal life unfolding in front of the entire world.

To accomplish a Bird’s Eye shot, you’ll need a camera crane, or a cheaper way to go is to shoot looking down from a tall structure. Below is an example of a Bird’s Eye shot:

Birds eye shot from The Truman Show (1998)
Birds eye shot from The Truman Show (1998)

Practice, Practice, Practice
Before you start calling “lights, camera and action” and if you have never filmed before, take some time to practise these shots before making your film and see how they can relate to what you want to say.

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