Good cinematography is largely about selecting the right shots for whatever project you’re working on. While there’s almost an unlimited variety of shots at your disposal, here and in the next two articles, we’re going to look at the basic camera shots, breaking them down into shot sizes, camera movements, and camera angles. Once you have an understanding of the essential principles of reach shot type, you can use them as the basis of a variety of interesting combinations. A shot size is the size of the frame in relation to the subject. Does the main character fill the entire frame or area positioned far away to the extent that they’re almost invisible? Can you see anything else in the shot? Landscapes? Objects? Multiple characters? In this first article, we’re going to look at the five basic shot sizes.
The close-up is among the most common shot sizes in film. You would use it to highlight your character’s facial features without anything distracting from it. Typically, we would see their chin to their forehead. There’s room for variation, however. An extreme close-up, for instance, goes even further, showing just the character’s eyes. We’ve seen this in such spaghetti western films as A Fistful of Dollars, where the camera wants to show us the intensity of the subject’s stare.
As the name implies, you could describe a long shot as being opposite to a close-up. You can see the character’s full body in frame, from head to toe. This provides the viewer with a good sense of the character’s surroundings and gives information that a close up can’t. Long shots can often be seen during moments of action, when the viewer needs to see the subject’s motion through his environment.
The medium shot (also called mid shot) lies somewhere in the middle of a long shot and a close-up. They typically show the character from their waist up to the head. You can see their face, but also enough of the rest of them to see part of their body language. This shot can be effective when your subject is pointing a gun or carrying an object. If they’re sat behind a desk, you could show them writing in a diary while avoiding using valuable screen space on their knees or feet.
Single, two shot, three shot
A shot size can also be categorised by how many characters can be seen in the frame. This is called a single shot, a two shot, or a three shot. Of course, which one applies is dependent upon the number of people in it. This will typically be combined with one of the previously mentioned shot sizes. For instance, you could use a two-shot close-up for a kissing scene. An example of a mid three shot would be three characters in a bar.
Finally, there’s the point-of-view (POV) shot. Basically, this allows you to see what the subject sees. You would use this when you want the audience to see the emotion that the character is going through. The shot is typically placed between the subject and what they’re looking at so that you can see their reaction to it. You can go for a static shot if you wish, or combine it with a particular camera motion.