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Guide to Camera Shots

Every Shot Size Explained

You’re looking for a list of the different types of camera shots and shot sizes in film, TV, or animation, but you also want great examples that come with clear explanations of when and why to use a specific shot size? We’ll provide you with a downloadable shot list example with all the different types of camera shot sizes in film. 

CAMERA SHOTS EXPLAINED

Different types of camera shots in the film

Great filmmakers not only know all of the different types of camera shots in film and TV, but they know how to use even basic camera shots to emphasize specific moments and story beats in their films.

CAMERE SHOT SIZE DEFINITION

What is shot size?

 

Shot size is how much of the setting or subject is displayed within a given frame of a video, photo, or animation, hence the scope or size of the shot. Different types of camera shots in film or video communicate different narrative value, and are combined during post-production to tell a story. Most filmmakers use standard names for shot sizes, often abbreviated into 2 or 3 letters on a shot list or storyboard. For example, a close up shot would be abridged to "CU," or a wide shot would be denoted as "WS."

This begins with learning the different camera shot sizes. Here's a handy chart that lays out some of the basic shot sizes and how they're defined.

Camera Shot Size Cheat-Sheet

Which camera shot size to you choose begin your scene? What shot size should come at the end? Which of the various camera angles and levels? Each of these will change the visual message of your shot.

Camera Levels + Camera Shots

Selecting your shots is part of the fun of filmmaking, but it's also a very serious decision because each shot size choice you make will alter the surrounding shots, and the way we receive them.

Types of Camera Shots

I. Establishing Shot

II. Extreme Wide Shot (EWS)

III. Wide Shot (WS) / (LS)

IV. Full Shot (FS)

V. Medium Wide Shot (MWS) / (MLS)

VI. Cowboy Shot

VII. Medium Shot (MS)

VIII. Medium Close Up (MCU)

IX. Close Up (CU)

X. Extreme Close Up (ECU)

Watch: Camera Shot Sizes Explained

I . Establishing shot definition 

An establishing shot is a long shot at the start of a scene (or sequence) that shows things from a distance. Often an aerial shot, it is intended to help identify and orient the location or time for the scene and action that follow.

Citizen Kane (1941) Orson Welles

Establishing shots should be subtle, not only communicating location in time and space but also setting the tone for the story about to take place.

II. Extreme Wide Shot (EWS) 

An extreme wide shot (aka extreme long shot) is a camera shot that will make your subject appear small against their location. You can also use an extreme long shot to make your subject feel distant or unfamiliar. Extreme wide shots are often used as establishing shots. Of all the different types of camera shots in film, consider using the extreme wide shot when you need to emphasize the location and the relationship of the characters within it.

Here's an example of the extreme wide shot size:

How Is a Wide Shot Different From an Establishing Shot?

A wide shot is a shot size, while an establishing shot is a technique. Wide shots refer to the distance between the camera and the subject; establishing shots appear at the start of a film or at the beginning of a new scene to establish where and when the action takes place. An establishing shot can be a wide shot, but wide shots are not always establishing shots.

III. Wide Shot (WS) or Long Shot (LS)

The wide shot (aka long shot) is a camera shot that balances both the subject and the surrounding imagery. A wide shot is filmed close enough to emphasize the actor, but far enough away to show the actor’s location. You can see their whole body within the frame, with enough space surrounding them to indicate the setting.

A wide shot should keep a good deal of space both above and below your subject. Of the many camera shots, a long shot gives us a better idea of the scene setting, and gives us a better idea of how the character fits into the area. Wide shots also create narrative distance with the subject, often dwarfing characters against an expansive terrain.

 

Wide shots are one of Stanley Kubrick's favorite camera shots in film. He'd often use a wide shot with deep focus to create a classic look.

But what about Schindler’s List’s most famous wide shot? It’s when Oskar Schindler sees the little girl in the red coat.

When you watch this scene, the wide shots are used to bring you into Schindler’s mind. We’re constantly bouncing back and forth between a close up on his face and a wide shot where we follow the travesty and the little girl.

 

Here's the scene:

The long-shot gives perspective in every way.​ The choice to show the girl in wide shots allows Spielberg to keep her at a distance — which created a visual motif. Wide shots, in this case, enhance her mystery, innocence, and vulnerability.

IV. Full Shot (FS)

A full shot is a camera shot in film that lets your subject fill the frame, head to toe, while still allowing some features of the scenery. Full shots can communicate the appearance, movement, mannerisms, traits, or actions of characters before focusing on their reaction or feelings. For example, to convey fearlessness, you can use a full shot to show a character’s confident stance or walk.

A full shot is different from the wide because it focuses more on the character in the frame. 

Django Unchained Director: Quentin Tarantino 2012

This full shot from Django Unchained is also a tracking shot — meaning there is camera movement featured throughout the shot. In this particular case, the camera slowly moves (or tracks) towards Django. So, technically, this shot begins in a wide shot, moves to full shot (seen above), and eventually ends in a cowboy shot.  

Of all the different types of camera shots in film, full shots can be used to feature multiple characters in a single shot, like this full shot size example from Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy:

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy 

V. Medium Wide Shot (MWS) - Medium Long Shot (MLS)

medium wide shot (aka medium long shot) frames the subject from roughly the knees up. It splits the difference between a full shot and a medium shot. Also called a ¾ shot.

 

Here's an example of the medium wide shot size:

The Usual Suspects Director Bryan Singer 1995 

You can always frame camera shots from any angle as well, so don't be afraid to think about medium wide shots when behind a character.

VI. Cowboy Shot (CS)

A variation on this is the cowboy shot, which frames the subject from roughly mid-thighs up. It’s called a “cowboy shot” because it is used in Westerns to frame a gunslinger’s gun or holster on his hip.

Wonder Woman Director Patty Jenkins 2017

Here is an example of a cowboy shot size that's used in a film that has nothing to do with cowboys. Wonder Woman is shown in this shot size because it allows for the viewer to register the action and the emotion. 

VII. Medium Shot (MS)

Let's move onto camera shots that reveal your subject in more detail.

The medium shot is one of the most common camera shots. It's similar to the cowboy shot above, but frames from roughly the waist up and through the torso. So it emphasizes more of your subject while keeping their surroundings visible.

Medium shots may seem like the most standard camera shot around, but every shot size you choose will have an effect on the viewer. A medium shot can often be used as a buffer shot for dialogue scenes that have an important moment later that will be shown in a close-up shot.

If you don't use all of the different types of camera shots in film, how can you signal anything to your viewer without shot size contrast. 

Medium Close Up (MCU)

The medium close-up frames your subject from roughly the chest up. So it typically favors the face, but still keeps the subject somewhat distant. The medium close-up camera shot size also keeps the characters eerily distant even during their face-to-face conversation.

Here's an example of the medium close-up shot size:

 No Country for Old Men Directors Ethan CoenJoel Coen 2007

IX. Close Up (CU)

You know it’s time for a close-up shot when you want to reveal a subject’s emotions and reactions. The close-up camera shot fills your frame with a part of your subject. If your subject is a person, it is often their face. They are also used to show specific action,  like a hand picking up an object. Close-up shots are also used as cutaways to highlight. 

 

Here's an example of the close-up shot size:

The Usual Suspects Director Bryan Singer 1995

Of all the different types of camera shot sizes in film, a close-up is perfect for moments that are important for the character. The close-up shot size is near enough to register tiny emotions, but not so close that we lose visibility.

Close-ups are great camera shots for monologues too. They let the audience get close to your character to see their facial gestures in detail.

Here's a video example of the close-up shot size:

The Passionate Close-Up

Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc via StudioCanal

Perhaps to most notorious film to feature the close-up was the 1928 drama The Passion of Joan of Arc. The film ran two hours and was almost entirely made up of close-ups. 

Director Carl Theodor Dreyer wanted the film to use a great deal of close-ups. He felt that the emphasis on the actor’s facial expressions would help the audience feel the fear that Joan felt.

There were questions, there were answers- very short, very crisp… Each question, each answer, quite naturally called for a close-up… In addition, the result of the close-ups was that the spectator was as shocked as Joan was, receiving the questions, tortured by them.

The Psychotic Close-Up

In 1960, director Alfred Hitchcock terrified audiences with his use of close-ups in his thriller Psycho. By focusing on certain details, Hitchcock was able to circumvent the ratings board. The film seemed much more graphic than it actually was, which is all due to the film’s editing.

Video from Roman Holiday 

The close-up is also still used to build tension. In fact, the pulse pounding pace and a stressful story of Whiplash perfectly captures the intense pressure the main character feels.

Extreme Close Up (ECU)

An extreme close-up shot is a type of camera shot size in film that fills the frame with your subject, and is so close that we can pick up tiny details that would otherwise be difficult to see. 

This camera shot size often shows eyes, gun triggers, and lips. Extreme close-up shots are sometimes shot with a macro lens for greater detail.

Here's an example of the extreme close-up shot size:

X-Men: First Class Director Matthew Vaughn 2011

In Darren Aronofsky movies, the visionary director uses various degrees of close-ups, like in his film Black Swan. 

Quentin Tarantino is the master of the extreme close up and utilizes the technique for a variety of reasons. The shots are often used to convey the gravity of a particular situation or the manipulative strength of a character's vice. Some express power, some express weakness, and others just simply look cool. Here is a look at Tarantino's masterful use of the extreme close up throughout his feature film career.

Video from Jacob T Swinney

In Conclusion

There is no "right" camera shot size for any particular moment, but there are camera shots that work better than others to create a mood, feeling, and tone. Camera shot size can provide context for the viewer about character motivation, the theme of the film, or show off the setting. 

Shot size is the building block for choosing camera shots, but you’ll also need to consider how to add deeper meaning with camera angle, camera framing, and camera movement. 

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