The Complete Guide to Camera Shots
Whether you're filming an action sequence or still scene, it's not always easy to get the perfect camera shot. It takes much planning to make sure the final product looks perfect. Everything from the position of the camera to the angle and lighting affects the shot. These are just a couple of aspects to be considered.
Even though there is a camera angle and shot for any scene, it's not easy to remember which one to use. To help directors and DPs get the best camera shots on the first try, I've gathered together all of the information you need to make your next project a visual success.
Different Types of Camera Shots
Camera shots are a series of frames continuously recorded until it stops. The different types of shots are essential for the timely completion of the film.
By combining different angles, camera movements, and shots, directors can better emphasize certain aspects of each scene. Utilizing camera shots allows the filmmaker to portray character emotions, movement, and ideas to the audience.
Since there are different camera shots, it helps to remember which one to use when there's a handy list available. Here are nine commonly used camera shots used in the film.
1. Full Shot (FS)
With a full shot, the character and scenery fill the camera frame.
It can also be a tracking shot, meaning that the camera moves and frames the subject.
It can begin as a wide shot, and as it tracks the subject to a full shot, before ending in a cowboy shot.
One example of when to use full shots in films is when multiple characters need to be framed and shot together.
2. Close Up Shot (CU)
A close-up shot shows audiences the subject's emotions and their reactions to events. The camera frame solely focuses on the subject's face. Often the background appears a little out of focus to ensure all attention is on the subject. The best close-ups reveal the smallest emotions while still keeping the subject in sharp focus.
3. Extreme Close Up (ECU)
An ECU extreme shot is effective for drama and comedy. The subject is extremely close and the focal point of the frame. Extreme close-ups draw attention to smaller details like the eyes, nose, or mouth. It can also emphasize a change that is occurring to the character. One example can be found in the movie Black San when the title character begins to grow feathers on her back.
4. Medium Wide Shots (MWS)
This knee level shot is between full and wide shots. The subject is shown from approximately the knees up.
Also known as a medium-long shot, it pulls attention away from the backdrop to put more focus on the subject.
Since it is a wide shot, it's also ideal for framing several characters in a single scene.
5. Medium Shot (MS)
The medium shot is one of the most commonly used camera shots. It focuses on the subject from the waist up.
It is a perfect shot in films when directors want to draw audiences' attention to dialogue or as a buffer before a close-up.
You can use a medium shot before an extreme long shot. It helps to keep the audience prepared for the upcoming sequence of events in the film.
6. Extreme Wide Shot (EWS)
The extreme wide shot, also known as the extreme long shot (ELS), is the camera shot that emphasizes the backdrop by making the subject appear smaller.
Use a long camera shot when you want the character to feel unfamiliar or distant. An extreme wide shot is also ideal when emphasizing the location's isolation or devastation.
7. Long Shot (LS)
The long or wide shot (WS) brings the subject closer while still emphasizing the surroundings.
Each camera shot will have plenty of space above and below, while still keeping the subject in view.
Wide shots let the audience experience the character and the scenery making it ideal for big cinematic moments.
8. Medium Close Up Shot (MCU)
While still providing distance between the subject and audience, MCU shots focus on the chest and face.
Even though the subject's face is part of the shot, it's not the primary focus. It still gives the subject an air of mystery.
It can also provide an eerie feel to the character's dialogue.
9. Cowboy Shot (CS)
The shot gets its name from its frequent use in Western films. It frames the subject from mid-thigh and up.
It was and is often used to frame the cowboy's gunbelt on his waist.
However, it works well whenever a director wants to shot one or more characters from their waist up.
When not used to draw attention to a hip holster, it will draw attention to the actors' faces.
Types of Camera Angles
Camera shots and angles go together. To get the perfect shot requires finding the right angle. There are different camera angles, and each one can either improve the film's visuals or ruin it for the audience. Here's a brief guide on the various camera angles.
1. Over The Shoulder Shot
Unlike eye-level shots that make a subject appear smaller than usual, shoulder angles reduce the film frame's headspace.
It aligns with the subject's shoulders, so the frame is filled while also giving viewers the sense that it is coming from a lower angle.
It allows the audience to be a part of an on-screen conversation without feeling like the subject is talking directly to them.
2. Knee Level Shot
When the camera angle is low to the ground, it emphasizes the subject and its importance in that scene. Knee level shots help directors guide the attention on a character's walk or even when they are sneaking or creeping. This camera angle can also be a dolly shot to keep up with the subject's gait.
3. Eye Level Shot
With the eye-level shot, the director can place the audience eye-level with the subject.
You can shoot an eye-level shot with a handheld camera, during zoom shots, or in a close-up.
Even though this makes the subject more relatable to audiences, directors don't use this angle isn't often because they prefer to move the camera and shoot scenes from their shoulders.
4. Dutch Angle Shot
It's also known as the Dutch tilt shot since you tilt the camera to the side.
You can use the Dutch tilt to disorient the audience, show a subject's mental state unraveling, or to increase viewers' level of suspense and tension.
Typically, scenes start with a level shot before changing to a tilt shot. When directors want to emphasize a scene, a dutch shot can accomplish this.
5. Low Angle Shot
When dread, tension, or even fear needs to be conveyed to the audience, a low angle shot is necessary.
The camera frames the subjects below their eye line, angled from the ground up.
This shot can show power dynamics between characters. The cinematographer will often frame the more dominant subject at a high angle.
6. High Angle Shot
One of the most versatile camera shots, a high angle can give audiences everything from an impending sense of doom to creating a sense of inferiority. Crane shots often give directors and producers the high angle shot frames they want. A drone shot can also accomplish it. Some directors also use a dolly zoom when they want a high angle shot to be closer in.
7. Ground Level Shot
The types of cameras used to matter in ground-level shots. These level shots do depend on the camera position and type. Handheld and shoulder cameras work best since they allow the director to get down on the ground. The ground level shots often build suspense since they only show the ground and not the subject's face.
8. Aerial Shot
Aerial shots with the helicopter and drone shots show how expansive the scenery is. Drone shots are more common these days than using expensive helicopters.
9. Overhead Angle
An overhead shot gives audiences a bird's eye view of the film scene.
Usually shot at a 90-degree angle, it provides an unbiased perspective of the scene.
The overhead angle gives a scene a "divine feel" as if someone is watching from above. This type of camera shot usually appears at the end of the film.
Camera shots and angles are what makes a film great, along with the actors and storyline. However, without shots and angles, every film will appear flat and uninspired. Depth of field can give perspective, and a deep focus on a character lets the audience know, without dialogue, and guide their attention and focus. In a sense, the camera tells the story as much as the dialogue.