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Camera Techniques 101: Shot Sizes, Framing, Angles and Movements

Blog banner for various camera techniques

Honestly, in this era of "content creation," filmmaking has taken a back seat. But I'll break down classic camera shots, angles, framing and movements for the few who still believe in cinematic brilliance and want to create a shot list for their projects. 

While cinematographers write most blogs on this topic, I'm writing this blog from a director's perspective. So, let's dive deep and find out how directors think while finalizing the shot list. 

While planning a shot, we must know these things: camera shot sizes, camera shot framing, camera angles and camera movement

What is Shot Size?

The distance between the camera and the subject that decides how much of the subject or the setting will get captured in the frame is called shot size. In visual storytelling, it's really important how much of your subject, object or background is visible within the frame. Different types of shots in cinema can help you convey specific emotions, emphasize certain things or create a perspective. 

Types of Camera Shot Sizes

Here are the most essential types of shots in film:

Extreme Wide Shot 

You will usually see these shots at the beginning of a movie or a new scene. Extreme wide shots create the foundation by helping the audience understand the larger world of the story. Once the foundation is laid, filmmakers use other shots to zoom in and dive deep into the story to show the subject and other specific details. 

Here's an example of an extreme wide shot from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by Sergio Leone, where the three main characters take position for the finale: a three-way standoff. 

Extreme wide shot from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by Sergio Leone

Wide Shot

Wide shots or long shots position the camera a little closer to the subject while it serves the same purpose as extreme wide shots. These shots are visual feasts- they help the audience understand what's going on around the subject including the setting, atmosphere, tone, etc. These shots are the best way to showcase exotic locations. Filmmakers also use wide shots in action-packed sequences like chase scenes or battles. 

Wide Shot from Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola
Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola

Full Shot

A full shot frames your entire subject within the frame from head to toe. This shot helps filmmakers portray the subject's body language, actions and movements within the scene. 

Full Shot from Joker by Todd Phillips
Joker by Todd Phillips

Medium Wide Shot

A medium wide shot or medium long shot frames the subject from the knees or thighs up. It shows the audience what's happening in the background and what the subject is doing while also focusing on their expressions and gestures.

Medium Wide Shot  from Wonder Woman by Patty Jenkins
Wonder Woman by Patty Jenkins

Medium Shot

A medium shot refers to framing the subject from the waist up, focusing on the subject's upper body. This shot size highlights the subject's expressions and gestures while still providing some context of what's happening around them. 

Here's one of my favorite medium shots:  

Medium Shot froom Titanic by James Cameron
Titanic by James Cameron

Medium Close Up

A medium close-up is perfect for character-driven scenes as it frames a subject from the chest or shoulders up. This shot size strikes the perfect balance between capturing facial expressions, body movements and background elements.

Medium close up shot from Avengers: Endgame by Russo Brothers
Avengers: Endgame by the Russo Brothers

Close-Up (CU) 

A close-up shot frames the subject tightly, mainly focusing on the subject's face. It allows the audience to notice the subject's facial expressions and helps in evoking strong emotions that are emotional or intimate.

An extreme close-up shot is also a variation of this film shot size where filmmakers try to focus on one specific facial feature like eyes or lips. 

Close Up Shot from The Shining by Stanley Kubrick
The Shining by Stanley Kubrick

What is Camera Shot Framing?

Camera shot framing is all about how you position or arrange your subjects and other elements within the frame. It plays a major role in shaping the visual narrative of a movie. You can compose an engaging frame by using elements like shot sizes, negative space and other composition guidelines like the rule of thirds. 

Types of Camera Shot Framing

Here are the different types of framing in film that you should know about:

Single Shot

As simple as it sounds- when you frame only one subject, it's called a single shot. You can take a single shot in any shot size. 

Single Shot from Steven Spielberg
Schindler's List by Steven Spielberg

Two Shot

When you frame two subjects, then it's a two-shot. It's not necessary that you have to frame your subjects side by side- one of them can be in the foreground while the other one can be in the background. Just make sure that both of your characters are visible and they are contributing to the shot. 

Two Shot from Nayak: The Hero by Satyajit Ray
Nayak: The Hero by Satyajit Ray

Three Shot

Add one more character or subject to your two-shot and it becomes a three-shot. 

Three Shot from The Hangover by Todd Phillips
The Hangover by Todd Phillips

Over-The-Shoulder Shot (OTS)

OTS shots are popular for conversational scenes where you position the camera just behind a character's shoulder and capture the other person.

Over-The-Shoulder Shot (OTS) from The Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan
The Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan

Point of View Shot (POV)

In POV shots, the camera becomes the character's eyes or perspective. And whatever the camera sees is basically what the character is seeing- it is a first-person experience. 

Point of View Shot (POV) from The Avengers by Joss Whedon
The Avengers by Joss Whedon

What is The Camera Angle?

The camera shot angle is all about the direction you're looking at. Let's say that you're looking at the Eiffel Tower from two different angles:

1st angle- You're standing at 5 Avenue Anatole and you look up at the Eiffel Tower and it looks gigantic.

2nd angle- You're on a chopper enjoying an aerial view of the Eiffel Tower and it appears small to you now. 

That's what camera angle is, it changes how you perceive things. 

Types of Camera Shot Angles

Here are the different kinds of camera angles that you should know: 

Eye Level Shot

When someone's just at your eye level, you don't need to look up or down, that's pretty much an eye-level shot. 

Eye Level Shot from The Wolf of Wall Street by Martin Scorsese
The Wolf of Wall Street by Martin Scorsese

Low Angle Shot

A low-angle camera shot is when you look up at someone. It's like your camera is looking at Gulliver (your subject) from a Lilliputian's perspective. Needless to say, your subject will appear big, strong and dominant.  

Low Angle Shot from Heerak Rajar Deshe by Satyajit Ray
Heerak Rajar Deshe by Satyajit Ray

High Angle Shot

Let's reverse the previous scenario- your camera is looking at the Lilliputians from Gulliver's perspective and they appear tiny. And that's a high angle camera shot for you- where you place your camera at a higher position so your subject would appear smaller and less powerful. 

High Angle Shot from The Avengers by Joss Whedon
The Avengers by Joss Whedon

Dutch Angle/Tilt Shot

When you tilt your camera while framing your subject- it creates tension, uneasiness and weirdness or it simply suggests that something's not right. Dutch angle or Dutch tilt is mainly used in thriller, horror or suspense movies when the filmmaker wants to hint the audience about some kind of trouble.  

Dutch Angle/Tilt Shot from 12 Monkeys by Terry Gilliam
12 Monkeys by Terry Gilliam

Bird's Eye View Shot

A bird's eye view shot is exactly what the name suggests. Suppose a bird's flying high up above your city, how would the world below look? Exactly, like a drone shot or a satellite image of your city, that's pretty much what a bird's eye view shot is.

Bird's Eye View Shot from Game of Thrones by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss
Game of Thrones by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss

What is Camera Movement?

Camera movement is a filmmaking technique where cinematographers physically move the camera to change the frame and make the audience look at the scene from a different perspective. Camera movements help filmmakers add more elements or focus on one specific element and improve the overall visual storytelling. 

Types Of Camera Movement? 

Here are the different kinds of camera movements that you should know: 

Static Shot

When the camera stands completely still- there's no camera movement- that's a static shot. Everything inside your frame could still move like a person could walk by or a plane could take off, but your camera would not move. Filmmakers mostly use static shots for monologues or dialogue scenes so that the audience can focus on the dialogue delivery and enjoy the actor's expressions and performance. 

Dolly Shot

Okay, this is a tricky one, but let's put it this way whenever you put your camera on wheels, you can call it a dolly shot. Once your camera is on the move, you can either dolly in (move towards the subject) or dolly out (move away from the subject) or try dolly tracking (the camera moves alongside your subject).

There are different tools and mechanisms involved in these types of shots:

  • You can use dolly tracks for a more controlled camera dolly movement.

  • You can try a free dolly where there'll be wheels instead of tracks for more flexible movement. 

  • And then there's Jimmy Jib- a crane-like machine that also allows you to move your camera up and down while dollying.

Zoom Shot

You can move closer or away from your subject by changing the focal length of your lens. Zoom shots can be a great alternative to dolly shots if you do not have enough space to dolly tracks or you do not have enough budget to rent a Jimmy Jib.

Vertigo Shot/Dolly Zoom Shot

No matter what you call it, I prefer calling this the Hitchcock shot, as I first saw it in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. In this shot, you have to dolly and zoom together at the same time but exactly in the opposite direction.

So if you dolly in then you have to zoom out simultaneously or vice versa. In simple words, the purpose of this shot is to make you feel tensed, confused or uncomfortable. 

Pan Shot

Just like you can move your head from one side to the other, the camera can too and that helps in capturing a wider view.

Imagine Angelina Jolie walking down the red carpet turning everybody's head from left to right, well when the camera does the same, we call it a camera pan shot.

Tilt Shot

When the camera imitates how you nod by moving your head up and down, we call it a camera tilt shot. 

Just like pan shots, tilt shots are also used to capture wider views. The only difference is the camera moves horizontally in pan shots but vertically in tilt shots. 

Trucking shot

It is very similar to dolly shots, but the only difference is in dolly shots the camera moves towards the subject or away from it.  But in trucking shots, the camera moves horizontally along the subject from left to right or vice versa.

Pedestal shot

I'm sure you have seen lifts travel up and down a building on a vertical pillar. Well, when the camera does the same, we call it a pedestal shot. It's a camera movement to reveal something big and dominant, like a huge ugly otherwordly villain. 

Don't Just Watch, Make Films to Master these Camera Techniques

While reading about all these secrets of filmmaking is amazing, but as a filmmaking student I would always suggest that instead of spending hours reading and watching- just get out of your house, and shoot something and you will figure out these things automatically. 

I remember when I shot my first 1-minute film- my cinematographer and I had no clue how to tell a story visually- we had a camera- we had a story and we tried out different shots and spent hours retaking the same shot from different angles. We only had one camera, so tried out all the possible scenarios separately and we figured out the rest in post-production.

After putting in all these hours trying out different camera techniques we still didn't get most of the things right. But we had plenty of amateur-level footage and when we put them together, we realized one thing- it's all about how we visualize it. 

Whatever you're visualizing, if you can take that out of your mind and put even 50% of it on screen- you'll have a great film. 

All I'm trying to say is that watching hours of YouTube videos, reading long blogs, and checking out other valuable online resources is a good thing to do- but filmmaking is learned best in the field. So get your practical experience, find yourself an amateur crew, do things together, fall off a crane once in a while, make DIY gears to take shots and bond as a team- you will automatically figure out what it means to be a filmmaker and what it takes to actually shoot a film. 

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So true, you should go out and shoot something, everything else falls right into place.

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