The Medium shot, the Medium Close-Up, and the Close-up
Three very common framing shots of talent. They’re a common, agreed-upon language so we’re all on the same page. Are there more? Sure
The Extreme CU, the Wide shot, the Extreme wide , the High shot, the Low shot.
But why do we choose these shots?
Shooting all of them for a scene is an option, and let the editor figure it out. It’s called shooting coverage.
But getting all that coverage can take time. How can we be more selective and make choices based on what will help the scene?
Everything that we shoot is about focus. We make choices that focus the viewers' attention on aspects of a performance and action. Or that ignore them for a purpose.
For example, a medium shot means we can see what action an actor is taking with their hands. Here we can see that Jame’s hands are bound.
But in the medium CU, we can’t. We’re now close enough to pay more attention to his face. We shifted the focused from a mixed one, head and hands, to the face.
A close-up shifts that focus even more, making it clear the face, the expressions of that performance, are what we’re viewing.
And the extreme, well, takes that focus to an extreme.
Another choice for shots, the geography of the scene. Where are people in relation to the environment?
You may want to start with a wide or medium shot to establish the character in the environment. The establishing shot.
Or start with a tight shot, hiding it to then reveal it later.
You may want to show the geographic relationship of two characters to each other.
The two shot.
There’s the over the shoulder.
Notice how it changes the dynamic of the shot and makes it feel a bit more intimate vs disconnected.
But this whole time we’ve been shooting with the camera at roughly eye-height. The camera feels like an observer.
But if we lower the camera below their eye height it gives a different feel, one of slight unease and in this case, who’s in power or not
How about one person seated, the other standing. Two different eye heights. If we split the difference, with a height in between, somewhat neutral.
But set for the eye height for each person, bit more dramatic.
One is being looked down upon, the other looked up at. One seems less dominate, the other more.
Another term, that’s not really a shot but refers to a set of shots is the reverse. If we’re shooting one person in a conversation, we will refer to the other character shots as the reverse shots.
A Different Over the Shoulder
But what if they weren’t facing one another?
What if they’re side-by-side, referring to someone or something off screen?
One obvious setup would be to shoot a different type of over the shoulder from the front.
But we could also move the camera behind them.
Now, this is an interesting shot. They’re facing each other, talking, but their bodies are clearly directed off screen at something or someone.
It gives the feeling that their heads will snap back to what they’re facing at any moment
It has potential energy brewing, like a spring, reminding us there’s something off screen.
Open Frame Potential
What if we don’t have another person in the shot, what now? We have the standard one-third rule, that’s helpful, but what if we move them over?
If the frame in front of them is open, it has potential. Will they move into it. Someone else will?
If it’s behind or to the side, it can even feel menacing. Will someone sneak up? Something appears?
A great use of this was in the first Alien film. Harry Dean Stanton’s character was sent to find the cat that ran off.
As he wanders slowly through the ship, he’s framed with an open area behind him and to the side. This is 1979, after a solid decade of horror and splatter movies training us to expect the killer/monster to fill that frame. We look at it expecting something to pounce into it at any moment. It’s like it’s framed for it, ready and waiting.
Sometimes that open frame can mean something else. Here’s a great example from another awesome film Stanton was in, Paris, Texas by Wim Wenders.
While he’s a passenger in a car with Dean Stockwell, the normal car hood mount shot, that would normally be looking directly into the windshield, is shifted off to the side. The edge of the windshield splits the frame. The characters on one side, the outside world on the other.
There are many great shots in the film, heck the whole film is a visual representation of characters set adrift from their memories and the immediate world around them. Windows, mirrors, and the frame split and divide them from each other.
So knowing the types of shots for framing is important as you communicate what you want to shoot on set but also knowing when to choose them based on your perspective, your viewpoint of the script is equally if not more important. What will visually convey your vision?
James Aaron Oh https://www.jamesaaronoh.com
Gabriel Thomas https://jonahtg.wixsite.com/website
Motorbike passing by mikaelfernstrom https://freesound.org/people/mikaelfernstrom/sounds/68708
“Right Place, Right Time” by Silent Partner from YouTube Audio Library
Other music from Epidemic Sound https://www.epidemicsound.com
Paris, Texas, Dir. Wim Wenders
Alien, Dir. Ridley Scott