The art of filmmaking has been around for a century and many types of shots in film have been developed. The first camera shots were beholden to the limitations of camera mechanism technology of the day. The amount of light needed for exposure, the time for exposure, and the bulkiness of early types of camera made the concept of camera movements untenable.
But as camera mechanisms were better understood, and as lighting techniques developed, camera technology advanced enough that new camera shots were able to be invented. Where once only a few minutes could be filmed at a time – later film productions could plan and execute the shooting of an entire scene in one shot.
Many of these new film shots or shot types are generally descriptive with their names to indicate function. Types of camera shots can have descriptors for distance as with close up shot, medium close up, over the shoulder, long shot, extreme close up shot, extreme long shot. Types of camera shots can also describe the camera angle as with high angle shot, low angle shot, dutch angle.
Camera moves terms describe how the camera moves within the shot. If the camera doesn’t move it is considered to be a static shot. If the camera moves sideways it’s called a tracking shot. If the camera stays put but changes its vertical angle that is a tilt. If it’s a horizontal angle it’s a pan.
Camera shot terminology is meant to be used as a way to describe a certain type of framing with regards to the camera’s perspective. Factors like where the camera is set up, the focal length, movement, type of movement, can all vary depending on what’s needed on-set.
However, the distinction between different types of shots can be a fluid spectrum – one person’s medium shot can be another person’s medium-wide. The distinction can be subjective. But having a familiarity with the different terms for types of shots can help you determine what type of shot you are looking at and be able to describe it to others.
Framing is the term used to refer to the placement of subjects and objects in the ‘frame’ of the camera lens.
An establishing shot sets the place of the scene. It is generally depicted as a long shot of the exterior of the location of the scene.
A wide shot or a full shot is a framing that displays the entire scene. If the characters are seen head to toe – then it is a full shot.
If the camera gets a little closer so that the characters are seen from their chest up then it’s a medium shot.
The genre of Westerns used a shot called the cowboy shot – which was developed to show characters from the hip up so we can see their revolvers.
A close up is when you only see a character’s face – allowing them to display their emotions. And an extreme close-up is when you go even closer – just showing the character’s eyes.
An extreme wide shot and extreme close up shot are when the camera goes further away or closer than normal shot sizes. An extreme wide shot can be used for an establishing shot or to depict a feeling of distance whereas a subject’s face fills the frame in an extreme close up shot.
A dutch angle is as if the camera’s head tilts to one side. This camera shot is when the horizon line of the shot is not parallel with the framing of the shot. When a dutch angle is used it generally gives a sense of unease to an audience.
Cinematorgraphy is the art of depicting a moving subject. But the camera can also move. This gives the camera the ability to communicate with an audience using the emotional language of film.
A zoom is when the camera doesn’t move but the focal distance does as long as the lens has zoom capability. By twisting the lens like a dial – camera crews are able to adjust the focal distance of their camera setup. If they do this while the camera is rolling then it is called a zoom shot. A smash close-up is when the zoom happens so fast and so abruptly that it gives off an impression of urgency – and goes from super wide to super close which is why it seems to smash into your face as you watch it.
A dolly shot is any shot that involves a dolly. A dolly is a mobile camera operating platform that can have wheels or be fitted onto a track – like a railway cart. Dolly shots give filmmakers much more flexibility with regards to camera placement but bring their own issues to deal with.
Wheeled dollies can provide the most freedom of movement as long as the surface the dolly is wheeled on is flat and smooth – otherwise the jostling of the dolly will shake the image. A tracked dolly can provide increased and controlled smooth movement – but then the set has a long very visible track that needs to be avoided being shown in frame – this can limit some of the movement the camera would be able to perform.
An interesting type of shot that involves both a zoom and a dolly (or any tracked shot) is one in which the camera zooms and the dolly moves in the opposite direction of the zoom. This can make a long wide shot into an extreme close-up and vice versa.
A more advanced dolly is a Jib – which is essentially a crane that allows increased height and can provide all manner of different types of shots. Even really long takes like in the opening of Touch of Evil.
As cameras got smaller and more portable – handheld cameras became a type of shot. This was in stark contrast to the enormous immovable cameras of early cinema history. And allowed filmmakers to create more intimate shots. It also allowed much more movement as now a camera operator can follow an actor anywhere.
The one drawback for handheld shots was the movement of the camera operator itself was very noticeable. As a POV shot that can be acceptable or possibly unnoticed. But filmmakers wanted the freedom of movement of a handheld but also the smooth motion of a dolly-track. Steadicam was the answer. Basically a camera body-rig the steadicam can provide smooth shots devoid of any influence of the operator. The camera is attached to a gimbal with a counter-weight depending on the camera’s size. This is then held by an articulated arm which is attached to the operator with a special torso rigging.
A tilt is when the camera either tilts up or down along the y-axis – as if the camera were looking up or looking down and remains stationary.
A pan is the horizontal version of the tilt – the camera pans left or right along the x-axis and remains stationary. The camera acts as if it’s on a swivel.
Wide Angle Lens
A wide angle lens has a small focal length which allows more of what’s in front of the camera to be captured in the frame. Typically for film this means any lens that is around 35-24mm would be considered a wide angle lens.
Fish Eye Lens
A fish eye lens is a circular lens that distorts the image and can show more of the surrounding area of where the camera is facing. There are different types of fish eye lenses as they can be made to be used as full frame lenses as well as zoom lenses.
A common trope of using a fish eye lens is as a Point of View shot of a peephole of a door.
A standard lens or normal lens are meant to be commonly used for shots that should seem as natural as possible. No distortion and no playing with focal planes. Any lens between 40-60mm can be considered a standard lens
A zoom lens is a lens that can be adjusted to different focal lengths and is useful for reframing shots without having to move the camera.
POINT OF VIEW
All cameras are essentially points of view – but the term point of view in filmmaking means a first person perspective. The camera is showing what a character is literally seeing.
A first person point of view is the perspective from an individual. The camera movements are associated with a singular character and gives audiences an opportunity to be immersed into the story.
A third person point of view in film is also associated with an OTS or over the shoulder shot. This camera shot framing is commonly used for dialog scenes and can be used to signify status between the characters as well as placing the characters within the scene. When the scene is edited together – having the different characters in the same place within the frame of each shot ensures that the 180 Rule applies.
The 180 RULE
All characters in a scene should remain in the same left/right configuration no matter where the camera points. If you draw a line between two characters you create an imaginary two dimensional plane and the camera frame has to remain on one side of the line and never cross it. Once the camera does cross the line – the characters will be on switched sides of the frame.
A profile shot is when we see a side view of a character.
A two shot is a simple shot that has two subjects in the frame.
Since camera equipment has gotten smaller – filmmakers have attached cameras to trains, cars, and even aircraft. Intensive high speed POV shots, high angle location shots, and stunning aerial footage became basic camera shots rather easily.
The aerial shot has become a common trope for establishing shots. Stunning aerial footage of rarely seen high angle location shots.
A shot list is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a list of shots that production are intending to shoot on any given shoot day. A single scene can require multiple camera setups and many shots. There is a lot of planning that goes into shooting scenes and a shot list is crucial for productions.
Filming on location has pros and cons. Pros – you get incredible visuals and can lend great authenticity to your film. Cons – you may have a lot more limitations than if you were to use a studio set. You might literally be limited with the time allowed to be on location. If the location doesn’t have modern amenities – the film production will have to provide it’s own power, plumbing, food, shelter.