Cinematic Shots, Camera Angles and Camera Movement

Here’s a handy guide for film-makers of the different camera shots (and their various names, and abbreviations), camera angles and camera movement. These are the building blocks of a film, any film is made up of a variety of different angles and shots…using different shots helps to make the film more visually interesting and will keep your viewers engaged.

1. SHOTS

Every film is made of scenes, every scene is comprised of shots, shots are usually described by how far away the subject is from the camera, what’s in the camera frame, the purpose of the shot, etc.

  • Establishing Shot (ES) A shot at the beginning of a film, or a scene to “establish” the location. Usually a Long Shot (LS) or Wide Shot (WS) Occasionally referred to as a Master Shot

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  • Long Shot (LS) A shot from far away, usually showing a scene (like an entire building) etc.
    • Very Long Shot or Extreme Long Shot (VLS or ELS) is a shot from very very far away.

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  • Wide Shot (WS) A shot from far away, in a wide shot, you would see a character from head to toe, plus the background. Wide Shots are also referred to as Full Shots (FS) or Full-Body Shot. Shots that contain people are also described by how many people are in the shot…so for example, this image from UP is a Three-Person Shot or Three-shot (3-S). A shot with two people would be a Two-Person Shot or Two Shot (2-s). So, this would be a Wide-Three-Shot

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  • Three-Quarter Shot (3/4-S) aka American Shot (because this type is most common shot in Hollywood films) is a shot in which characters are depicted from the knees up. (Medium Three-Shot M 3-S)

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  • Medium Shot (MS) is shot from a medium distance, usually in which characters are depicted from the waist up (3/4-S falls under the MS category). (This is a Medium 2-Shot from Citizen Kane).

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  • Medium Close-Up (MCU or MCS) is closer than a MS, but includes some of the torso of the character.

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  • Close-up (CU) or or Tight Shot Brings us up close and personal into the actor’s face, or gives us a close view of an object.

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  • Extreme Close-Up (XCU) extremely close shot, usually depicting just the eyes, just the mouth, etc. Sometimes referred to as “Italian Shot” because a lot of Italian films use this shot for emphasis. The XCU is used for detail, for drama, and for emphasis.

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  • Over-the-shoulder (OTS) sometimes called Third-person shot, is a shot taken over the shoulder of an actor to show that character’s perspective. Often used in scenes in which there is dialogue.

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  • Point of View Shot (POV) is shot taken from a character’s perspective to show the audience what the character is seeing. In this case, the character is having the gun pointed at him/her by this dude, so the audience becomes the character, and looks up the barrel of the gun at the man.

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2. CAMERA ANGLES

Camera angles refer to how the camera “sees” the shot. Is the camera bellow the subject? Is it above the subject? Changing the camera angle greatly affects how we perceive what we see and help to build emotion and tension in a film.

  • Bird’s-eye view: Shows a scene from directly above, an extreme high-angle. It can be used as an establishing shot (ES). It’s also an unnatural/unfamiliar angle. It can be used to make the audience feel uncomfortable (is Hawkeye going to make the shot? Is he going to fall ALLLLLLLL that way down to his death?!) or it can give the audience a “godlike” view, you see it all. This type of shot is not used very often, mostly for emphasis.

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  • High Angle is not as extreme as bird’s eye. The camera is positioned above the action/scene/actors. High angle makes the subject seem smaller and/or less significant. High angle is often used to make the subject seem like it’s being threatened or made smaller, or as a point-of-view from someone taller looking down at something.

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  • Eye-level (EL) is neutral shot, a shot taken at eye-level. Most shots are eye-level or roughly neutral. Eye level depends on the height of the character. A baby or a dog’s eye level shot would be much closer to the ground that a grown-up’s eye level shot. The important thing to remember is that unlike the high-angle shots, in which the camera is angled down, eye-level shots are taken with the camera level (at 90° with the floor). With the exception of the POV shot, all of the examples of camera shots above are eye-level.
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  • Low Angle Low angle shots are shots taken with the camera placed below eye-level, and tilted upwards at the subject. It’s the opposite of a high-angle shot. The use of making the object, or actors in some cases, appear taller, dominating, and more powerful, as if they’re looming over the viewer.

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  • Worm’s eye view are shots in which the camera is  directly bellow the subject.

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  • Oblique/Canted Angle or Dutch Angle (because, you guessed it, it was introduced a lot in Dutch Films), shots taken when the camera is tilted to make the ground seem like it’s sloping upwards or downwards. It gives a sense of instability and is usually used artistically, in action shots, or for horror or comedic effect. Also, most of the movie Inception.

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3. CAMERA MOVEMENTS

Shots are not always “still” a lot of times, cameras move within a scene to make the shot more dynamic. Most camera movement is done using a device to steady the camera…usually a tripod or pedestal (for tv cameras) a dolly a crane/jib arm or steadicam otherwise footage will appear shaky and will make people nauseous. Hand-held camera footage is deliberately shaky, but still uses steadicam or a similar device to prevent it from being too shaky (to the point that it’s unwatchable) while still giving the sensation that the seen is being “seen” by someone running or moving.

  • TILT: the camera lens angles up/down but the camera remains the same distance above the ground and does not change position (think: nodding your head “yes” while standing still)

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  • PAN: the camera pivots left/right without changing position or height (think shaking your head no while standing still)

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  • ZOOM: Changing the focal length of the camera
  • PEDESTAL: Physically move the camera up and down along a straight line.
  • DOLLY or TRACK: Physically move the camera forward and back or side to side (usually using a “dolly” or “track”)
  • HANDHEALD Holding the camera in your hands and physically moving it. Very shaky, use only for effect, like running in a horror movie.
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