Film & TV

Film 101: What Is a Medium Shot? Understanding the Essentials of Using a Medium Shot in Film

Written by MasterClass

May 29, 2019 • 2 min read

The medium shot is a versatile shot found on shot lists for many types of films and television shows.


What Is a Medium Shot?

A medium shot, also called a mid-shot or waist shot, is a type of camera shot in film and television that shows an actor approximately from the waist up. A medium shot is used to emphasize both the actor and their surroundings by giving them an equal presence on screen. The director of photography uses a medium shot to clearly show the actor's face and emotions while still informing the audience of what’s going on in the world around them.

8 Different Types of Medium Shots

There are eight common types of medium shots.

  1. Medium close-up shot: somewhere between a close-up shot and a medium shot, showing the subject from the chest or shoulders up and not revealing a lot of the surrounding environment.
  2. Medium shot: somewhere between a close-up and a wide shot, showing the subject from the waist up while revealing some of the surrounding environment.
  3. Medium long shot: somewhere between a medium shot and a full shot, showing the subject from the knees up. Also called a ¾ shot.
  4. Over-the-shoulder shot: the camera is positioned behind or over the shoulder of one subject while the other subject is still visible on screen, emphasizing the connection between the characters.
  5. Two-shot: two subjects appear side by side or facing one another in a single frame.
  6. Point of view shot: shows the action through the eyes of a specific character, essentially letting the audience become that character.
  7. High-angle shot: Used to indicate the balance of power between characters. In high-angle shots, the audience looks down on the subject, giving the audience a sense of superiority.
  8. Low-angle shot: Used to indicate the balance of power between characters. In low-angle shots, the audience looks up at the subject, giving the audience a sense of inferiority.

5 Reasons Directors and Cinematographers Choose a Medium Shot

Directors use medium shots for a number of reasons:

  1. To simultaneously capture both details and scope. Medium shots highlight character details and the setting at the same time. Medium shots show the actor while still presenting them within the context of their world.
  2. To capture multiple actors at once. The medium camera distance lends itself to capturing a group of actors. A medium shot is especially useful when filming dialogue because it’s cropped far enough away to include multiple people but cropped closely enough to reveal the actors’ reactions to a conversation.
  3. To enhance body language. A wide shot is too far to detect subtleties in body language, and a close-up cuts it off completely. A medium shot is the ideal distance to capture an actor’s subtle physicality choices.
  4. To transition back to another type of shot. Cutting from wide shots to extreme close-up shots without an intermediary shot is jarring to the audience. A medium shot acts as a stepping stone between shot types and allows for smoother transitions.
  5. To let the actors play off their settings. When a script calls for an actor to use a prop or interact with their surroundings, a director typically uses a medium shot to place equal emphasis on the characters and their environment.

Learn more filmmaking techniques in David Lynch’s MasterClass.