Film & TV

The Essentials of Camera Shots: Getting the Right Shot and Understanding Film Terminology

Written by MasterClass

Apr 9, 2019 • 5 min read

When working on a film, it’s vital that the writer, director, cinematographer, and camera operators all speak the same technical language so everyone is on the same page.

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What Are Camera Shots?

A camera shot is how much space the audience sees in a particular frame. Cinematographers choose specific camera shots to portray things about a character, setting, or theme to the audience. Similarly, camera angles are different ways to position a camera to further emphasize emotions and relationships. There are many camera shots and camera angles to choose from, and each helps tell the story in its own way.

“Coverage” refers to the collection of shots that you need to gather during filming in order to edit together a coherent scene during post-production. For example, when shooting a two-person scene, your coverage may consist of five different shots: a master shot, a pair of over-the-shoulder shots, and a pair of close-ups of each speaker.

Who Controls Camera Coverage?

Determining the coverage for a specific scene is a collaborative process and a number of different people have input.

  • During the writing process, the writer may have a vision for a certain scene and suggest a specific type of shot be used.
  • For certain scenes, the director and/or the cinematographer will create a storyboard, which maps out the specific camera shots and angles that will be used. Learn more about storyboarding here.
  • The cinematographer (often in collaboration with the director) will decide which shots to get for different scene.

What Affects a Camera Shot?

The main things that affect a camera shot are:

  • Framing: The way the visual elements, including actors, landscapes, objects, and props, are arranged within a frame. A cinematographer must decide the most effective camera shot(s) to capture the subject and tell a story within that composition.
  • Camera type: The type of camera used. Different cameras capture different types of footage. For example, a digital camera can expertly capture a high-speed chase scene because it can capture many frames per second in high definition, while a professional drone camera excels at capturing aerial shots.
  • Camera angle: The position at which the camera is pointed at the subject in a shot. For example, a close-up shot can be filmed at a high angle, low angle, or a dutch angle, where the camera is tilted to one side.
  • Motion: How the camera moves while it’s capturing a shot. For example, the camera can roll along a track, or dolly, following the subject as they walk.

22 Camera Shots and Angles

  1. Establishing shot: The establishing shot appears at the start of a scene to let the audience know where they are. It sets the stage for what’s to come in the scene.
  2. Master shot: The master shot is filmed from a vantage point that encompasses the action of a scene and keeps all major players in view. The master shot may be a long, medium, or even close-up shot, and the camera might even move throughout the scene. Regardless, the key is to record an uninterrupted take, from the start of the scene to its finish, from an angle that can easily be edited together with additional shots.
  3. Cutaway shot: A cutaway is a shot of something other than the main subject or action of a scene. Cutaway shots are useful in visual storytelling as a way to cut “away” from the main action to a secondary action or response.
  4. Wide shot: A wide shot, also called a long shot, is filmed from a distant vantage point in a way that emphasizes place and location, setting the subject of the scene in context.
  5. Extreme wide shot: An extreme wide shot, also called an extreme long shot, is filmed from an extreme distant vantage point. That extreme distance is intended to make the subject look small or insignificant within their location.
  6. Close-up shot: Close-up shots are filmed in a way that frames the subject tightly, filling the screen with a particular aspect or detail such as a face or a hand.
  7. Extreme close-up shot: An extreme close-up shot is a more intense version of a close-up, usually showing only the eyes or another part of the face.
  8. Medium shot: Somewhere between a close-up and a wide shot, the medium shot is filmed from a vantage point that shows a subject from the waist up, while also revealing some of the surrounding environment.
  9. Medium close-up shot: Somewhere between a close-up and a medium shot, the medium close-up shot is filmed from a vantage point that shows a subject from the waist up, but does not reveal a lot of the surrounding environment.
  10. Full shot: A subject fills the entire frame in a full shot. It communicates their appearance, their surroundings, and how they fit into their surroundings to the audience.
  11. High-angle shot: A shot looks down on a subject, giving the audience a sense of superiority to the subject.
  12. Low-angle shot: A shot looks up at a subject, giving the audience a sense of inferiority to the subject.
  13. Dutch angle: A shot where the camera is tilted to one side. Also called a canted angle, a dutch angle is meant to disorient the audience or convey chaos.
  14. Bird’s eye view shot: A shot from high in the sky looking down on a subject and/or their surroundings. Also called an overhead shot.
  15. Aerial shot: An aerial shot is shot from even higher than a bird’s eye view shot, usually from a helicopter or drone. It shows miles of scenery or cityscape from above, and while the subject may not be not visible, it communicates to the audience that they’re somewhere within that world.
  16. Tracking shot: A shot where the camera moves along with the character it’s filming.
  17. Dolly shot: A shot where the camera is moved along a dolly track, often in sync with, moving toward, or moving away from the subject as they move.
  18. Dolly zoom shot: An effect where the camera lens zooms while the camera is also dollying toward or away from the subject it’s filming. This creates the illusion that the background is moving closer or further away from the subject, while they stay still.
  19. One shot: Sometimes called a long take or continuous shot, this is a shot where an entire scene or whole film is filmed at once with no breaks.
  20. Two shot: When two subjects appear side by side or facing one another in a single frame.
  21. Over-the-shoulder shot: Another way to capture two subjects in the same frame is with an over-the-shoulder shot, when the camera is positioned behind the shoulder of one subject (with the other subject visible on screen). Often used during conversations and in alternation with a reverse shot from over the other speaker’s shoulders, the over-the-shoulder shot emphasizes a connection between characters.
  22. Point of view shot: A point of view shot shows the action through the eyes of a specific character. Essentially, it lets the audience become that character.

Learn more about how to tell a story through camera coverage from Spike Lee here.