Movie Making Manual/Cinematography/Shot Sizes

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This Module is part of the Cinematography section of the Movie Making Manual

The shot size refers to the amount of the setting or subject that is visible within a specific frame of a video, photograph, or animation. It determines the scope or size of the shot. In film or video production, various types of camera shots are utilized to convey different aspects of the narrative, and these shots are later combined in post-production to construct a compelling story. Filmmakers commonly use standardized names for shot sizes, often represented by abbreviated forms of 2 or 3 letters on a shot list or storyboard. For instance, a close-up shot may be shortened to "CU", while a wide shot is indicated as "WS".

Wide Shots

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Extreme Long Shot (ELS)/Extreme Wide Shot (EWS)

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An Extreme Long Shot (ELS) or Extreme Wide Shot (EWS) is a powerful camera shot that portrays the subject as a tiny figure in comparison to its surroundings. This shot captures an expansive view of the location, making the subject appear small, distant, and sometimes even insignificant in the grand scheme of things. The ELS or EWS can evoke a sense of vastness and scale, emphasizing the location and isolation of the subject.

Some key uses of a Extreme Long Shot or Extreme Wide Shot:

  • Emphasizing Location: The primary purpose of employing an ELS or EWS is to accentuate the setting or location where the scene takes place. By showcasing the subject in relation to the vast environment, the shot conveys the significance of the surroundings in shaping the narrative. Whether it's a majestic landscape, a bustling cityscape, or an eerie wilderness, this shot allows the audience to fully appreciate the context in which the events unfold.
  • Creating Distance and Unfamiliarity: An ELS or EWS is particularly useful when you want to establish emotional or physical distance between the subject and the audience. By visually separating the subject from the viewer, the shot can evoke a sense of detachment or unfamiliarity. This distancing effect can be used to enhance mystery, curiosity, or even a sense of isolation experienced by the characters within the story.
  • Conveying Overwhelm: In certain situations, an ELS or EWS can be employed to convey a feeling of overwhelm or powerlessness. Placing the subject amidst an expansive and dominating environment can make them appear small and insignificant, heightening the stakes and challenges they face. This technique is especially effective in portraying the struggle of characters against the forces of nature or overwhelming circumstances.

Long Shot (LS)/Wide Shot (WS)

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A Long Shot (LS), also commonly referred to as a Wide Shot (WS), is a fundamental camera shot in filmmaking that captures a wide view of the scene, encompassing both the subject and a significant portion of the surrounding environment. This shot provides context, establishes the setting, and showcases the subject in relation to its surroundings. By revealing the subject's position within the larger frame, a Long Shot or Wide Shot offers the audience a comprehensive view of the location and the characters' interactions within it.

Some key uses of a Long Shot or Wide Shot:

  • Establishing the Scene: Long Shots or Wide Shots are often used to set the scene and provide the audience with a sense of the location's overall layout. By showing the subject in its environment, the shot helps viewers understand the physical space where the action takes place.
  • Emphasizing Setting and Context: Just like the Extreme Long Shot (ELS) or Extreme Wide Shot (EWS), Long Shots or Wide Shots are valuable for emphasizing the significance of the location. Whether it's a bustling city, a serene countryside, or an imposing castle, this shot allows the audience to immerse themselves in the world of the film.
  • Portraying Interaction: Long Shots or Wide Shots can effectively capture interactions between characters within the context of the environment. It showcases the characters' movements, spatial relationships, and actions within the larger frame.
  • Conveying Mood and Atmosphere: This shot can also contribute to the mood and atmosphere of a scene. For example, a vast and open landscape in a Wide Shot might evoke a sense of freedom and tranquility, while a crowded city street can convey a feeling of hustle and bustle.
  • Showing Isolation or Vulnerability: Similar to the Extreme Long Shot (ELS) or Extreme Wide Shot (EWS), a Long Shot or Wide Shot can be utilized to depict a character's isolation or vulnerability. Placing the subject within a vast and distant landscape can evoke a sense of solitude or insignificance.

Full Shot (FS)

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A Full Shot (FS) portrays a character's entire body, reaching from the top of the frame to the bottom. In a Full Shot, the character is framed from head to toe, allowing the audience to observe not only their facial expressions and emotions but also their physicality, body language, and actions. This shot is versatile and can be used to highlight individual characters or showcase interactions between multiple characters within the same frame.

Some key uses of a Full Shot (FS) include:

  • Displaying Character Actions: The Full Shot effectively captures a character's movements and actions, allowing the audience to see how they interact with their environment and other characters.
  • Establishing Setting and Context: This shot can establish the setting and context of a scene by showing the character in relation to their surroundings. It gives the audience a better understanding of the physical space and location where the action takes place.
  • Revealing Character's Wardrobe: In addition to showcasing the character's physicality, the Full Shot displays their wardrobe and outfit, providing insight into their style and personality.
  • Showing Body Language and Interactions: The Full Shot is excellent for depicting body language and nonverbal communication between characters. It helps convey emotions and dynamics between individuals.
  • Presenting Multiple Characters: A Full Shot can accommodate one or more characters within the frame, showing their positions and interactions in relation to one another.

Medium Shots

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Medium Wide Shot (MWS)/Medium Long Shot (MLS)

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A Medium Wide Shot (MWS), also known as a Medium Long Shot (MLS) or a ¾ shot, holds a place on the spectrum between a Full Shot and a Medium Shot. This versatile camera shot captures a subject from the knees upwards, offering a balanced view that includes essential visual elements from the surrounding while maintaining a focus on the subject's body language and expressions.

Some key uses of a Medium Wide Shot (MWS)/Medium Long Shot (MLS):

  • Conveying Context and Proximity: The Medium Wide Shot offers enough context to establish the setting while maintaining a visual closeness to the subject. It allows the audience to see the subject in relation to their surroundings without losing sight of their expressions and actions.
  • Balancing Character Focus: When a scene involves multiple characters or elements, the Medium Wide Shot can balance the focus among them. It ensures that individual characters are visible while still maintaining a sense of their collective presence within the scene.
  • Showcasing Body Language and Expressions: By framing the subject from the knees upwards, the Medium Wide Shot allows filmmakers to emphasize the character's body language and facial expressions. This shot is ideal for capturing emotional nuances and conveying a character's thoughts and feelings.
  • Facilitating Movement and Action: The Medium Wide Shot accommodates character movement and actions, making it suitable for dynamic scenes, such as walking, running, or interacting with the environment.
  • Versatility in Storytelling: The Medium Wide Shot can be creatively adapted to various narrative scenarios. It can highlight pivotal moments, dramatic reveals, or emphasize the significance of the subject in relation to their surroundings.

Cowboy Shot (CS)

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A Cowboy Shot (CS), also known as an American shot, frames the actor from their mid-waist to just above their head. Frequently, the camera is positioned at hip level, providing a slightly low angle to the shot. The strategic framing of the Cowboy Shot enables filmmakers to depict characters in a heroic and confident fashion, while keeping the audience emotionally engaged through their facial expressions.

Some key uses of a Cowboy Shot (CS):

  • Signaling Heroism and Confidence: The Cowboy Shot's framing exudes a sense of heroism and confidence in the portrayed character. This shot is commonly used in Westerns and action films to portray protagonists as bold and courageous figures.
  • Emotional Engagement: By framing the actor from the mid-waist up, the Cowboy Shot allows the audience to connect emotionally with the character. The viewers can observe their facial expressions and register the emotions they convey during critical moments.
  • Showcasing Critical Action: The Cowboy Shot enables filmmakers to capture action occurring around the character's waistline, often showcasing the drawing of guns, swords, or other critical actions. This heightens the tension and intensity of the scene.

Medium Shot (MS)

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A Medium Shot (MS), also known as a waist shot, is captured at a moderate distance from the subject, capturing waist up. It strikes a balance between the closeness of a close-up shot and the wider perspective of a long shot. The Medium Shot is frequently utilized in dialogue scenes, allowing filmmakers to capture body language, showcase costumes, and provide context to the setting.

Some key uses of a Medium Shot(MS):

  • Showing Important Action and Costumes: The Medium Shot is ideal for showcasing crucial actions, such as character movements or interactions. Additionally, it effectively captures costumes, allowing the audience to appreciate the visual details of the characters' attire.
  • Seamlessly Gluing Shots Together: In certain scenes, the Medium Shot can be used to create continuity by gluing separate shots together through constant actions. This technique creates a smooth flow between different camera angles and ensures seamless transitions.
  • Presenting Disarming, Comedic, and Informal Visuals: The Medium Shot is versatile in conveying a wide range of emotions and tones. It can create disarming or informal visuals, as well as add comedic elements to the scene.

Close Up Shots

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Medium Close Up Shot (MCU)

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A Medium Close-Up Shot (MCU) frames the subject from just above their head down to approximately midway on their torso. It strikes a delicate balance between the intimacy of a close-up shot and the inclusion of some background elements. The Medium Close-Up Shot allows filmmakers to capture the actor's emotions and facial expressions while retaining contextual information from the surroundings.

Some key uses of a Medium Close Up Shot (MCU):

  • Capturing the Actor's Performance: The Medium Close-Up Shot is an effective way to emphasize the actor's performance, allowing the audience to closely observe their emotions and expressions. It draws attention to the actor's face, making it a valuable shot for intense and emotional scenes.
  • Including Background and Context: Unlike a close-up shot that isolates the subject from the background, the Medium Close-Up Shot includes some contextual information, making it suitable for scenes where the environment is relevant to the narrative.
  • Neutral Shot Option for Standard Coverage: The Medium Close-Up Shot is often used as a versatile option for standard coverage. It provides a "neutral" shot that doesn't overwhelm or shock the viewer, making it suitable for a wide range of scenes.

Close Up (CU)

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A Close-Up Shot (CU) typically focuses on a person's face, starting from the shoulders and ending at the top of their head. This shot establishes a strong emotional connection between the audience and the subject, intensifying the impact of the portrayed emotions and actions.

Some key uses of a Close Up (CU):

  • Generating Strong Emotions: By focusing on a person's face in a Close-Up Shot, filmmakers intensify the emotional impact of the scene. The audience can closely observe the character's emotions, thoughts, and reactions, creating a deep connection with their emotional journey.
  • Signaling Importance: The Close-Up Shot signifies the significance of the subject or object featured in the frame. It draws the audience's attention to the details and communicates that something crucial is unfolding in the story.
  • Portraying Facial Expressions: The Close-Up Shot is an invaluable tool for capturing actors' facial expressions. This is particularly effective during crucial moments, dialogue scenes, or emotionally charged sequences, allowing viewers to experience the characters' emotions intimately.

Extreme Close Up (ECU)

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An Extreme Close-Up Shot (ECU) frames a subject very closely, often cutting off the outer portions of the subject by the edges of the frame. This shot is used to draw the audience's attention to specific portions of a subject, whether it's an actor's face, body parts, or inanimate objects. Extreme Close-Up Shots can go even closer, showing only an actor's mouth or a single eye, intensifying the focus on minute details for the desired effect.

Some key uses of Extreme Close Up (ECU):

  • Focusing on Specific Portions: The Extreme Close-Up Shot allows directors to isolate and emphasize particular portions of a subject, directing the audience's attention to crucial details.
  • Signaling Important Sensory Moments: In scenes with heightened sensory experiences, such as intense emotions, physical sensations, or impactful actions, the Extreme Close-Up Shot creates a more immersive and intimate connection with the audience.
  • Communicating Tiny Details: Extreme Close-Up Shots are employed to communicate subtle details that may be too small or unnoticed in wider shots. This technique draws the viewer's focus to the intricate elements that hold narrative significance.