Until you’ve experienced being on the other side of the camera, moviegoers might not realize that they’ve been engaged throughout the storyline because of the range of camera shots in the film. It’s not just writing and acting that pushes the narrative forward (don’t get me wrong — they’re very important too!), but the actual composition of each frame can mean something and keep viewers interested.
We’ve listed some of the basic camera shots. All filmmakers regularly use these, so obviously, you can too! (These are also prevalent in animation — if you look at any work done by a storyboard artist, you’ll see drawn versions of what I’ll be describing.) To help illustrate exactly what each of these are, we made some gifs for you to set your eyeballs on. Just keep these in mind when you’re shooting videos IRL.
Extreme wide shot
The subject of an extreme wide shot is usually the location of a scene, depicting the exterior of said location before cutting to the interior. For example, we took an extreme wide shot of the outside of Vimeo Headquarters, here in New York City. This is also known as an “establishing shot” because it contextualizes where we physically are in the story.
Very wide shot
In a very wide shot, the location is still very prevalent, but the subject will also be somewhat visible. As you can see in this shot, Anton is very much the main point of this image. However, his size and placement puts more importance on the actual setting.
A wide shot still depicts the subject’s environment, but with more emphasis on our actual subject. They should take up as much of the frame as possible, while still fitting comfortably within the image, like Christina does here! Wide shots are also known commonly as long shots or full shots.
Now we start to get even closer to our subject in the mid-shot. This composition shows more detail of the subject, including body language, gestures, and or my own camera-shyness. With this shot, we want to see less of the setting and more of the actual person, what they’re doing, and what they’re saying (when not in gif-form).
Medium close up
In between a mid-shot and a close up, a medium close up gives greater detail, but we still see some body language. From this angle, the frame includes Suri taking a peek over her sunglasses, in a very obviously COOL manner. Usually, medium close ups depict the subject from the shoulders up.
Close up shots will consist of a part of the subject or a particular feature (usually their head and face) filling up the frame. Because of this positioning, the subject’s facial expressions are highlighted. With this increased attention to detail, the audience can comprehend the subject’s emotional reaction or the radical, hang-loose time Rebecca is having.
Extreme close up
The extreme close up is exactly what it sounds like — the camera gets extremely close to the subject and shows extreme detail on part of the subject’s face. Not only can you see the single sad tear rolling down my face in this gif, but my pores, freckles, shoddy liquid eyeliner job and stray un-plucked eyebrow hairs are showcased as well!
Similarly framed to a mid-shot, two shots include two subjects instead of one. Both take up the same amount of space in the composition and the distance between them helps convey their relationship. You can tell from both Milisa and Anusree’s body language that they enjoy catching up with each other over a cup of coffee.
Over-the-shoulder shots are my personal favorite, and frame the subject by looking from behind a person they’re talking to. They can be used to show a character’s perspective while looking at someone else, usually in dialogue scenes when two people are having a conversation with. However, sometimes words aren’t necessary to show how angry Jamie is at Anton in this over-the-shoulder masterpiece.
And finally, we’ve got the point-of-view shot. Similarly to the over-the-shoulder shot, the point-of-view shot depicts a character’s perspective. In this case, the footage is taken from the subject’s perspective as if the camera is the subject’s eyes.
Depending on what part of your story you are trying to tell — whether it’s a character’s feelings or where the scene is taking place — you’ve got many options on how to utilize your frame composition to help complement these things. Once you’ve perfected these 10 basic camera angles, we’ve got lots of other great resources on how to storyboard your camera shots before production, improve your compositions, or take an extra leap and try out God’s-eye view!