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Vary your video composition: 10 types of camera shots

Amy Horton
January 5, 2017 by Amy Horton Staff

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.

Wide shot

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.

Mid-shot

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

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!

Two shot

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 shot

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.

Point-of-view shot

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!

40 Comments

Mark Anthony Hauck

The headroom on the 2-shot and the medium shot (what you call a "mid-shot") is WAY off.

Paul W Franklin

Not necessarily. Show on screen what you want to show.

Cam Plus

Yep. Shoot in your own style. Be original, not a tired old film-school clone. The medium/mid shot is definitely a medium shot.

Xiao Wang

new to Vimeo, can't find a Like button, so I leave a comment here. Thanks for the article!

dvdasad

Great.......Thanks

Arm. Paulo Ferreira

This an awesome article. This is very handy for us beginners and a cleverly inspirational too.
Great stuff!

Gabriel Furtado

Nice guys! Thank you for the tips!! Hugs from Brazil :D

CHRIS SULLIVAN

You should never put a single shot of anybody - close or wide - in the middle of the frame. I can only see the montage at the beginning but subjects should also be looking or facing across the shot. Never squashed up against the side of the frame. Some English movies are very uncomfortable to watch - e.g. The King's Speech.

CHRIS SULLIVAN

to quote WS Gilbert 'Never? Well hardly ever.'

Cambium Learning Video PRO

Agree with Paul. Consider the centered close-ups of Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. It creates a certain psychological effect. But it does need to be used carefully. It's all vocabulary. Where the head is placed in the frame is saying something to the audience.

CHRIS SULLIVAN

I'm only commenting on the shots in the examples - POV shot bad; over the shoulder good; two shot okay for an introduction to a scene; extreme close up too close; close up and medium close up bad; wide shots good. But what do I know?

Amy Horton Staff

Hi there! We're looking into this now. Thank you for your patience.

Amy Horton Staff

Should be fixed. Let us know if you're still having issues!

Tim Turner

None of the images are visible. I only get a Google Message: 403. That’s an error.

Your client does not have permission to get URL /0P7YR1zlXFUTGbh44emDWeZQpMFSWYdGgbvtOVB28yH0FZ1J6YuzIQyERRopdTseH89wVFwWftnUG3NFJ-BAJu3j_HfP5KFjaOHZzDEwAjGVWU1w0v17ftIeJk2vDXQpFmJw4dTN from this server. (Client IP address: 68.12.72.62)

Rate-limit exceeded That’s all we know.

Andy Lambert Plus

Or, alternately, don't worry about reverse this and over-the-shoulder that. Just stick to one shot only. Only losers need more ;-)
Check out vimeo.com/themuteseries — 2 mins films made to three rules: no camera movement, no edits and no dialogue.

Alexander Deyneko

Hi, unfortunately I don't see images in this article (I tried Firefox and Internet explorer).

Peter Erickson

Sorry - image links showing as broken again :(

David Nott

What a very interesting collection. I will try more point of view . Thanks

Marjorie Dawson

It is easy just to stop doing some of these and each one helps tell your story in a different way.

Lea

Thanks for this!

Ozashk Guler

Hi, I'm new to video altogether, so I appreciate this information! :)

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