Long before Wayne Campbell on Wayne’s World was gracing us with his version of “Extreme Close-Up!”, filmmakers since the dawn of movie-making have employed the use of cutting a variety of different shots together to make scenes more visually interesting. While I was recently watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho on television for the millionth time, I noticed, not for the first time but with renewed interest, his clever ways of creating mood, atmosphere, and tension all from where he was placing his camera. Since I’m a believer in the power of this simplicity, let’s get a breakdown of the many different types of shots you, as a filmmaker, can employ:
1. Long Shot – With a long shot, you are including the whole figure of your subjects and also most of the background. A long shot can also be an establishing shot, where you provide the audience with visual information to help along the narrative, such as the location.
2. Full Shot – For this, you once again aim to display the entirety of your subject, but also including about ¾ of the set.
3. Medium Shot – As you can probably guess by now, you’re getting closer to your subject at this point. For a medium shot, you generally want to have most of your subject in frame; from the waist-up is a good starting point.
4. Close-up – Pretty much just the way it sounds. If filming an actor, this is when you center in on their face. Whatever your subject may be though, this is the shot when you want to focus on detail.
While these are the basics, there’s always deviations and in-between shots, such as an extreme long shot (that can be helpful if you’re going for a panoramic view), extreme close ups, medium long shots; you get the idea. I believe working the four basics mentioned above is as good a start as any.
Not only does changing your shots give the viewer a whole different perspective and keeps the narrative from getting monotonous, but I love how just by changing the position of a camera can dramatically alter the mood. How can you not get that punch of raw emotion when the camera closes in on that solitary tear running down an actor’s cheek?
Or in going back to my Hitchcock reference, the infamous shower scene in Psycho, packs a wallop of dread and then terror, when the viewer is assaulted with quick shots of a blurred figure, and Janet Leigh’s doomed Marion Crane succumbing to her injuries. With just a simple extreme close up of a shower drain that then cuts to an extreme close up of the life draining out of the eye of the protagonist, you realize that A. Yes, Hitchcock is a master genius, and B. Carefully planning out your shots is pretty damn effective.