A Guide Toward Camera Shots: Frames and Sizes

8 Oct 2020

6 Min Read

A movie is a carefully crafted sequence of camera shots, each composed of carefully chosen size, angle, and framing. Choosing which shot composition fits which scene and how characters should be portrayed in the frame is the result of the director’s knowledge of filmmaking, cinematography, and how they want to introduce their audience to the movie scene. So, it is crucial to have a complete understanding of how to establish the tone of the film using a suitable composition.

Since we have already made a complete video and blog on camera angles, in today’s post we are going to focus on shot sizes and framings. So be sure to give our other video a visit and check our blog for a complete breakdown. Links are all in the description. And while you are at it, remember to subscribe to our channel and turn the notifications on by clicking the bell icon. We are working on so many cool video ideas at the moment and the best way to see them is by subscribing to us.

Shot Sizes

The size of a shot plays a big role in each scene. Based on the size of the shot, the director can shift the attention of the viewer toward what is important in the scene. This storytelling device is a powerful tool in the hands of the director to move the story forward in the way he or she intends to. So now that we know how and why shot sizes matter, let’s see how many variations we have and how they affect the flow of the story.

Different Shot Sizes From Extreme Wide to Extreme Close-up

Establishing Shot

Establishing shots are mostly used at the beginning of the film as an introduction to the new world we are stepping in, and also during the film, at the start of a sequence, when a new location is being introduced. Because of that, establishing shots are among the most important ones since they are focused on introducing the audience to the scene they are going to see or, more importantly, the style of the whole film they are going to experience. As a result of that, establishing shots are normally shot in extreme wide angles to show everything in one frame and set the tone and feel of the scene.

Establishing Extreme Wide Shot - Blade Runner 2049 (From: Shotdeck)

Master Shot

Master shots normally follow the establishing shot and are great for showing or introducing characters, how they fit in the scene, and what is their relationship with the location and other characters. That’s why master shots are crucial especially at the beginning of the film. It is in the master that the audience will decide on how to feel about each character and location and what to expect in the future scenes.

Master Shot - Pulp Fiction (From: Shotdeck)

Wide Shot

Wide shots, as the name implies, are big in scale. But although most of the time a big portion of the frame is filled with the scenery, the focus in a wide shot is on the character and how they fit in the location. They may be discovering a place for the first time and they are exploring it or they may be lost and trying to find their way in the scene. Using a wide shot this way can communicate the same feeling toward the viewer and make them feel more involved in the story.

Wide Shot - 1917 (From: Shotdeck)

Full Shot

Like wide shots, full shots are all about showing the main character, but this time there is more focus on the main character, and the scenery is there as a complementary tool to further describe the character and set the mood of the scene. In a full shot, you can see the character from head to toe, and since they are the main focus of the scene, they are closer to the camera and can almost fill the frame.

Full Shot - Jojo Rabbit (From: Shotdeck)

Medium Wide Shot / Cowboy Shot

In a medium wide shot, the character is portrayed from the top of their head to just below their waist, where normally cowboys used to wear their gun holsters, hence the name, cowboy shot. Medium wide shots are great when you want to show your character as a confrontational and confident person. And regarding guns, they sure are a common prop in cowboy shots but gun scenes are not the only use case for them.

Medium Wide / Cowboy Shot - Hateful Eight (From: Shotdeck)

Medium Shot

Medium shots are very common in films because of the neutral style they have. In a medium shot, characters fill the scene from the top of their head to below their chest, almost the same frame we naturally see when we are in a real-life conversation with another person. Medium shots are used when the director wants to show the character and their emotions upfront but not in an extreme way.

Medium Shot - Pulp Fiction (From: Shotdeck)

Close-up Shot

Close-ups are divided into three sizes, medium close-up, close-up, and extreme close-up. Normally, the closer you get to the character in a close-up, the more dramatic and emotional the scene gets, and since eyes are the gateway to a person’s mind, they are by far the most common subject of attention in these scenes. Often when the main character is focused on something or something big like an important decision is about to happen, directors tend to use close-ups.

Medium Close Up Shot - 1917 (From: Shotdeck)
Close Up Shot - American Psycho (From: Shotdeck)
Extreme Close Up Shot - Blade Runner (From: Shotdeck)

Frame Type

Now that we have talked and established how shots are set, let’s talk about how framing comes into play during filming.

Frame Types

Single, Two, Three, Four, Crowd Shot

These types of shots are defined by the number of character faces that are visibly present in the shot and generally, more crowded scenes are associated with wider angles unless the intention is to convey a claustrophobic feeling. These types of framings are among the most used shots in any film as they are focused on character and what they are doing. In shots with two or more characters in the frame, the relationships and dynamics of them will also come to play.

Crowd Shot - 2001 A Space Odyssey (From: Shotdeck)

Over The Shoulder Shot

“Over The Shoulder” shots are mostly used in two-way conversations and in each shot the main focus is on one of the involved characters. Doing a shot this way helps the viewer feel more involved in the scene because it feels like they are standing there and watching the conversation moving forward. Also, since in each shot the main focus is on one character, it is much easier to communicate emotions and how each talking party feels about the ongoing situation.

Over The Shoulder Shot - Godfather (From: Shotdeck)

POV Shot

POV or Point Of View shot is the strongest tool in the arsenal of the director to get the viewer involved with the story. In a POV frame, the viewer will either experience scene as a third person, which is reserved for Found Footage style films like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, or in the first person from the eyes of the main character. Either way, the limited field of view in POV is great to create suspense and a sense of dread, that’s why POV is a favorite of horror film creators.

POV Shot - Jojo Rabbit (From: Shotdeck)

Insert Shot

Insert shots are like close-ups but for objects and details. When the director wants to grab the attention toward a specific detail or object, they will use insert shots. I really like insert shots because while they speak no words, they can communicate pages of meaning. I especially like insert shots when they are used as a reveal or a plot twist.

Insert Shot - Us (From: Shotdeck)