Different camera shot types are used in photography and filmmaking and they represent a common language for screenwriters, camera operators, and cinematographers.
Camera shots communicate visual elements of a particular scene, focusing on the size of a subject within the frame.
There are many ways to frame subjects – we can see their entire body or perhaps only their eyes. We can break this down into three main shot sizes: Long, Medium, and Close.
In this brief guide, we’ll cover long shots (wide shots) that show the subject from a distance and medium shots that put emphasis on the subject while still showing some of the surroundings.
1. Extreme Long Shot
Extreme long shot (aka extreme wide shot) is often used in movies as a strong opening scene or as an introductory scene for a new setting. This shot is used to show the subject from a distance while focusing on the area in which the scene is taking place.
This type of shot is indispensable because it plays the part of an establishing shot in terms of time and place, which is vital in storytelling. An extreme long shot can also depict a character’s physical or emotional relationship to the surroundings.
It’s also important to note that subject doesn’t have to be present in extreme long shot – it can be a pristine landscape.
2. Full Shot
Full shot represents a type of long shot that shows a character from head to toes. However, in this case the subject is roughly filling the frame and the setting is of secondary importance. The emphasis of full shot tends to be more on action and movement rather than emotions.
Full shots are very common in both movies and photography. When it comes to classical portrait photography, especially fashion photography, full shot is of extreme importance because it captures the entire human figure.
3. American Shot
American shot (aka cowboy or 3/4 shot) is a type of a medium shot. It got its name from Western movies from the 1930s and 1940s. This was because a shot that started at knee level would reveal the weapon of a cowboy, which was important for action scenes.
The connection between cowboys and American shot faded away eventually, but this type of medium shot that shows the subject from head to knees is still present in movies and photography.
However, it is not that common nowadays and it can be considered a bit retro.
4. Medium Shot
Medium shot focuses on the subject even more than the American shot, in order to show some details. This type of shot typically frames the subject from the waist up.
A medium shot is one of the most common shots seen in movies, especially in dialogue scenes. It focuses on a subject in a certain scene while still showing some environment, which is necessary for understanding the context.
Medium shot is also often used in portrait photography and fashion shoots. Prime lenses such as 50mm and 85mm are excellent at capturing medium shots, both outdoors and in the studio.
These four types of camera shots are very common in both photography and filmmaking because they allow the artist to show and establish a strong connection between subjects and their surroundings.
This kind of connection is an extremely important aspect of storytelling.
- 3 Steps to Becoming a Better Photographic Storyteller by Jason D Little
- How to Tell a Unique Story Using Your Photography Skills by Jason Row
- How to Tell a Story with Your Photographs by Chase Guttman