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Basic Camera Shots Used in Filmmaking

Before shooting a film, it is important to have a solid understanding of the different types of shots used in making a movie. For someone who is considered a filmmaker in the making, it is actually not that difficult to learn because they use straightforward descriptions to refer to how they are used in a film shoot.

Difference Between a Shot and a Scene

A shot is the smallest unit in film language. By using a series of related shots, you can create the scenes needed by the movie. Watching a film allows you to break down each scene into many shots. These typically show a full shot or a tight shot of the actor or any object seen on screen. For instance, in a basketball game, there is a scene of the actual game with the players doing their best on the court. There can also be a scene of the cheerleaders, a scene of the coach and the other players on the bench, and a scene of the fans enjoying the game.

If you break down one particular scene, such as the players on the court, into a series of shots, there can be a shot of a player passing the ball to his teammate, a shot of the referee calling a foul, or a shot of a player taking a free throw. Each of these actions may also require the use of more than one shot. As an example, the player making a free throw may require a tight shot of his hand dribbling, then a close-up of his face, and a high-angle shot showing him and the rest of the court, which reveals whether he is able to get a point from his throw.

Camera Shots and Shot Sizes

There are many kinds of shots used in filmmaking. One significant aspect of filmmaking is how the basic camera shots are named based on the relative shot sizes of their subjects — in reference to how the camera shoots them. They are also typically addressed by filmmakers through their abbreviations, especially when making notes, planning shots, and creating storyboards.

The “Long Shot” (LS) shows the subject in full view. In the case of an actor, this shot shows his or her full body on screen.

The “Medium Shot” (MS) shows only a halfway view of the subject. A popular example of this is framing the head down to the hips.

The “Close-up Shot” (CU) shows only a part of the subject. For instance, the camera can frame a shot of the hand holding a mobile phone or the knife held by a character.

These three basic camera shots are broken down into more specific shot sizes. There is also the “Medium Long Shot” (MLS) referring to a shot somewhere in between the “Long Shot” and the “Medium Shot.” The “Medium Close-up Shot” (MCU) refers to a shot somewhere in between the “Medium Shot” (MS) and the “Close-up Shot (CU). The “Extreme Close-up Shot” (ECU or XCU) refers to a very tight shot of a subject or object in the scene. An example of this is an extreme close-up showcasing the two eyes of the character, covering the entire screen.

Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne is a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions. From mainstream essentials to independent flair, she knows the drill in making entertaining and well-meaning productions. She can lead a pack passionate about extreme action and technological edge; she can breathe an endearing and sentimental style for a team with a sweet disposition.

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