Film School 101: Types of Shots and What They Mean

If there’s one thing that’s true of all films, whether it’s a Spielberg blockbuster, a Coen Brothers indie, or your niece’s sixth birthday party, it’s that movies have to tell a tale. That’s their very purpose, after all; they’re a visual story-telling medium.

When you’re filming that birthday party – or a wedding, or a prom, or Christmas Day, or any event, really – the viewer should be at the forefront of your mind. That’s why you’re making your home movie, to watch it back with your family time and again, reliving those wonderful memories. Because of that, you’ll want to keep them visually stimulated – simply pointing the camera and pressing record isn’t going to cut it.

Just because you’re shooting a home movie, that doesn’t mean your film can have any less of a narrative. Don’t worry though – there are a few things you can do to bring that story to life. First and foremost, though, is making full use of the shots available to you. Today, then, we’re going to be looking at camera shots and their purpose in telling a great story. We’ll start with the basics, the ones you’ll undoubtedly recognise from countless TVs and movies.

Long Shot


The long shot, sometimes referred to as a wide shot, establishes a subject in relation to his or her location. The point of a long shot is to set the scene for the audience – so, taking that birthday party as an example, you’d have the birthday girl, and all the guests, in the living room in a single shot.

Medium Shot


A medium shot generally refers to a full-body shot, or one from the waist up – which is helpful if you’re looking to capture both facial expressions and body language. Want to see the bride in all her glory, smiling away in her sheer white number? The medium shot is perfect for this.

Close-Up Shot


Close-ups are, as you probably guessed, close to the subject. This means you can focus your audience’s attention on, say, the bride’s blushes or the birthday boy’s beam. But it’s not just people, close-ups can be used for anything which you feel needs attention, like that awesomely-decorative birthday cake, say.

Extreme Shots


There are variations on the classic long, medium and close-up shots, these are the extreme shots. Let’s say you’re shooting the birthday cake in close-up – well an extreme close-up might only focus on the candles, or the delicate icing. An extreme long shot, on the other hand, has a massive scope that can cover an entire building. Or city. Or country. Or the world!

Ok, so those are the basic shot types – so, using them as a launchpad, let’s look at how to use them in telling a story, and creating a visually pleasing movie.

Establishing Shot


An establishing shot is vital for audiences, because it lets them know where the action is taking place. You’ll see establishing shots at the beginning of pretty much every scene that requires a location change, or a time-shift from day to night. It’s all about giving your audience context.

Cutaway Shot


Cutaways are important for two reasons. Firstly, they give you something to, well, cutaway to when editing. Secondly, they emphasise a particular action. Cutaways show something which is not already in the master shot. Your master shot might focus on the birthday girl – the cutaway would be lighting the candles on a cake in the kitchen.

Insert or Cut-In Shot


An insert shot is similar to a cutaway. Inserts are useful when editing, and highlight an action or emotion, but unlike their cutaway cousin, inserts retain focus on the subject. So when the birthday cake is brought in, the insert draws attention to a particular aspect or action, like a close-up of her mouth as she blows out the candles on the cake.

Ok, so let’s take all of that knowledge, and now look at applying them to camera angles. There are few things worse than watching a home movie which is filmed solely at eye-level. It’s uninspired and won’t hold the audience’s attention for long, which is why mixing it up with varying angles is the way to go.

Low-Angle Shot


A low-angle shot is one that – quelle surprise – is shot from below. The purpose of this is to imply dominance of the subject being filmed.

High-Angle Shot


Want the opposite of a low-angle shot? Want to show a subject’s vulnerability? The high-angle shot is the way to go.

Dutch Angle


Creating a sense of foreboding in your viewers is pretty easy, although it’s unlikely to go down well in a home video of your daughter’s wedding. Tilting the camera at an angle, known as a Dutch angle, gives an impression of uneasiness – just don’t over-use it!

Now you’re ready to start filming every magical moment. Telling a story through film takes a lot more than just pointing and shooting. But with a dash of creativity, you can keep your viewers enthralled from the opening shot to the final fade. And if you want to convert your home movie masterpiece from VHS to DVD, then we’re on hand to offer our expertise. We specialise in format transfers to help create memories you’ll want to watch again and again. To get the scoop on our services, simply contact us on 0800 592 433 and we’ll be delighted to help. In fact, nothing would give us greater pleasure.