When describing camera positions, or choosing them yourself, you have to think about three important factors
• The FRAMING or the LENGTH • The ANGLE • If there is any MOVEMENT involved When describing camera positions (or shots), different terms are used to indicate the amount of subject matter contained within a frame, how far away the camera is from the subject, and the perspective of the viewer. Each different shot has a different purpose and effect. A change between two different shots is called a CUT.
1 . Extreme long shot — XLS
Can be taken from as much as a quarter of a mile away, and is gener- ally used as a scene-setting, establishing shot. It normally shows an EXTERIOR, eg the outside of a building, or a landscape, and is often used to show scenes of thrilling action eg in a war film or disaster movie.
1 Most of the text here was taken from an article called “Describing Camera Angles and Movement” posted on MediaKnowAll: A Webguide for Media Students. Several images and captions were copied and pasted from Storyboard Design Course by Guiseppe Cristiano.
2. Long Shot — LS
The most difficult to precisely categorise, but generally one which shows the image as approximately “life” size ie corresponding to the real distance between the audience and the screen in a cinema (the figure of a man would appear as six feet tall). This category includes the FULL SHOT showing the entire human body, with the head near the top of the frame and the feet near the bottom.
3. Medium Shot (or Mid Shot) MS
Contains a figure from the knees/waist up and is normally used for dialogue scenes, or to show some detail of action. Variations on this include the TWO SHOT (containing two figures from the waist up)
TS (two shot)
and the THREE SHOT (contains 3 figures…). Any more than three fig- ures and the shot tends to become a long shot. Another variation in this category is the OVER-THE-SHOULDER-SHOT, which positions the camera behind one figure, revealing the other figure, and part of the first figure’s back, head and shoulder.
OTS (over the shoulder)
4. Medium Close-Up — MCU
This falls somewhere between a medium shot and a close-up.
5. Close-Up — CU
This shows very little background, and concentrates on either a face, or a detail of mise en scene. This shot magnifies the object (think of how big it looks on a cinema screen) and shows the importance of things, be it words written on paper, or the expression on someone’s face. The close-up takes us into the mind of a character. In reality, we only let people that we really trust get THAT close to our face – moth- ers, children and lovers, usually – so a close up of a face is a very inti- mate shot. A film-maker may use this to make us feel extra comfort- able or extremely uncomfortable about a character.
6. Extreme Close-Up — XCU
As its name suggests, an extreme version of the close up, generally magnifying beyond what the human eye would experience in reality. An extreme close-up of a face, for instance, would show only the mouth or eyes.
The relationship between the camera and the object being photo- graphed (ie the ANGLE) gives emotional information to an audience, and guides their judgment about the character or object in shot. The more extreme the angle (ie the further away it is from eye left), the more symbolic and heavily-loaded the shot.
1. The Bird’s-Eye view
This shows a scene from directly overhead, a very unnatural and strange angle. Familiar objects viewed from this angle might seem totally unrecognisable at first (um- brellas in a crowd, dancers’ legs). This shot does, however, put the audience in a godlike position, look-
ing down on the action. People can be made to look insignificant, ant- like, part of a wider scheme of things. Hitchcock (and his admirers, like Brian de Palma) is fond of this style of shot.
2. High Angle
Not so extreme as a bird’s eye view. The camera is elevated above the action using a crane to give a general overview. High angles make the object photographed seem smaller, and less significant (or scary). The object or character often gets swallowed up by their setting – they be- come part of a wider picture.
3. Eye Level
A fairly neutral shot; the camera is positioned as though it is a human actually observing a scene, so that eg actors’ heads are on a level with the focus. The camera will be placed approximately five to six feet from the ground.
4. Low Angle
These increase height (useful for short actors like Tom Cruise) and give a sense of speeded motion. Low angles help give a sense of confusion to a viewer, of powerlessness within the action of a scene. The back- ground of a low angle shot will tend to be just sky or ceiling, the lack of detail about the setting adding to the disorientation of the viewer.
The added height of the object may make it inspire fear and insecurity in the viewer, who is psychologically dominated by the figure on the screen.
5. Oblique/Canted Angle
Sometimes the camera is tilted (ie is not placed horizontal to floor level), to suggest imbalance, transition and instability (any Michael Bay movie ). This technique is used to suggest POINT-OF-View shots (ie when the camera becomes the ‘eyes’ of one particular charac- ter,seeing what they see – a hand held camera is often used for this).
6. Worm’s Eye View
Camera is very close to the ground, tilted up. This is a very dramatic version of the low angle shot.
7. Ground Shot
Camera is ON the ground, shooting parallel to the horizon.
A director may choose to move action along by telling the story as a series of cuts, going from one shot to another, or they may decide to move the camera with the action. Moving the camera often takes a great deal of time, and makes the action seem slower, as it takes sev- eral second for a moving camera shot to be effective, when the same information may be placed on screen in a series of fast cuts. Not only must the style of movement be chosen, but the method of actually moving the camera must be selected too. There are seven basic meth- ods:
A movement which scans a scene horizontally. The camera is placed on a tripod, which operates as a stationary axis point as the camera is turned, often to follow a moving object which is kept in the middle of the frame.
A movement which scans a scene vertically, otherwise similar to a pan.
3. Tracking Shots
Sometimes called DOLLY shots. The camera is placed on a moving ve- hicle and moves alongside the action, generally following a moving fig- ure or object. Complicated dolly shots will involve a track being laid on set for the camera to follow, hence the name. Without a big budget, you can try tracking by holding the camera steady and walking back- ward, facing subject A tracking shot may be a good way of portraying movement, the journey of a character for instance, or for moving from a long shot to a close-up, gradually focusing the audience on a particu- lar object or character.
The zoom lens means that the camera need not be moved (and saves a lot of time and trouble). The zoom lens can zip a camera in or out of a scene very quickly. The drawbacks include the fact that while a dolly
shot involves a steady movement similar to the focusing change in the human eye, the zoom lens tends to be jerky (unless used very slowly) and to distort an image, making ob- jects appear closer together than they really are. Zoom lenses are also drastically over- used by many di- rectors (including those holding palmcorders), who try to give the im- pression of movement and excitement in a scene where it does not exist.