Wondering how your favorite filmmakers create movie magic? Have an idea for a video project, but not sure if your skills can do it justice? In this series, we’re introducing you to the basics of videography. Quiet on the set — we’re rolling!

Lesson One: Types of Shots

As the basic unit of any video, shots are the building blocks you’ll need to create your project. And since it would be pretty boring for your viewers to watch an entire video shot from the same angle, there are many different varieties to choose from.

The simplest shots are referred to as wide, medium, and close-up.

In a wide shot, the entire subject is visible from top to bottom (from head to toe if your subject is a person), and the background is visible as well. Extremely wide shots often introduce the setting of a video or scene, so they’re usually called “establishing shots.”

Photo by Britton Perelman

A medium shot moves in a little closer on the subject matter, showing people from the waist up and filling the screen with only part of any non-human subject. This is the most common shot you’ll see when watching a movie.

And close-up shots are self-explanatory — they fill the entire screen with an up-close-and-personal view of the subject. They’re sometimes called tight shots.

Photo by Britton Perelman
Photo by Britton Perelman

Of course, there are other variations of wide, medium, and close-up shots, such as medium-wide shots and extreme close-ups. Play around with all the basic types of shots, but remember that you’ll get the best results by picking up your camera and physically moving around. If you film your medium and close-up shots from different perspectives than your wide shots, your footage will become much more visually interesting.

An editing tip: when possible, arrange your footage so that it begins with a wide shot, moves to a medium shot, and concludes with two or three close-ups. This kind of sequence naturally holds the viewer’s attention and makes everything flow together nicely.

Photo by Britton Perelman
Photo by Britton Perelman
Photo by Britton Perelman
Photo by Britton Perelman
Photo by Britton Perelman

Practicing these basic shots is a great exercise that will help you feel comfortable behind the camera. But, as you gain experience, you’ll want to move on to new compositions. Try shooting over someone’s shoulder (especially if you’re filming a conversation), or see if you can get footage of someone’s hands (this works best if the person is doing something active, like making pottery or kneading dough).

When you’re ready, begin experimenting with more complicated shots. Film from below your subject to get a low angle shot, or stand above for a high angle shot. While you should almost always have a level horizon in your shots, you can sometimes set your camera at an angle to convey psychological distress or a lack of balance (this is called a Dutch angle or tilt shot).

Finally, aerial shots have become much more popular in recent years. Although these shots have been common in films and on the evening news for several decades, it used to be difficult to get them without owning or renting a helicopter. Now, with drones that are both affordable and available to consumers, just about anyone can learn to take beautiful aerial footage.

Photo by Ryan Longnecker

Key Takeaways:

  • Shots are the building blocks of any film project.
  • Wide, medium, and close-up shots are the most basic shots in videography.
  • Don’t film all your shots from the same place and angle; physically move around to increase visual interest.
  • Practice new shots (like over-the-shoulder, low angle, and high angle shots) as you gain experience and confidence.
  • Your edited video is only as good as your footage, so make sure to get the right shots while filming!
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Whitney Brown
Whitney Brown is a recent journalism graduate and travel writer based in Utah. She has lived in France and Ireland, and she's always planning her next big adventure. In addition to her passion for travel, Whitney loves archaeology, photography and floral design.