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Determining the best shot

Determining the best shot

Your selection of camera angles, or shots, is limited, technically, only by your imagination, though you should master the basic principles before trying any fancy tricks. This section explains the building-block shots you see in most film and TV productions, and most scenes are built using a combination of these shots. In Hollywood, coverage is the practice of shooting a scene from various angles.


When you start shooting video, take these types of shots first:


» Master: The master shot is the foundation of your coverage. It shows everything — every important element of your scene. Place the camera far

enough away to capture all the action, and shoot the entire scene from beginning to end. You can always cut back to the master shot to remind the audience where the characters are located in relation to each other.

» Medium: The medium shot moves in to show characters (or a single charac-

ter) in an area from roughly just above their waists to a little over their heads. The medium shot is commonly used because it shows facial detail but still conveys a sense of the bigger picture.

» Close-up: In the close-up shot, the camera moves in tightly on a subject’s face

or on an object, such as the bouncing ball in this section’s running example. The close-up is a powerful tool to show lots of facial detail and to build tension and emotion in a scene.

» Extreme close-up: In this type of shot, the camera (obviously) moves in even

more tightly on a subject to show lots of detail. A shot of a character’s eyes or of fi  drumming on a table or of a doorknob turning slowly shows an intimate level of detail to drive home a particular moment. Though an extreme close-up is rarely followed by a master shot (it’s too much of a leap for viewers to make from small to large), you can follow it with a close-up or a medium shot.


These steps show one way to break down the scene in the bouncing-ball example:


  1. The master shot shows a child tossing a ball in the living The shot is framed to show the child positioned one-third of the way from the edge of the frame. You can hear his mother say, “Don’t play ball in the house!”
  2. Cut to a medium shot of the child watching the ball move up and He smirks and says, “No problem, Mom.”
  3. In the master shot, the child throws the ball high into the Uh-oh.
  4. A close-up shot of the child shows him watching the ball begin to
  5. Cut to a close-up of the child’s hand reaching for the ball — and missing
  6. An extreme close-up shot shows his eyes widening as you hear a vase
  7. Cut back to a medium shot of the child looking at the fl horrifi
  8. A close-up shot of the broken vase shows the ball lying in the middle of the glass
  9. Cut to a close-up of the child as he gulps, and his mother scolds
  10. Return to the master shot, as the child turns to face his mother and blurts, “It wasn’t my fault!” while she crosses her arms


These steps break down a scene, moment by moment, into shots that underscore the emotion of every beat of the scene. We won’t win an award for this scene, but we can probably make an audience feel tension (and make them laugh at the child’s excuse). That’s how you “paint” a scene with your camera and the camera frame.


In any scene you shoot, keep your shots smooth and steady. In the age of point- and-shoot cameras, people have a tendency to start the camera rolling and then point it at various characters in a scene, in one long take. They often attempt this all-over-the-map approach with a shaky hand so that the scene ends up looking like an earthquake just occurred. Unless you’re shooting The Great Quake of the 21st Century, we recommend that you simply place the camera on a tripod. If your scene involves a lot of camera movement, shoot it with a smooth, steady hand.