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Image of Hitchcock directing *Marnie* (1960)

Types of camera shot

In film, the way a shot is framed by the director will convey meaning to the audience. In this section we’re going to explore the core camera shots and what they’re used for. It’s also a great excuse to look at the work of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Alfred Hitchcock, and his film Psycho.

First up we have the wide shot. A wide shot conveys contextualising information to the viewer about where action in a scene is taking place or sets a character in context. For this reason, a wide shot is often used to establish context and setting at the start of a film or start of a scene (when used in this context, a wide shot can be described as an ‘establishing shot’). In this instance, the shot uses typical conventions of a thriller such as chiaroscuro lighting, emphasising the sense of isolation. The only visible source of light is coming from an upstairs room, drawing our focus and creating a desire to find out who the room’s occupant is.

Still image of the house in Psycho from the 1660 film showing an establishing shot

Next we have the long shot. This generally shows the full length of any featured characters from feet to top of the head and is used to show a character in relation to their surroundings, setting them in context. In this instance, we learn more about the main character, the shot enables us to see the character, her hair, clothes and surroundings, enabling the audience to draw conclusions about the character, her work place and setting the scene for an important plot point in the story.

Still image of lady in an office form the 1960 film Psycho showing a long shot

The mid shot or medium shot generally shows the character from the waist to the top of the head. It is used to enable the viewer to see facial expressions in combination with body language to show emotion and heighten tension. In this instance, Hitchcock employs it to show the character’s expression as she realises that her boss is starting to figure out that she has stolen his money. Her rigid persona, hands gripped to the wheel shows the exposed threat, making the audience share her apprehension.

Still image of woman driving in a car from the film Psycho 1960 - Shows the character from waist to the top of the head. Used for facial expressions in combination with body language.

The close up is often used to show a character from the top of the shoulders to the top of the head. It’s used for capturing a character’s facial expression, heightening emotions and building tension. In this shot, the audience can share the absolute horror that the character is feeling.

Still image showing an image of a woman's head screaming from the film Psycho 1960. Close up - Shows the character from the shoulders to the top of the head. Used for capturing character's facial expressions.

And lastly we have an extreme close up, when an object, item or body part fills the film frame and is used for emphasis and heightening emotion. In this instance, we’re so used to eyes that glint and are full of life that being presented with one that is dull and lifeless creates great unease amongst the audience.

Still image of a woman's eye from film Psycho 1960. Extreme close up - Where an object, item or body part fills the film frame. Used for heightening emotion.

Image credits: Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho (1960)

As you become more familiar with shot types and framing, you’ll be able to take that knowledge and create really interesting scaffolds for narrative writing.

We spoke in the previous step about framing and how it links with written texts. As students begin to understand shots better they’ll start to link them with certain sentence types, meaning that stills become a superb catalyst for creating a broad range of writing. If this is an area you’re particularly interested in, check out Filmmaking and Animation in the classroom, an online course hosted by FutureLearn created by Into Film.

Almost all of the artwork we use in this course is from the Tate Collection. Take a look at the Tate Collection and see if you can find some artworks that remind you of some of the above camera shots. If you find some interesting examples, share the links in the Comments section and suggest what shot it links to, considering why the artist chose to present their work in that way. You can use the information in this step to help you, as well as the printable downloadable resources in the Downloads section which you can use in class.

Please download our Shot Sizes and Camera Angles and Camera Shot Sort Sheet resources in the Downloads section to review more shot sizes and in the next step we’ll test your knowledge with a quiz!

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This article is from the free online course:

Developing Literacy: A Journey from Still Image to Film

Into Film