Shot Size: Framing the Human Body

WolFangResearch & Development, Reviews & How To

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Shot Sized- how to correctly frame a person while maintaining balance in composition and adding aesthetic values.

Shot Sized- how to correctly frame a person while maintaining balance in composition and adding aesthetic values.

Yes, there are a whole lot of stuff you’ve got to learn in film making and videography. One of those is how to correctly frame a person, maintaining composition balance and adding aesthetic values.

Knowing the proper terminology for shot sizes helps you communicate with people in the same profession. While working in a team, this makes it easy to understand each other quickly.

For example, the film director will not tell the cinematographer, “I want you to frame the actress in a tighter shot, like from the top of her head to her shoulders.” All he needs to say is “Give me a Medium Close Up”

As if that’s not a good enough reason to study shot sizes, framing your subjects correctly separates an amateur from a professional. You decide which you’d rather be!

Full Shot (FS)

FULL SHOT. Shows the complete human figure. Body language is clearly visible.

FULL SHOT. Shows the complete human figure. Body language is clearly visible.

The Full Shot displays the actor’s body language. It lets audiences know if the actor is nervous, anxious or confident through how she stands or walks.

The Full Shot also shows off how the actor is dressed. Is she affluent, rugged, sinister or carefree? This will clearly hint to the audience the character’s role in the narrative.

The Full Shot also gives viewers a general view of the surroundings.

The Full Shot must have enough room for the head (headroom). Important note: don’t cut off the actress’ feet!

Medium Long Shot (MLS)
Plan Américan; American Shot

MEDIUM LONG SHOT- dates back to western wild west films. French critics call it the American Shot

MEDIUM LONG SHOT- dates back to western wild west films. French critics call it the American Shot

This shot has its roots in cowboy western films where it accommodated the pistols and holsters of the characters. The actress is framed from the knees upwards.

Medium Shot (MS)

MEDIUM SHOT. Emphasizes the actor's hands, facial expression and upper body language. Essential in showing how the actor is interacting with the scene.

MEDIUM SHOT. Emphasizes the actor's hands, facial expression and upper body language. Essential in showing how the actor is interacting with the scene.

This is the most popular framing when dialog is involved.

The Medium Shot displays the actress’ upper body language and more importantly, her gestures. It also tells the audience what the actor is doing with her hands.

It shows what the character is holding or interacting with, in her immediate environment. It’s also close enough to show the character’s facial expression.

Don’t cut the character off at the waist. The frame should extend a little further down from the waist.

Medium Close Up (MCU)

MEDIUM CLOSE UP- Whatever I'm going to do next will be important, that's why you're this close.

MEDIUM CLOSE UP- Whatever I'm going to do next will be important, that's why you're this close.

The actor is framed from the shoulders up similar to a bust.

This is your essential ‘portrait shot’. It brings viewers closer to the actor.

The actress’ facial expressions are clearly seen. We are about to get intimate with the actress, but not yet.

Bringing you this close draws your attention to how and what the character is saying. The film is telling you that whatever the character does next will be significant.

Close Up (CU)

CLOSE UP- Getting intimate with the character. Every variation of facial expression can be seen.

CLOSE UP- Getting intimate with the character. Every variation of facial expression can be seen.

Now we’re getting personal. Evey nuance of the actress’ facial expression is clearly visible.

The Close Up can be used to emphasize a significant piece of dialog or a character’s reaction.

The viewer can empathize with the protagonist by watching each action on her face through her eyes, lips, brows. The Close Up stresses what the actress is thinking or feeling.

The immediate surroundings are no longer as prominent. In CU shots, the character is normally shot with a shallow depth of field, further disengaging the viewer from the rest of the scene.

Typical Close Up shots are framed above the shoulders (includes the shoulders).

IMPORTANT: If you have to choose between cropping (cutting off) the head or the chin, slice off the head and leave the chin alone.

Extreme Close Up (ECU)

EXTREME CLOSE UP- Her eyes could say 'My boyfriend looks great in the new slacks I bought him' or 'this new PS3 game kicks-ass!'

EXTREME CLOSE UP- Her eyes could say 'My boyfriend looks great in the new slacks I bought him' or 'this new PS3 game kicks-ass!'

In the ECU, only specific parts of the actress’ face make it into the frame.

ECU stresses a specific facial feature. It could be used to give special meaning to a poignant piece of dialog.

We are inside the character’s personal space, too close for comfort. Judicious use of ECU shots are advised.

Long Shot

LONG SHOT- The environment is given more prominence. The character's relationship to other actors and props is also revealed.

LONG SHOT- The environment is given more prominence. The character's relationship to other actors and props is also revealed.

The Long Shot is used to establish the character’s relationship with her environment.

A generous amount of the scene is displayed, together with where the character is stationed.

Audiences will know who’s where and what’s where in the scene.

Go Forth and Frame Them Well!

Those are the most common Hollywood established Shot Sizes. There are more to come but for now, aspiring videographers and film makers must remember them by heart.

If you run around shooting videos with a reasonably good camera but place little consideration to proper framing you’ll end up with sharp visuals but your shots will betray you as a novice.