Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress


A Hypertext Resource for Literature

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This information comes (verbatim) from this page by David Kaufman of George Mason University.

The basic visual unit of a movie is the shot. Shots are usually described in terms of camera distance with respect to an object within the shot. There are, in the end, seven fundamental types of shots:

  • close-up/extreme close-up - the subject framed by the camera fills the screen. This connotes intimacy.

  • medium close-up - close-up of one or two (sometimes three) characters, framing the shoulders or chest and the head.

  • medium shot - frames a character from the waist, hips or knees up (or down). The camera is sufficiently distanced from the body for the character to be seen in relation to his or her surroundings.

  • medium long shot - halfway between a long and a medium shot. If it frames a character, the whole body will be in view in the middle ground of the shot.

  • long shot - subject or characters are at some distance from the camera. They are seen in full in their surrounding environment.

  • extreme long shot - the subject or characters are very much to the background of the shot. The surroundings now have as much if not more importance, especially if the shot is in high-angle.

  • shot/reverse-angle shot - also known as shot/counter shot, it is most commonly used for dialogue. It consists of two alternating shots, generally in medium close up, frame in turn the two speakers.

Each shot reflects a decision on the director's part. Ask yourself why the director has framed a shot in that specific way. For instance, you might want to pay attention to the camera's point-of-view. Sometimes a director will make use of what is called subjective camera. Here the camera seems to assume the point-of- view of a particular character, and thus leads the audience to identify with this character. Thus, high- or low-angle shots are used to indicate where the character is looking; panoramic shots suggest a character's view of a landscape; and tracking shots signify that a character is in motion. Why would the director want you to identify with that character at that time?

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