Shot size basically means how big things are in the picture, and whether it mainly shows the setting, people in the setting, or details of faces and things. Most filmmakers use standard names for shot sizes. The main ones are described in the video; you can also download a printable PDF shot size chart (below).
It’s important to use different shot sizes in your movie. It’s a way of spelling things out, to make sure that people see exactly the things you want them to see. If you shoot everything in long shot (head to foot) people will probably miss details and expressions which would help them understand the story.
Showing the setting
Shots that mainly just show the setting are called extreme long shots or very long shots. They usually show buildings, street scenes or landscapes. In an extreme long shot people are tiny, but in a very long shot they may be large enough to recognise.
You can use these kinds of shot as establishing shots: shots at the beginning of a film or a sequence that show where the scene is set.
You can also use very long shots to make characters look vulnerable, isolated or insignificant.
(Some people use ‘extreme long shot’ to describe both kinds of shot, and some people call them both wide shots.)
To show people in the setting, you need to use shots like long shots (head to toe) and mid shots (hips to head). These are good for showing people together, and for showing action. These kinds of shots are easier to use than closeups, particularly for moving subjects.
Don’t make the mistake of shooting the whole film with just mid or long shots: take the time and trouble to use closeups as well. This will give it more impact and help your viewers to understand the story.
A standard closeup shows the head and maybe the shoulders. You can use a big closeup – which just shows the main features of somebody’s face – to show a really strong emotion like sadness, or to make somebody look scary. You can even use extreme closeups, which just show part of somebody’s face like the eyes or the mouth.
For an emotional scene, try starting with fairly loose framing (maybe mid shots) and then use bigger and bigger closeups to build up the intensity.
You can also use closeups of things, to show patterns and details. An insert is a kind of closeup that shows something important that viewers might miss. So if you show a mid shot of somebody reading a message, you would follow it with a closeup insert that shows what they’re reading.
When you film closeups, you need to be very careful about how you frame your shots, and you usually need to keep the camera as still as possible.
Stepping between shot sizes
A lot of films start with an extreme long shot or very long shot to show the setting, then they cut to long shots and mid shots of people in the setting, then they show closeups. This is a good way to set the scene and bring the audience with you so they know exactly where the people fit into the bigger picture.
But you don’t have to work this way. You could keep viewers guessing by starting with a closeup or an extreme closeup, and not revealing the setting until later.
Change position as well as shot size
When you change shot size, you should usually move the camera to a different position around the subject to make the edit less obvious. So if one shot is from directly in front, the second should be at an angle or from the side. If you don’t do this, you may get a jump cut where the camera seems to ‘jump’ forwards or backwards. See Putting it together.
For a printable full colour A4 PDF poster of this shot size chart, option-click (Mac) or right-click (PC) the image. It’s a 13Mb download. See conditions below.