Coverage: Get the Shots You Need

  • Follow some simple rules to make sure you have enough footage to edit together
  • Hold each shot for at least ten seconds (or five seconds before and after the action)
  • Shoot more shots than you think you need

Getting all the shots you need for the edit is called coverage. When you film something, you need to get enough different shots to show everything you need to show. If you don’t have coverage, your scene may not cut together well. It might be boring, it may not make sense, or it might be jerky.

Making a storyboard first will help you make sure you’ve got coverage. Here are some rules that can help you, particularly if you’re shooting an event or a fast-moving situation.

Whatever you do, film every shot for at least ten seconds. If you’re filming an action, begin recording a few seconds before the action starts, and keep on filming for a few seconds after it ends.

Shoot more than you think you need. If you think you need three shots, get five. If you think you need five shots, get seven.

Rules for coverage

Move in


Start with an extreme long shot to set the scene.

coverage- long shotcoverage- mid shot

Introduce people with long shots and mid shots.


Then use closeups to show their expressions.

These shot sizes are explained in more detail here.

Make sure you use different camera positions around, above or below the subject as well. If you shoot everything from the same position the camera will appear to ‘jump’ forward. There’s more about this, and other continuity rules, here.

Starting with closeups

You could go the other way round.

coverage closeupcoverage close upcoverage closeup

Start with a closeup, or a series of closeups.

drummer coveragecoverage drummer

Then cut to mid and long shots to show the bigger picture.

This is a good way to add anticipation, and maybe mystery, to a scene.

Three shots

five shot rule - facefive shot rule - handsfive shot rule hands and face

Film the person, the thing, then the person and the thing.

The five shot rule

This rule was devised to help TV journalists who were starting to shoot their own stories. You’ll see it all the time on TV news. (Actually, it was invented to help the editors who were finding it impossible to cut together what the journalists were giving them.)

You don’t have to edit it together in this order, but this should give you enough material to work with.

five shot rule - hands

Shoot a closeup of hands…

five shot rule - face

…then a closeup of the face.

five shot rule hands and face

Hands and face together…

five shot rule over the shoulder

…and an over the shoulder shot.

coverage five shot rulecoverage five shot rule

Finally, film a different shot – the same thing from a different angle, a wide/long shot, or maybe a cutaway of something in a different part of the scene.

Other ways to get coverage

Shoot cutaways

drum cu 2coverage closeup

Shoot plenty of details, or shots of another part of the scene. You can add these to cover edits that don’t match well. Use a variety of camera angles: birdseye shots and low angle shots as well as eye level.

Film a master shot

coverage - extreme long shot

If you’ve got two or more cameras, you could set one up to shoot an extreme long shot or long shot of all the action. You can cut back to this whenever your other shots don’t cut together properly.

Tom Barrance

Tom Barrance I teach all kinds of people to make films. I provide training for businesses, arts organisations, nonprofits and education. I’ve worked on film education projects with Apple Education, the British Film Institute, Film Education, Film: 21st Century Literacy and many more. My publications include Making Movies Make Sense and Editshots