Understanding Basic Film Shots

Back in 2013 I had the privilege of interning for a well known web series and got served a crash course in basic cinematography. Little things in terms of where the camera is located in relation to what is being filmed and how it’s later edited, made a big difference on how I consume media today. Here are some examples from the reality show, “Welcome to Fairfax.”

The Establishing Shot:











The first shot you see in a new scene or segment is usually called the establishing shot. The reason why it’s labeled this is because it’s important to establish to the viewer (i.e. you) where exactly the next scene is taking place. In this first shot we see Mizzle (the guy in the shirt that says ‘Youth’) and Rick Ross (the real former drug kingpin Rick Ross from which the rapper by the same name took as his alias). Both are walking through a pair of open doors that look like the entrance to some coffee shop.

The Single:











The single shot is rather simple: it features primarily one person in the frame, hence the term single. Here we see Rick Ross’ face quite clearly and even some of the letters on his shirt. We can also get a somewhat blurry over the shoulder shot of Mizzle which is to show that the two of them are in conversation. What you won’t see is that there is probably a guy on Mizzle’s right shoulder (Ross’ left side) who is holding a reflector to get more light on Ross’ face for the camera.


Opposite Side Single:











This is basically the same as the last shot except reversed with Mizzle in the foreground and Ross off to the side. Again, singles in this manner really serve just to show that the two characters are engaged in conversation and also to assist the editor so that the viewer isn’t seeing a conversation from just one character’s viewpoint.


Wide Shot:











This shot shows the two characters in the middle of the frame and the rest of the eatery, along with some other people in the background. The words “Welcome to Fairfax” appearing at the bottom left of the screen subtlety tell the viewer this is the last shot of this scene before a commercial break.

These are just some simple shots but are used regularly in TV and film alike. That’s why it can take hours to shoot one scene because of all the different angles involved. It’s worth it though as each shot allows the editor more freedom to piece everything together and make it look seamless by the time it hits your TV screen.

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