Intro to Camera Shots and Film Composition

This project is going to be our first look into actual filmmaking concepts. The main focus of the assignment will be composition – how to frame your subjects and move the camera to get your desired result. But first, let’s look at some basic filmmaking tips…let’s watch the Vimeo Shooting Basics video.

Video 101: Shooting Basics from Vimeo Video School on Vimeo.

Let’s get right into composition now. There are basic shots and ways to move your camera that will help your final product look more professional and will make it easier for your audience to understand your subject and message.

From Atomic Learning’s Video Storytelling Guide:

A new take on home movies: the “grammar” of video.

In written expression, the basic building block is the word. The video equivalent of a word is a camera shot. I’ll be defining the various types of shots and showing you video examples of each soon. For now, let’s define a shot as whatever the camera records after you press the record button and before you hit pause. Using that definition, many traditional “home movies” would consist of only one or two shots, even though they might last five minutes each.

Don’t be a hoser!

That style of shooting is often referred to as the “garden hose” approach. As you water your shrubs, the water continually flows while you wave the hose nozzle from side to side, up and down, concentrating the spray here and there, making sure the whole garden gets a good soaking.

The “garden hose” video maker will stand in one spot with tape running, wave the camera from one side of the scene to the other, up and down, merrily zooming in and zooming out, trying to capture the whole scene in one shot.

If that shot were a written sentence, it would run on . . . and on . . . and on . . . . and on . . . .and on . . . . . . . . . . . .

Good writing is composed of well-chosen words, combined into thoughtful sentences and logically organized paragraphs. Good video follows a similar structure.


Please review the list of shots and their definitions.

Shots Based on Camera Position:

Extreme Long Shot/ Establishing Shot (ELS) – Used to establish the setting of a project. It might be the outside of a building or a landscape and is often the first scene in a project.

Long Shot
(LS) – Shows the entire object or human figure and is usually intended to place it in some relation to its surroundings.

Medium Sho
t (MS) – A “normal” camera shot filmed from a medium distance. It usually refers to a human figure from the waist (or knees) up.

Close Up/Bust Shot
(CU) – A shot taken from a close distance. Often it is a person’s head from the shoulders or neck up. It could also be a tight shot of an object that fills almost the entire frame.

Extreme Close Up
(ECU) – This shot frames only part of an object in close-up detail. It might frame only a part of a human face (an eye or the mouth) or a detailed part of an object (the petal of a flower).

High Angle/ Tilt Down
– The subject is filmed from above and the camera points down on the action, often to make the subject small, weak and vulnerable.

Low Angle/Tilt Down
– The subject is filmed directly from below and the camera points up at the action, to make the subject appear larger, more formidable and menacing.

Over the Shoulder Shot
– Framed so that the viewers have the perception that they are participating in the action by peering over the shoulder of the subject. Used most often in interviews.

Depth Shot
– Creates depth in the scene by adding objects to the foreground, middle ground, and background. We see different levels of action to create a 3D effect.

Macro Shot
– The camera is positioned very close to an object to show detail. You are not zooming in, but instead placing the camera very close to an object.

Dutch Angle/Unstable Horizon
– The camera angle is skewed so that the horizon line is not parallel.

Shots Based on Subjects:

One Shot
– Shot of a single person, maybe an interviewer or guest. Usually a medium shot or tighter.

Two Shot
– Shot of two people, maybe talking to each other. Usually a medium shot or tighter.

Three Shot
– A medium shot that contains three people.

Shots Based on Camera Movement:

– A horizontal scan, movement, rotation or turning of the camera in one direction (to the right or left) around a fixed spot. You are standing still but the camera is moving to capture an entire panoramic scene.

Zoom In/Out
– Using the zoom feature of the camera to make the subject fill more or less of the frame.

Dolly In/Out
– Moving the camera to physically get closer or further from a subject. You may have the camera mounted on a dolly, or you may be walking towards or away from the subject.

Dollying Along (Tracking)
– The camera is moving along beside the subject. You may have the camera mounted on a dolly, or you may be walking towards or away from the subject.

Head On
– The action comes directly toward or at the camera.

Tails Away
– The action moves directly away from the camera.

Major Rules of Composition

Rule of Thirds

Imagine your screen divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically.  It looks kind of like a tic-tac-toe board.  You should always place important elements at the intersection of those lines.  It is also much more interesting to place any horizon lines like skies, buildings or the shore of a lake on one of the horizontal lines.


Headroom is the space between the top of the subject’s head and the top of the frame.  Usually, you want to have the subject’s eyes near the top horizontal third line of your shot.

Bad Example: In this shot, the subject’s head is way too close to the top of the frame.

Bad Example: In this shot, the subject’s head is way too close to the bottom of the frame. It gives the impression of a head floating in space.

Good Example: In this shot, the subject’s head correctly positioned along the top horizontal third line.

Lead Space or Nose Room

The amount of space between your subject and the side of the frame as they move or look towards that edge of the frame.  You don’t want the subject to get too close to the side of the frame as they look or walk in that direction…it will give the feeling that they are about to walk into a wall.

Bad Example: In this shot, the subject is way too close to the right edge of the frame.  It feels like he is going to run into the edge.

Good Example: In this shot, the subject has plenty of room to walk towards the right edge of the frame.

As A Class:

Watch the following videos that give you visual examples of the various shots and movements.

Framing and Composition Overview

Framing and Composition from Videopia on Vimeo.


Adidas Commercial

Adidas Spec Spot from Ross Ching on Vimeo.


High School Football Highlight

#25 from Allen Gabrenya on Vimeo.


Depth Shot Example – LA Highways

Running on Empty (Revisited) from Ross Ching on Vimeo.


Now that you have a good idea of the individual shots and their movements, we’ll watch the Postal Service Music Video as a class. Look for different shots and movements as you watch the video.

Your Assignment

Watch the “LEARN” video below. The first time you watch, look for different shots and movements. Then watch it a few more times and write down what shots you see and what times they occur. You’ll have to pause the video, rewind and watch it several times – it moves fast! Identify at least FIVE shots or movements and the time they occur – post your answer on Edmodo.

Your answer might look something like this – 0:57 – Pan Left

LEARN from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

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