Movie Making Manual/Cinematography/Camera angles and composition

This Module is part of the Cinematography section of the Movie Making Manual

Shot, Scene and Sequence edit

Shot edit

A shot is the basic unit of a film and refers to one length of continuous (unedited) action.

While shooting, a shot is created when you turn the camera on (begin recording) and then turn it off. Often, a director will record multiple takes (attempts) of each shot in order to get one perfect take to be edited into the final film.

While editing, a shot refers to the action between two adjacent edit points.

A shot can be as short as a single frame of film (1/24th second) to many minutes long -- both extremes are uncommon. Action sequences tend to use many short-duration shots to increase the sense of excitement, while dramatic scenes tend to use longer-duration shots.

The components or elements of a shot can be divided into two categories: cinematography and mis-en-scene. Cinematography is the way the shot is recorded by the camera, including such factors as lens selection, focus setting, depth-of-field, zoom, camera movements, etc. Mis-en-scene refers to everything seen or heard within the shot: the performances, lighting, the set or environment, wardrobe, etc.

Scene edit

A scene is action that takes place at a certain place and time in the story. If a film starts with a conversation in the kitchen and then cuts to the subway, the kitchen is one scene and the subway is another. A scene can be composed of one shot or any number of shots. When shooting, a director will often record a master shot which captures the entire scene in a single shot, and then record additional shots (e.g., close-up's, cut-ins and cut-aways) to be edited into the scene.

Sequence edit

When a number of scenes can be considered as a unit where the action continues or progresses along each of the scenes, then it is considered a sequence.

Points of Confusion edit

Scene and shot are sometimes used interchangeably. This will mean that in the script, individual shots may be referred to as scenes. Production staff may refer to a single take as a shot but refer to the shot by its scene number. So don't be too confused when production staff flip back and forth when describing a scene or a shot.

Types of Camera Angles edit

Objective edit

As opposed to subjective, objective shots are not seen from anyone (or anything's) eyes, but rather from an 'observer's' point of view. This supposed observer is, as far as the narrative is concerned, not actually there; that is, the characters cannot see or interact with the camera. (It can therefore, for example, pass through the glass of a window without hindrance, though this would require special effects.) The majority of shots taken in film are objective.

Subjective edit

Subjective shots are taken from someone or something's point of view. It might, for example, display what one of the characters can see. Truly subjective (rather than Point of View) shots are rarely used, as they can be disorientating or alienating to the audience, especially if a character looks at or speaks to the camera. They are, therefore, generally only used when the effect it creates is explicitly desired.

A popular device in horror films is to use subjective shots from the monster or adversary's point of view. This makes it possible to let the audience know what the monster is doing, without revealing any information about the nature of the adversary, which heightens the tension.

A very good example of subjective shooting is in the film "Cloverfield" by J.J. Abrams. The entire film is shot from a subjective point of view, an observers video camera.

Point-of-view edit

Sometimes abbreviated to POV, a point-of-view shot is when the camera is positioned to record what a character in the film would be seeing from his perspective.

Cutting edit

Cutting is another word for editing which means assembling the film from all of the raw footage shot during production. Aside from assembling shots into scenes, editing also includes significant audio work, including redubbing dialogue (when required), adding music and adding sound effects.

Composition edit

Examples of shot size (in one filmmaker's opinion)

Composition refers to the arrangement of visual elements within a shot. The three basic shot compositions in filmmaking are long-shot, medium-shot, and close-up.

The long-shot typically shows a significant amount of the setting or shooting environment. If the performers are seen in a long-shot, they are typically small within the frame.

The medium-shot is perhaps the most commonly used shot and typically includes one or two performers. Often, a medium shot of a single performer will show from their waist upward.

The close-up shows one particular detail, often a performers face, although it may show an object, like a clock. Whatever is shot, a close-up fills the screen with that image.

There are no strict dividing lines between these kinds of composition. The image to the right is just one example.

Composition in filmmaking has many elements in common with composition in painting and still photography -- line, tone, color, texture, shadow -- although cinematography is unique in that the composition may change during the shot. During the shot the camera may move, the lens may be adjusted, the performers may move -- all of which will change the composition of the shot. A performer, for example, might start in a medium shot, but then walk toward the camera, ending in a close-up.

Continuity edit

Continuity is the characteristic of a scene whereby the action seems fluid and continuous, even though it is composed of a number of shots. There are many ways that continuity can be broken -- which can be noticeable and therefore distracting to an audience. For example, if the hero's clothes are dirty and bloody as he is walking through the doorway, but clean as he emerges from the building, that is a continuity error. Another kind of continuity error can be caused by poor editing. For example, a character might move to a chair and sit down in a long shot, and then we cut to a close-up and see the end of the character's sitting movement. Depending on how these two shots are edited, it will either look like a continuous motion (good continuity), or you might see repeated action or a gap in action (poor continuity). Many people enjoy picking out continuity errors in movies. See

Continuity errors are often the result of cutting for performance, where the editor pieces together shots that form the desired feel of the scene with little or no attention paid to background objects or actions that cause the errors.