Shot Size Variation And View Direction

Every television program you watch consists of many shots that follow each other, and every shot has a different use and shot size. The shot size is determined by the angle of view (which depends on the focal length and the size of the camera's sensor) and the distance between the camera and your subject.

The shot size defines how much of your subject and it's surroundings you can see, and in the years people have come up with some standardised shot sizes. There's a range between the extreme long shot where you can see the subject and it's surroundings, all the way to the extreme close-up where you draw attention to one detail of the subject.

Every shot size has it's own use, and together all different shot sizes are used to communicate your message to the audience effectively.

View direction and composition

You should point your camera at your subject from an angle, never directly in front of it. This gives your subject a view direction and it creates converging lines in your composition. Every object has a view direction. When your subject is a person, the view direction can be decided easily, but also signs, houses and even rocks have a view direction. I'll try to explain using some examples below.

Notice that in every frame below, I left room in the composition where the view direction is. I always let my subject 'look in' the frame. Also I always create a balance between the subject and the empty space. Don't place any distracting objects there.

View direction example View direction example
View direction example View direction example

The shots below can't be used. In the shot on the left I didn't leave room where the viewing direction is, so the subject 'looks' outside of the shot. In the shot on the right I placed the camera directly in front of the subject, and there's no viewing direction here.

View direction example View direction example

Good view direction continuity

It is important that visual continuity is maintained when cutting shots of different sizes after each other. This also means that the view direction should be the same in both shots, and the angle of the camera should change as little as possible.

This is an example of two shots that can be cut, as the fountain's view direction remains the same in both shots:

View direction example View direction example

No view direction continuity

This is an example of two shots that can't be cut as the viewing direction has changed. It looks like the world is flipped when cutting between these shots. (See related video.)

View direction example View direction example

An example of a series of shots

  • An establishing shot (a long shot showing the subject and it's surroundings)
  • A medium shot then shows a bit of your subject's facial expression and body language
  • A close-up shot shows the face of your subject while he's talking
  • Different extreme close-ups of details in the surroundings while the audio of the subject talking continues, to make the program more interesting

When I arrive at the location, I always try to find a position where I quickly create a long shot, several medium shots and finally some close-up shots. Finding this location is a skill that you can learn, and you will get a feeling for these spots.

Cutting points during actions

The best place to make cuts between different shot sizes is during an action, not before or after it. When you are filming a person standing up, a good cutting point is halfway when he stands up. Other examples of actions are: a person grabbing something or someone turning around.

Imagine filming a man finishing his drink and you want to provide a cutting point while he puts down his drink. You are filming with one camera so some time will have lapsed between your close-up shot and your medium shot.

In these situations you should film the action two times. First a close-up shot showing just the man's face and his drink, and the drink going out of the shot. Then you film the action a second time using a medium shot size, and the man puts down his drink a second time.

Make sure you maintain visual continuity so the two shots can be cut after eachother. This will create a smooth, uninterrupted cut between shot sizes.

Video example

If you want to see how the shots look when cut together, watch the related video.

About the author
Joseph de Meij

I am Joseph de Meij, 25 years old and I am a freelance cameraman who loves to travel. I'm currently trying to find different ways to overcome my toxic career syndrome and find out what my goals are in life.

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