Portrait by Vanelli

Thanks to Vanelli and Meghan Ryan-Harrington for the Behind the Scenes shots.

When shooting a video project, there is a need to typically get multiple shots (or angles) of the same scene.  In modern productions, viewers aren’t content to watch just a single shot occur on screen.  The audience expects multiple angles to be combine together.  This creates visual interest and helps guide the viewer through the story. The use of multiple shots is also helpful during editing as it helps control the timing on a scene (and even cover mistakes).

The shots used in video storytelling have their own names.  By learning what each is called, its easier to plan for a shoot and communicate with other crew members.

Shot Types

It’s important to remember to move the actual camera from time to time.  If you merely zoom from a wide shot to a tight shot, the resulting edit will feel abrupt (which is often called a jump cut).  For the smoothest editing, be sure to physically move the camera when changing composition.


  • Master Shot –  This is the most common shot to record first.  The master shot is wide enough to see all of your subjects and the location.  If the piece has a script, you should record the entire scene in one take from a locked position.  Additional angles (especially close-ups) are then shot and intercut with the Master shot during editing.


  • Wide Shot (WS) – A wide shot (also called an establishing shot) is useful to show the entire subject.  With a person, this usually means seeing from the top of their heads to the bottom of their feet.


  • Medium Wide Shot (MWS) – A medium wide shot is usually made with a subject who is standing.  The bottom of the frame typically cuts the subject off at the hips or knees.  This shot can also be used with small groups.


  • Medium Shot (MS) – A medium shot typically frames the subject from the waist up. You should leave enough room so you can see any hand gestures or body movement.  If multiple subjects are in the frame, you can call the shot a two-shot or three-shot.


  • Medium Close-Up (MCU) – This shot is has the bottom of the frame passing through the midpoint of the chest. It is often called a bust shot as it matches the composition of classic bust sculptures from the art world. This is a popular framing for interviews.


  • Close-Up (CU) – You’ll use close-up shots to capture things like facial expressions and details of an object.  The goal is to isolate your subject and provide a detail shot to help the viewer understand.


  • Point of View (POV) – In this shot type, you are trying to let the audience see a scene through the character’s eyes. The goal is to position the camera at eye level and match framing to simulate what the character or viewer would see by being there.


  • Over the Shoulder (OTS) – If two or more characters are in a scene a shot can be composed to show both.  Typically one character is the focus while the other is used to frame the shot with the edge of their body.

Shot Angles

Besides how you compose the shot, you can also adjust the angle of the shot. The direction the camera is pointing as well as the camera’s height can change how the viewer sees the scene.


  • Eye Level. The most common ay to shoot is at eye level.  This how most people see the world, it is the most comfortable angle for viewers to watch from.


  • High Angle or Overhead. By placing the camera above your subject, it looks down on the action.  This can have a slimming effect on a subject.  It also creates the sense that the audience is more powerful than the subject.  This angle is effective for point-of-view shots (but can lead to a sense of detachment).


  • Low Angle.  This style of shot puts the camera below the subjects eyeline.  This can be used to make a subject seem more significant, or to add drama to a scene.


  • Dutch Angle. Sometimes the camera is canted at an angle.  Typically this is between 25 to 45 degrees (enough that it seems intentional, but not so much that its dizzying).  This effect causes horizontal lines to be seen at an angle. Dutch angles are meant to convey tension or psychological uneasiness.  Some styles of production like music videos use them often while documentary and instructional video are much less frequent.


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About Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington is the founder of RHED Pixel, a visual communications company based in Washington, D.C. He is the Publisher of Photofocus and Creative Cloud User as well as an author on Lynda.com. Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.


Cinematography, Gear, Shooting, VideoLC


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