Video: An extreme close-up on a person's eye revealing the intricate and fragile valleys of the human iris captured in part due to software like Adobe Premiere Pro


How to film extreme close-ups: Going beyond the zoom.

Modern cameras and editing software give you incredible zoom capability and fidelity. Learn to stylize your filmmaking with carefully focused extreme close-ups.

Extreme close-up basics.

  • Where close-ups give you a fuller and more detailed picture of the action in a film, extreme close-ups (ECUs) go even closer, to generate powerful and sometimes uncomfortable effects.
  • To make any close-up work, you need to understand the principles of editing logic and cinematography to keep your audience engaged rather than confused.       
  • You can create extreme close-up shots with a camera or with editing software like Adobe Premiere Pro.

Going beyond the zoom.

When you create an extreme close-up, you’re a filmmaking detective of sorts. A hyper-close close-up allows you to isolate and focus on particular details within the scenes of your film, revealing new ideas and truths to your audience.


“The extreme close-up is usually used for effect rather than communication — emphasizing a detail like licking lips or furrowed eyebrows,” says director Alicia J. Rose. There’s plenty of truth to this: Where a close-up might capture an actor’s face, an extreme close-up focuses on their lips, their ear, or some other detail that is crucial to the logic of the scene you’re creating.


This is how you build that logic. 


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How to build the perfect close-up.

Close-ups are not something you decide to do on a spur-of-the-moment impulse. Because it is a specialized shot, it needs to be part of an overall plan for a scene. Extreme close-ups can be jarring and can set the tone for your entire scene, so before you add one, you want to make sure you have intention and logic for it. Transitioning to an extreme close-up from an establishing shot, an extreme wide shot, or a medium shot is a solid place to start, but that is by no means the only way. Videographer Lisa Bolden further describes the contrast this way: “A medium close-up is an acquaintance and an extreme close-up is a best friend.”

An extreme close-up being used to focus on the profile of a rancher in mid-speech
Detailed beauty and rugged utility of leather cowboy stirrups and spurs being featured in an extreme close-up

For instance, in many spaghetti westerns, like Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the duel sequences have extreme close-ups of each character’s eyes, their gunbelts, their faces, and their hands. This frenetic cutting and mashing together of close-ups adds confusion and intensity to the confrontation.


But before you can get to making movie magic, you want to make sure you have all the pre-planning steps ready to go.

Outline your scene.

Whether you’re shooting a feature-length film or just a quick short, a shooting script is essential. Shooting scripts do many things, but one of the most important for your close-up purposes is that they often have detailed cinematographic instructions describing camera shots. In other words, they often provide a shot list and guidance for how specific shots should be handled for the cinematographer, who’s in charge of the “look” of the film.


Because an extreme close-up is a very specific type of shot, you want to make sure you’ve planned for it and outlined it in the scenes you’re going to create. Note any extreme close-up in a shooting script so you or your cinematographer have the chance to think about it beforehand. And remember as you’re building your shot list: “ECUs are for details — intimacy — that doesn’t have to be with a person, but with any subject,” says Bolden.

Check your equipment.

Before shooting an extreme close-up, you need to make sure that you have the right equipment. Most zoom lenses or macro lenses will allow you to get really close to your subject, but that is often only one part of the story. If you have a subject in motion, you want to rehearse the movements and focus changes beforehand to ensure you don’t accidentally blur your subject. It’s next to impossible to film an extreme close-up without a tripod, and you also need to make sure everything in the scene can be as stationary as possible before shooting. 

Shoot it.

On the day of filming, if you have the shooting script handy and a plan for how you’re going to capture your extreme close-ups, you’re ready to go. Because this type of shot illuminates minute details, make sure that your lighting is on point and that you capture multiple takes so you don’t have to struggle to fix mistakes later while editing.

3 inspiring extreme close-ups.

1. Contact (directed by Robert Zemeckis, cinematography by Don Burgess)

This traditional implementation of the extreme close-up is very effective. When Jodie Foster’s character hears the alien signal on her headphones, we’re so close to her face that we can see the focus, the concentration, and the wonder she feels upon hearing an alien signal for the first time.

2. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (directed by Guy Ritchie, cinematography by Philippe Rousselot)

In one sequence in this film, the characters run through the woods while a massive artillery piece is loaded and fired at them. The editing and imagery here use extreme close-ups of the artillery as it is loaded, drawing attention to a new and terrifying weapon of war.

3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (directed by Edgar Wright, cinematography by Bill Pope)

While the entire film is a master class in many filming techniques, notice how extreme close-ups are used to convey action, movement, and motion.

No matter your take, Adobe Premiere Pro gives you the tools to edit and refine the close-ups in your films. You can zoom, tilt, and adjust to correct framing errors, along with even more advanced functionality. Minute cuts and the perfect shot are within your grasp, whether you’re a curious creative, in film school, or working on a feature film.

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