4 ways you can use full shots in film.

The full shot is an essential addition to any movie’s shot list. Discover how full shots can help you use an actor’s entire body to tell a story in your next film.

What is a full shot?

A full shot is a type of camera shot that includes the actor’s full body in the frame. Unlike the close-up and the medium shot, which keep attention close to the actor’s face, the full shot allows them to incorporate a wide range of body language into their performance that an extreme close-up shot or long shot would miss.

Image to the left: A full shot of a high-altitude pilot in a pressure suit steps out of an elevator. Image to the right: A full shot of a woman dressed in steampunk attire reads a book from a small library under the stairs.

4 best uses of the full shot.

The full shot is a versatile tool with numerous applications in cinematography.

1. Establish your character.

While establishing shots introduce setting, full shots give an actor the opportunity to communicate a lot of information about their character without uttering a line of dialogue. If there’s a full shot of your actor standing tall and then in a later full shot they’re hunched over, it conveys to the audience that the character is disappointed or discouraged.

2. Incorporate physical comedy.

A two-shot or a medium close-up is fine for filming an actor telling a joke, but slapstick comedy demands a different shot. From Charlie Chaplin to Jack Black, physical comedians save their biggest pratfalls for full shots, which capture every flail and shimmy.

3. Give your story context.

A full shot is also effective for showing off sets or wardrobe. Whether your movie is a period piece with lavish costumes or you want the audience to see that your character is wearing an orange jumpsuit and walking into a jail, a full shot is great for showing how your character occupies space in their world.

4. Add thrills to your fight scenes.

If you’ve ever watched a Jackie Chan movie, you’ve seen how full shots can enhance a fight scene by showing off massive brawls and incredible stunts. If you’re combining your full shot with a tracking shot to follow an actor fighting their way through a scene, it’s important to block the action carefully so they stay in frame through every camera movement.


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How to set up a full shot.

When you’re planning to use a full shot in your movie, it helps to be aware of your environment. If you’re shooting a full shot for a scene set the morning after a wild party, you’ll want to be sure that the space around your characters has been dressed with props and set decoration to look messy and damaged.


“You’re going to want to have your actor come in and stand in front of the camera so you can get a sense of their eye level and adjust the focal length to fit them,” recommends professional cinematographer Paulius Kontijevas. Depending on how tall your actor is, you may need to move your camera farther away from the actor to get their head and toes in the frame. If you haven’t got the space to move back, have your director of photography switch to a wider camera lens.


“Decide what you want to see and what you don’t want to see,” Kontijevas adds. “Ask yourself if you want to see more of the ceiling or more of the floor, and then zoom in and adjust your camera angle accordingly.”


 While camera setups like the high-angle shot or the Dutch angle use the positioning of the camera to give the audience details about a character, the full shot gives the actor the space to convey that information on their own through a stellar performance.   

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