Medium close-ups vs. other camera shot types.
The type of camera shot a filmmaker chooses for any scene can make a big difference in how the scene affects the viewer. In addition to capturing the action in the frame, every shot establishes relationships between subjects or between subjects and their environment. For most scenes, it’s important to make sure you’re close enough to capture the action and emotion of a scene but not so close you’re overwhelming the viewer.
Watch out for going too wide
Once you’ve set up a scene with an establishing shot, you can use a wide shot (also known as a long shot or full shot) to show your subjects in the context of their surroundings. This type of shot helps make characters’ spatial relationships and power dynamics clear to viewers. Full shots are also great for capturing bodies moving through their environment, but if you try to tell your whole story from this distance, your viewers may begin to feel like they’re watching surveillance video.
Moving closer to the subject, a medium shot frames a person from the waist up. “It’s half-environment and half-subject,” director and photographer Alicia J. Rose says. The viewer can pick up gestures and facial expressions while maintaining a sense of the background. This shot works well for physical comedy or moments when it’s important for the viewer to see both the subjects and the space around them, but for conversation it’s still a bit far away.
But also don’t go too narrow
On the opposite end of the shot-size spectrum, close-ups and extreme close-ups fill the frame with the subject’s face. These are intimate and intense shots that filmmakers tend to use sparingly. “In a close-up, you are just all about that person, focusing on them, seeing their eyes, seeing into their soul,” Rose says. During a moment of great tension or epiphany, you might zoom in on your subject’s face or glide in with a Steadicam, but if you spend too much time in close-up, you risk exhausting your audience.
Frame your shot just right
The medium close-up is the Goldilocks of shot types because it puts the audience at just the right distance from the subjects’ faces. It’s perfect for capturing scenes of people talking to the camera or each other or performing other relatively stationary activities. “The medium close-up is semi-intimate,” says videographer and editor Lisa Bolden. “It’s almost like having a comfortable conversation with a person. It puts you at a conversational distance,” Bolden says.
The viewer still gets a sense of space in a medium close-up, but the background might be more textural. If it suits the mood of the shot, you can use a shallow depth of field to create dreamy bokeh effects in the background.
In a two shot (a shot with two subjects in the frame), when people are talking, arguing, or kissing, the medium close-up works well. In fact, most classic movie kisses happen in medium close-up.
Over the shoulder
Over-the-shoulder shots are often medium close-ups as well. Whether you stay behind one subject or use a shot-reverse shot to cut back and forth from one subject to another, the over-the-shoulder shot can pull viewers into a conversation. By changing the camera angle to a high angle above or below the person facing the camera, a medium close-up can convey strength or weakness as one character looms over the other.
Create medium close-ups in post.
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