Video: A medium long shot follows a photographer as they walk through the remains of an abandoned building

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Discover the versatility of the medium long shot.

Unlike a medium close-up shot, the medium long shot gives your characters some space to breathe. Learn more about this type of camera shot and how you can use it in almost any scene.

Get to know the medium long shot.

  • The medium long shot frames everything from the subject’s face down to their waist.
  • It’s a versatile shot with a wide variety of uses in films of any genre.
  • When preparing for a medium long shot, choose a lens that suits your setting.       

The many uses of the medium long shot.

The medium long shot is one of the most common shots in filmmaking. Cinematographers use this shot size, which frames characters from their waist up, to show how lonely a character is at the center of an empty frame. Or they use it to show a character talking with a group of friends. It’s a great shot for filming a fight scene or a dialogue scene, or even just a point-of-view shot.

 

“It’s really a utility shot,” says filmmaker Jesse Bettis. “You could shoot an entire film using only the medium long shot and still tell the full story.”

What are other names for a medium long shot?

Over its long career, the medium long shot has accumulated different names. Although it’s sometimes called the medium full shot or medium wide shot, true cinematography aficionados dubbed it the three-fourths shot for its ability to capture roughly three-fourths of an actor’s frame.

 

In the 1950s, when Western films began making frequent use of this type of shot to frame their stoic gunfighters, foreign film critics began referring to it as the cowboy shot — or sometimes the American shot. A two-shot is the name for a medium shot that frames two characters together. No matter what you call it, a medium long shot is a valuable addition to your film’s shot list.

Examples of medium long shots.

If you want to see a medium long shot in action, look no further than one of the most famous movie moments of the 1990s: Jack and Rose standing on the ship’s bow in James Cameron’s Titanic. From an extreme close-up of their fingers intertwining, Cameron cuts to a medium long shot that’s wide enough that we can see the sky and the ship behind them, but still close enough to see the couple’s facial expressions and tightly clasped hands.

 

In her Academy Award-winning film Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell uses a medium long shot to introduce the protagonist Cassie, seemingly passed out drunk on a bench in a bar. The wide expanse around her makes her look small, helpless, and vulnerable — but as we soon find out, she’s still very much in control.

 

The opening fight scene in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York uses medium long shots to show two opposing gangs squaring off for a brawl. The shot keeps us close enough to see their menacing body language, while also creating space at the sides of the frame to show off the crowds of combatants behind them, waiting to fight.

How do you shoot a medium long shot?

The key to the medium long shot is its simplicity. You can set up your own in just a few steps:

1. Create your frame.

Set up your camera and adjust the zoom until your subject or subjects are framed from their lower waist to the top of their head.

2. Find your focus.

Fine-tune the focal length of your shot to ensure that the subject of your shot is clearly in focus.

3. Keep it steady.

Whether you’re using a tripod to shoot from one spot or you’re creating a tracking shot that follows along with the movements of your characters, try to keep the camera as steady as possible to maintain the framing and focus.

An over-the-shoulder photo captures a camera operator filming a medium shot through his on-camera monitor

Tips to make the most of your medium long shot.

Before you film a medium long shot, give some thought to what you want the shot to convey. “If you want to show that a character has power in the situation, shoot them from a slightly lower camera angle so we’re looking up at them,” Bettis says. “If you want to show their power is diminished, shoot it from a bit of a high angle, so the camera looks down on them.”

 

You should also consider the setting for your scene and how much of it you want the audience to see. For example, if you’re shooting an interior scene and you want to show off your set dressing, go with a wide-angle lens to fully capture the background surrounding your characters.

       

“But if you’re shooting in the desert and there’s something scenic like a mountain range in the distance, you should go with a longer lens,” Bettis explains. “A long lens compresses the image and makes the background appear much larger and closer to your subject.”

 

If you want to create a sense of claustrophobia, try using a long lens to shoot interior scenes. Tense, gripping thrillers like Uncut Gems use this tactic to create a feeling of constant pressure bearing down to suggest that the characters are trapped and unable to escape.

 

Although it doesn’t offer the sweeping bird’s-eye views of the establishing shot or the intimacy of a close-up, the medium long shot is the perfect tool to make any scene sing.



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