One other use for a wide-angle lens is a wide shot of an entire scene, known as a master shot. A master shot is often the first shot in a scene in order to show the audience where the characters are in relation to one another before cutting to a series of over-the-shoulder shots, close-up shots, and medium shots of the actors interacting.
This back and forth can help the audience connect with the characters by showing the subject’s face and their changing facial expressions, but you need a solid master shot to establish the scene. During post-production, it can also be helpful for the editor to have a scene they can cut back to that will help the rhythm of the edit, so the audience isn’t looking at the same two shots repeatedly.
Wide shots can set a scene’s mood.
Beyond just giving the audience spatial information about the scene and characters, a wide shot can convey an emotional or thematic message as well. Extreme long shots of the desert landscapes in Lawrence of Arabia complement the film’s epic storyline, while Westerns also make frequent use of scene-setting wide shots.
“The Hateful Eight does this really well. When you’re watching those wide shots of that area in the western US, you can see how cold it is. There’s nothing and nobody around. You’re isolated and alone,” Escobar explains. “And you feel for these characters, who just need to get to some kind of civilization without getting stuck out there.”
And while audiences that love Westerns will recognize their use of wide shots, although, ironically, a well-known angle called a cowboy shot is a fairly close look at an actor. Camera shots that frame the subject from the knees or mid-thigh to just over the top of the head to depict characters as confident and heroic (while zeroing in on critical actions, such as drawing a weapon) are so common that some cinematographers now call them cowboy shots.