In close-ups, the subject’s face fills the frame. Italian director Sergio Leone became famous in the 1960s for extreme close-ups in his “spaghetti westerns.” Known now as Italian shots, these filled the frame with just the eyes or mouth of the subject, heightening the tension in the moments preceding violence.
Close-up shots allow for intense expression of emotion. “The closer you get, the more the viewer is going to identify with the character,” says writer and filmmaker David Andrew Stoler. “If you really want them to feel something in an extreme way, then you should get super close.”
One classic camera move is the push-in. “If you want the viewer to empathize with or understand the depth of a character, you can slowly push in on that character — make them bigger in the frame,” Stoler says. “That aligns the viewer with that character.” By contrast, a push-out highlights a character’s isolation. “You’re increasing the world around them and the distance between the viewer and the subject,” Stoler says. These types of moving shots usually require a dolly, jib, or Steadicam.
Cut-ins, or inserts, are close-up shots that capture small details like a subject’s hands or feet. If a character looks at a text on their phone, the director might want to capture a close-up of the phone screen. The cutaway, the opposite of the cut-in, jumps from the subject to something else, like from the startled expression on an actor’s face to a barking dog or from a ball crossing the goal line to fans cheering in the stands. Gathering shots like these can be useful for editing together multiple takes of the same scene.
In a point-of-view or POV shot, the camera is metaphorically inside the subject’s head, seeing the world through their eyes. Representing the perspective of a character, the camera can move in every way the subject can move. These shots can be intense — and potentially nauseating — for the audience (think of the POV captured by GoPro-mounted helmets). But they can also make for impactful storytelling as they capture the immediacy of lived experiences.
Camera angles and what they communicate.
The angle from which you shoot and the camera’s distance from the ground should always be conscious choices. Shooting upward or downward on a subject can subtly cue the audience into a character’s mental state or level of power compared to other characters in a scene.