Composing and Framing Your Shots

  1. Extra Long Shot: subject is very small. Good for showing subject in his/her environment; good for establishing shot.
  2. Long Shot: subject fills the frame from head to toe. Good for showing the subject in action
  3. Medium Shot: subject fills the frame from head to waist. Perfect for interviews and showing hand gestures.
  4. Medium Close Up: subject fills the frame from head to shoulders. Also good for interviews and gives you more intimacy with character.
  5. Close Up: subject’s head fills the frame. Good for emotions but use sparingly
  6. Extra Close Up: less than the subject’s head fills the frame (like just eyes or mouth or scar insert shots). Good to show details of certain elements like injuries or hand movements.

Primary Shot Movements

  1. ZOOM IN/OUT: Zoom in good for showing emotion or particular details. Zoom out is good for reveal a subject or object in its environment. Remember to zoom slowly (but not too slow!)
  2. PAN LEFT/RIGHT: Camera pivots left or right. Good for following subject or moving from one subject to another subject or object. Let the subject lead your pan, not the opposite.
  3. TRACK LEFT/RIGHT/FORWARDS/BACKWARDS: You and the camera walk with the subject. Try to keep the same frame size as you track with the subject. Be as smooth as possible by walking exactly like the subject is walking.
  4. TILT UP/DOWN: Camera pivots up or down. Good for revealing something that the subject might be holding, or following a subject as he/she moves.

Remember: Experiment with all of the various framing and movement shots – and always try to hold still for 10 seconds before and after each movement and avoid “hose-piping”!


Whatever subject you are filming, the classic concerns of composition–what is in your shot and where it is placed within the frame– are as important to shooting video as they are to photography and painting. Balance, perspective, shape and form should all be considered with each shot. It’s good to remember that you will be telling a story with your program. Where you decide to put the camcorder, how close or wide the shot you decide to use, and what you decide to film, will all influence what your audience will understand from the pictures you are showing them. You can tell a very different story from filming the same event from different perspectives or from what you decide to favor and what you choose to ignore.


Framing your shot well is very important. Good framing will largely go unnoticed by your audience but a badly framed shot is instantly recognizable. Trust your eye on this as almost everyone has a natural ability to compose a well-framed shot really without trying.

Types of shot:

As much of what you shoot will include people, it is a good idea to become familiar with the five main standard types of shot size which will be the most comfortable for your viewers to watch.

The first is a “wide shot” or “establisher” as it is sometimes called. This type of shot gives the audience an awareness of the scale and space of an area or an idea of where they are before you begin to pick out detail. If two people are sitting in a room together talking to each other, your wide shot or establisher will show the two of them in frame together in order to show their position in relation to each other before you begin to film them closer in frame.

The second type of shot is a “long shot”. This type of shot shows a person from head to toe. Be careful with headroom here. Too much space above a person’s head in the frame will look strange as will too much space between the person’s feet and the bottom of frame.

The third type of shot is a “mid shot”. This type of shot shows your subject from just below waist level to just above the top of their head. This type of shot can be used for formal interviews. It gives the viewer a sense of a respectful distance from the subject whilst still making them the prominent figure in the image.

The fourth type of shot is a “close up” and can be used to draw the viewer nearer to the action or the words that are being said. This type of shot shows your subject from mid-chest to almost the top of their head and is ideal for most interviews.

The last size of shot is the “tight close up” which can be used when you are filming an interview for the more intimate moments. The shot cuts through the top of the person’s head and also part of their chin. Remember, it is better to lose more of the person’s headroom than it is to lose much of their chin from the frame. A tight close up can also be used to pick out detail within a scene. By using it you are telling your audience what they should be looking at or focusing their attention upon. A good combination of all these shots allows an editor to cut a scene or story together.

If you’re interested in a more detailed guide on low-budget filmmaking techniques and the various shots, then check out this video from alfredbrownjohn (9:29)

Rule of thirds:

A good guideline to follow for framing your shots well is the “rule of thirds”. The rule of thirds means that you should put horizontal or vertical lines, such as the horizon or someone standing in your picture along imaginary lines that divide the frame into thirds. This is far more interesting for the eye. Don’t place subjects right in the middle of the frame simply because they are important. It’s far better to have the horizon either two thirds from the top of the frame or two thirds from the bottom. And if you are filming someone standing in front of a wider scene it’s good to have them standing slightly to the left or to the right of the frame.

If you are interviewing someone make sure that they have enough talking space. If they are looking over to the left of the frame you should move them further to the right of your viewfinder and vice versa so that they have space to move their head while they are talking without disappearing out of the frame. In fact, the rule of thirds applies here too. A good guideline with close-up shots is to keep your subject’s eyes a third of the way down from the top of the frame.

– Frame shots properly

– Use the rule of thirds

– Interviewees should look into the frame

– Shoot interviews at eye level

– Action should move into the frame

What’s Next? Tips for Getting Good Sound

Content adapted from the original guide, which was produced for a WITNESS-HURIFO Training in July 2005 by Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt.

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