Every good video (or movie) begins with footage that orients the viewer to the setting. Just a few seconds of footage can provide helpful background and backstory. With that in mind, contributing footage that can be used for these purposes is a great way to expand your portfolio and boost your sales. Follow these three valuable tips, and you’ll be shooting enviable establishing shots with the best of them.

1. Establishing Locations

What makes your location iconic or unique? If you’re setting the scene in New York City, you can include an opening shot of something like the Statue of Liberty — a symbol everyone recognizes, even if they’ve never been to the Big Apple. But your shot doesn’t have to be something as obvious as that. You can set things up with something more mundane, too. As an exercise, try picking one structure, like a mountaintop, and locating it in your frame. It doesn’t have to be site-specific; people viewing your opening shot will know that your video revolves around the outdoors.

Afrodita Bulajic’s time lapse featuring the Statue of Christ is a great establishing shot for a night scene in Rio de Janiero.

For shots from more cities, explore our A Map of the World clipbox.

2. Establishing Concepts

What is the theme of your scene? Transitional shots can be used to set the mood for any piece. For seamless editing, make the first and last frames of two clips cut together the same color; black and white are used most often. (Another option is to key with green screen or alpha.) Once you have viewers hooked using this method, you won’t lose them from scene to scene. Compelling images as standalone shots are powerful, but if you want to deliver a tighter narrative, you’ll need to think about how to weave together different frames in inspiring ways.

Brian Longbotham’s animation of money sucked into a pit is an awesome addition to any film on wealth, the economy, or government spending.

For more ideas, check out our full Transitions clipbox.

3. Establishing Viewpoints

When do you need more than one shot? Sequences can be used to show relationships through a series of related shots. For example, a wide shot of all the characters in one room not only shows who is present, but also their distances from one another. The viewer will begin to make connections and assumptions; traditionally, medium shots and closeups of the characters will follow this shot as the scene progresses, reaffirming some of the conceptions that have already been made. Doing the reverse — beginning with a closeup and cutting away to the wide shot later — will place a certain importance on the selected character that will permeate the rest of the scene.

Palel Menyaylo’s happy family narrative works well as a sequence and as three separate shots.

For more examples like this, visit our Sequences clipbox.

So what do you think? Are you ready to roll with these tips? Do you have additional pointers you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

– Alexandra Rosenmann