You’ve probably heard of these shots, even if you’ve never stepped foot in film class. So how do you know which one to use — and when?

When you boil down all the different types of camera shots, there are really only two: the close-up and the wide. It’s a pretty simple concept, but if you’re just getting started in filmmaking or video production, it can be hard to decide which shot to choose in which situation. Each shot conveys a different message, and choosing one depends on which type of lens you want to use and how you want to direct the audience’s attention. In this video tutorial, we’ll help you decide which shot is best (and when) for your project.

Let’s get started!

The Close-up Shot

Back to Basics: Mastering Wide and Close-up Shots — Close-up Shot
Image via ArtFamily.

The close-up is the go-to shot when you’re trying to capture minute details — essentially taking the micro and making it macro. This type of shot is perfect for capturing emotions. Since people are generally very expressive, when you’re shooting a close-up, you can really capture minuscule expressions — such as a quivering lip or a sidelong glance — that can bring a whole new level of context to your shot.

The close-up is also great for homing in on dialogue that you don’t want your audience to miss. Since most of us glean a lot of information by reading someone’s lips while they’re talking, if you can center your subject’s face within the frame, your audience will take more away from the scene than they would with a wider shot.

Use a telephoto lens to capture your close-ups (that’s a lens in the 50mm+ range) with a shallow depth of field. When you add more dimension to your shot with this kind of selective focus, you can direct your audience’s attention precisely where you want it.

The Wide Shot

Back to Basics: Mastering Wide and Close-up Shots — Wide Shot
Image via Alexey Kruten.

When you need to condense a lot of visual information into a smaller frame, a wide shot is your best bet. Whether you’re trying to capture a sweeping landscape, a conversation, or simply a stationary building, a wide shot gives you the flexibility you need for more complex shots. Using wide shots during a dialogue scene can connect your subjects to the environment of your composition. Capturing both of your actors in the same frame allows your audience to connect them, rather than alternating from close-up to close-up. It is also great for establishing shots.

For a wide shot, you want to use a . . . well . . . wide lens. These will be between 15mm-35mm in length, and they can capture a wider frame than a telephoto lens. With wide shots, your depth of field might not be as shallow as you’d see with a close-up shot, since most of the information on-screen is going to be in focus. Use this to your advantage — set your actors against interesting backgrounds so you can build out your composition and add depth.

Which One Do I Choose?

To be honest, you should use both shots — if you have the time to capture both. Having more coverage than you think you need will save you some headache when you begin your edits. By capturing both shots, you can choose which compositions best suit your project rather than being stuck with only a single shot.

Looking for more information on filmmaking and video production? Check out these tutorials.