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Empire Film Studies 101

THE 30 CAMERA SHOTS EVERY FILM FAN NEEDS TO KNOW
From whip pans to crash zooms and everything in between

The cinematographer's art often seems as much black magic as technique, taking a few actors milling around a set and turning it into something cinematic, evocative and occasionally iconic. Amidst all the voodoo and mystery, however, there is concrete science behind those money shots so we've identified thirty of the most important to help you distinguish your dolly zooms from your Dutch tilts.

WORDS IAN FREER   ILLUSTRATIONS OLLY GIBBS

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THE SHOT
Aerial Shot
An exterior shot filmed from — hey! — the air. Often used to establish a (usually exotic) location. All films in the '70s open with one — FACT.

THE EXAMPLE
The opening of The Sound Of Music (1965). Altogether now, “The hills are alive..."

THE SHOT
Arc Shot
A shot in which the subject is circled by the camera. Beloved by Brian De Palma, Michael Bay.

THE EXAMPLE
The shot in De Palma's Carrie (1976) where Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) and Tommy Ross (William Katt) are dancing at the prom. The swirling camera move represents her giddy euphoria, see?


THE SHOT
Bridging Shot
A shot that denotes a shift in time or place, like a line moving across an animated map. That line has more air miles than Richard Branson.

THE EXAMPLE
The journey from the US to Nepal in Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981).

THE SHOT
Close Up
A shot that keeps only the face full in the frame. Perhaps the most important building block in cinematic storytelling.

THE EXAMPLE
Falconetti's face in The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (1928).


THE SHOT
Medium Shot
The shot that utilizes the most common framing in movies, shows less than a long shot, more than a close-up. Obviously.

THE EXAMPLE
Any John Ford film (i.e. The Searchers), the master of the mid shot.

THE SHOT
Long Shot
A shot that depicts an entire character or object from head to foot. Not as long as an establishing shot. Aka a wide shot.

THE EXAMPLE
Omar Sharif approaching the camera on camel in David Lean's Lawrence Of Arabia (1962).


THE SHOT
Cowboy Shot
A shot framed from mid thigh up, so called because of its recurrent use in Westerns. When it comes, you know Clint Eastwood is about to shoot your ass.

THE EXAMPLE
The three-way standoff in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966).

THE SHOT
Deep Focus
A shot that keeps the foreground, middle ground and background ALL in sharp focus. Beloved by Orson Welles (and cinematographer Gregg Toland). Production designers hate them. Means they have to put detail in the whole set.

THE EXAMPLE
Thatcher (George Couloris) and Kane's mother (Agnes Moorehead) discussing Charles (Buddy Swan)'s fate while the young boy plays in the background in Citizen Kane (1941).


THE SHOT
Dolly Zoom
A shot that sees the camera track forward toward a subject while simultaneously zooming out creating a woozy, vertiginous effect. Initiated in Hitchcock's Vertigo (1959), it also appears in such scarefests as Michael Jackson's Thriller video (1983), Shaun Of The Dead (2004), The Evil Dead (1981) and The Goofy Movie (1995). It is the cinematic equivalent of the phrase "Uh-oh".

THE EXAMPLE
Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) sees the Kintner kid (Jeffrey Voorhees) get it in Jaws (1975). Not the first but the best.

THE SHOT
Dutch Tilt
A shot where the camera is tilted on its side to create a kooky angle. Often used to suggest disorientation. Beloved by German Expressionism, Tim Burton, Sam Raimi and the designers of the villains hideouts in '60s TV Batman.

THE EXAMPLE
The beginning of the laboratory scene in Bride Of Frankenstein (1935).

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Your Comments

1 Check your facts!!!
A steadicam is not hydraulically balanced you guys should really check your facts. I expect much better from Empire. A steadicam is balanced by an isoelastic arm using springs not hydraulics like you state. More

Posted by tom2201 on Wednesday February 5, 2014, 23:38

2 The Michael Bay shot II
A low shot in slight slow motion of someone standing up with the sun behind them. More

Posted by falseprophet7 on Saturday January 11, 2014, 22:23

3 Aerial Shot
We love how the Aerial Shot starts it off! More

Posted by SkyCamUsa on Thursday January 9, 2014, 18:00

4 The Leone EXTREME close-up
Has to have it's own category, the squinting eyes, the twitching facial muscles, the tension, the agendas and machinations of each protagonist writ large but only revealed to the audience... More

Posted by Moonbucket on Sunday December 29, 2013, 14:02

5
The dolly zoom in The Fellowship of the ring is one of my recent favourites. More

Posted by apensiveman on Sunday December 29, 2013, 12:34

6 The Spike Lee
What about the Spike Lee shot? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cu9-UymSApM More

Posted by AishaRh on Tuesday December 24, 2013, 23:21

7 RE: @ jackmanstoletheshow
L: 2early4flapjacks From the sounds of it, the kind of shot you're meaning is a 'Split Dioptic'. It's a shot which is split down the middle, dividing two contrasting levels of focus on either sides of the screen - one side for foreground, one side for background. The dividing line down the middle is usually aligned with a vertical line in the frame (i.e. a dooreframe etc.) in an attempt to conceal the contrast in focus. This trick allows the camera to show something extremely close on one side of the shot (often a face) and something far in the distance on the other, both in perfect focus. It's kind of synonymous with gritty suspense genre films from the 70s, 80s, (it was favoured by directors like Brian De Palma - probably because of the surreal, dislocated quality it lends the frame) as opposed to deep focus in which the whole frame is shown in perfect focus completely seamlessly. The latter tends to be seen as more classy and oft assosiated with films like Citizen KaMore

Posted by jackmanstoletheshow on Sunday December 22, 2013, 19:32

8
The scene in Goodfellas where Henry leads his girlfriend through the back way of the club was indeed filmed on a Steadicam but the shot is a Sequence Shot (which used to be called a Continuous Shot or a "One-er"). More

Posted by djdarrenjames on Friday December 20, 2013, 04:50

9 @ jackmanstoletheshow
From the sounds of it, the kind of shot you're meaning is a 'Split Dioptic'. It's a shot which is split down the middle, dividing two contrasting levels of focus on either sides of the screen - one side for foreground, one side for background. The dividing line down the middle is usually aligned with a vertical line in the frame (i.e. a dooreframe etc.) in an attempt to conceal the contrast in focus. This trick allows the camera to show something extremely close on one side of the shot (often a face) and something far in the distance on the other, both in perfect focus. It's kind of synonymous with gritty suspense genre films from the 70s, 80s, (it was favoured by directors like Brian De Palma - probably because of the surreal, dislocated quality it lends the frame) as opposed to deep focus in which the whole frame is shown in perfect focus completely seamlessly. The latter tends to be seen as more classy and oft assosiated with films like Citizen Kane, but I really love Dioptic shMore

Posted by 2early4flapjacks on Friday December 20, 2013, 02:18

10
Enjoyable read, but there's a shot missing, I think. Don't know its name, frustratingly, but examples are Bruno taking a phone call at home while his parents talk in Strangers on a Train, and Nolte saying 'Do that again' to Lange in the Cape Fear remake. Suppose it could be deep focus, but it's just background and foreground. More

Posted by jackmanstoletheshow on Thursday December 19, 2013, 23:23

11 But you forgot...
..The Mariachi Tracker... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5yTmVxRN2g More

Posted by CHEWIEHAN1 on Thursday December 19, 2013, 14:56

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