Advanced Video Camera and Editing

The Shot

The Fundamental Unit of Editing

How do you decide when to use certain shots?

The editor is faced with multiple choices, whether to use a wide shot or a close-up, or perhaps the more subjective point-of-view shot. When watching two characters interact in a dialogue, the editor might decide that an over-the-shoulder shot is more appropriate, allowing viewers to scrutinise reactions while the other person is talking. The other choice would be to use a close-up, but the bottom-line when selecting shots is knowing that some shots carry more meaning than others. The editor chooses the shot that is more crucial to the narrative, to advance information in the story and convey meaning. An extraordinary piece of dialogue might scream for a close-up, which alerts the audience that what is being said is important and plays a major part in the plot. Close-ups also provide the subtext, or unspoken dialogue, which is understood by the person's expression. Therefore, reaction shots that show the person listening might become just as important to the story as the shot of the person who is talking.

All pictures below are courtesy, Doctor Who, "Father's Day" BBC-Wales, 2005

The Close Up

Such a shot has a powerful impact on the viewer. For obvious reasons, the close-up brings us closer to the action namely within the personal space of the character, which is reserved for more personal moments. We are likely to feel greater sympathy for characters who are seen in close-up. The longer we hold on a close-up, the more sympathy we feel, but also the more you can increase the tension due to the close proximity.

Additionally, close-ups reveal other aspects of a character's emotion, such as fear or awe. Because of the close proximity to the person, we can almost gather the sense of knowing what they're thinking. If the character is a villain, our feelings as the audience might be one of revulsion. This kind of close-up compels us to flee instinctively from the close proximity of the villain's features. 

The Extreme Close-Up

This shot draws greater attention to the subject by giving it a larger-than-life appeal. Because the ECU calls more attention to the subject, it is often more memorable to audiences. Additionally, the ECU adds to the dramatic intensity of a scene.

The 2-Shot
When two characters appear together in a shot they can be either harmonious or dis-harmonious, depending on the scene. Either way, the 2-Shot establishes the proximity of the characters to one another, and deepens our understanding of their relationship.
  • A harmonious 2-Shot is one where the composition appears balanced, especially when the characters face one another
  • A dis-harmonious 2-Shot is one that appears to lack balance, typically when one character is looking away.

Over-the-Shoulder Shot

These shots can be used to suggest tension, intimacy, desire, hatred. Like the 2-Shot, the OTS shows that the characters are sharing the same space, but the difference is that one of the characters always faces away from the camera. Typically, the camera shoots past the cheek of the person who is facing away so that it's possible to continue dialogue from another angle of the same person without having to worry about synching to their lips.

Point-of-View Shot
The POV gives audiences an exaggerated sense of intimacy by placing viewers in the head of the character to see what they see. If the shot belongs to the protagonist, then the POV is another way to help generate audience sympathy for the character. However, if the POV belongs to the antagonist, then the effect is one that generates fear or tension. When cutting to a POV shot the editor often starts by first showing the character's face and then to their POV to establish who's POV we're looking at.

The Protagonist POV Sequence. The conventional approach is to start with a shot of the protagonist, which establishes whose eyes the audience is looking through.

The Antagonist POV Sequence. In the sequence below, the sequence differs from the conventional approach in that it usually starts with just the POV, revealing later whose eyes we're looking through. Or, the sequence begins with an OTS, showing the spatial proximity between the characters, and then cuts to the antagonist's POV, which is then followed by the protagonist's POV. Finally, we see the reaction shot of the protagonist.

 1                                                                                          2

  3                                                                                        4

If all we see is the POV shot, then we won't know whose eyes we're looking through. Horror films succeed when information about whose eyes we're looking through is not revealed, at least not immediately. Horror films thrill audiences because the editing thwarts them at every available opportunity; the audience is left feeling tense and edgy. Nothing scares us worse than the unknown, of not being able to see the monster coming until the last possible moment. 

Back to Editing

Chapter 1 - Editing Aesthetics
Chapter 2 - Editing Guidelines
Chapter 3 - Rules of Editing
Chapter 4 - The Editing Process
Chapter 5 - The Shot
Chapter 6 - The Sequence
Chapter 7 - Pacing & Rhythm
Chapter 8 - Types of Edits
Chapter 9 - Common Editing Mistakes
Chapter 10 - Editing in Early Cinema