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The Importance of Using "Establishing Shots"

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 3/15/2010

One of the most missed opportunities are "establishing shots", and they are important for creating a geographic location for your action. Here's what they are and why they are important.

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    It's a Hard Job

    All video producers have a difficult task on their hands. They have to create a world within their video that is believable and has depth and a sense of reality. Without this they are just a series of images, but once the audience begins to feel that there is a spatial environment in the story you are showing then they will be able to connect with the project. This is one of the hardest things about video as a medium because you must show a three-dimensional world on a flat screen. One thing that home digital video producers often forget are "establishing shots," which shows a building or place on a wide view before any of the action happens.

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    Establish Your Location

    Establishing shots are one of the most important shots you are going to get in your project. Without them the audience will not be able to understand where the action is happening or what significance this action has. Every time you shoot on a location, for whatever type of video project it is, you need to do some still shots of the location so that the entire location is able to be seen. Some digital video producers also prefer to throw in some slow zoom shots or lengthy panning shots, but it is vital to get some long still shots as well. When doing these it is important to keep the shots much longer than you would ever use. Though you may only use a few seconds of the shot, its best to get over ten seconds for each establishing shot. Once you have these shots you will be able to establish where a place is and what it looks like before the action begins there. In the editing process this simply means taking the best establishing shot you have of a given place, cutting it to just two or three seconds, and placing it before whatever action you have recorded at that location. Without this the viewer will be lost and distracted because they won't have a geographic reference to the outside world where they can correlate the action taking place. If you are going from one scene to another where someone is traveling from the previous scene to the location in the new scene then it may be advisable to show them arriving at the location in the establishing shot. This way the viewer can follow the subject from one location to another without getting lost. It is hard for the viewer to understand and connect with the changes in location because the world inside a film essentially has its own rules and geography. If you make sure to establish what a location looks like and where it is in this world every time you change location your audience should be able to move with you.