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Considering Shot Size - Framing a Video Image

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 6/27/2011

Learn how to frame an image correctly in context, especially as it concerns the distance of the subjects and their positioning within the frame.

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    Framing a Video Image

    The size of the subjects within a video image frame can be as much of a creative choice as it is a purely visual one. The way subjects are positioned within a video image is important to the way they are perceived by the audience both in terms of character and in relation to the story space. The size and shape of them within the frame is really going to indicate everything to the audience, so you have to really plan these carefully.

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    Distance

    The first thing that you have to decide is how far away you want the audience to seem. If the characters are small in the frame, indicating that they are of a great amount of distance from the camera, you are going to make them seem disconnected to a degree. There may be indications of emotional distance in their persona, so you may want to make sure that this is the impression you are hoping to give. This can also make the audience feel like a voyeur that is observing them at a great distance. Either way it is inappropriate to match this great distance with dialogue audio at a normal volume, so try to make sure you are not doing this during a very intricate conversation unless it is only for brief moments.

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    Close Ups

    In the opposite way, very close subjects can make you feel claustrophobic and very personal. Do not do this is you are simply have random, cold exchanges between characters. This is also not going to be preferable for master's or establishing shots as these need to establish the physical geography of the story space for the audience. You want to use these close ups in coverage to maximize the potential of your subjects, which means that your actors need to make these moments their primary focus. Close ups are really made or broken by the performance of the subject, so make sure they are up for the task.

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    Physical Movement

    You can match distanced shots with closeness and intimacy of characters as long as you do not go too far away from the subjects and you use it to really display their physicality. This means that the wide open shots should be used to really show what they are doing with their body and their interaction either with the environment or other characters. Every shooting point needs to be motivated, so make sure that you watch your framings to see if you are getting the same emotional response that you are intending for the scene.

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    Establishing Shots

    Establishing shots are always going to be a difficult negotiation that you have to make. On the one hand you want to show the whole area for geography, but on the other you do not want to open up the entire world for the audience. Your film exists within a very specific story space, so you want to keep that central. Try to open up the image as much as possible and then gradually reduce it to just what you see as vitally important for establishing an area.