Film Study: Terminology

Cinematic Elements

Shots and Framing

Establishing Shot

  • Often a long shot or a series of shots that set the scene. It is used to establish setting and to show transitions between locations.

Long Shot (LS)

  • A shot from some distance. If filming a person, the full body is shown.  It may show the isolation or vulnerability of the character (also called a Full Shot).

Medium Shot (MS)

  • The most common shot. The camera seems to be a medium distance from the object being filmed. A medium shot shows the person from the waist up. The effect is to ground the story.

Close-Up (CS)

  • The image being shot takes up at least 80% of the frame.

Extreme Close-Up:

  • The image being shot is a part of the whole, such as an eye or a hand.

Two Shot

  • A scene between two people shot exclusively from an angle that includes both characters, more or less, equally. It is used in love scenes, where the interaction between the two characters is important.

Camera Angles

 Eye Level

  • A shot taken from a normal height; that is, the character’s eye level.
  • 90-95% of all shots are taken at eye level because it’s the most natural angle.

High Angle

  • The camera is above the subject.
  • This usually has the effect of making the subject look smaller than normal, giving him or her the appearance of being weak, powerless, and trapped.

Low Angle

  • The camera films the subject from below.
  • This usually has the effect of making the subject look larger than normal, therefore strong, powerful, threatening and authoritative.

Camera Movements


  • A stationary camera moves from side to side on a horizontal axis.


  • A stationary camera moves up or down along a vertical axis.


  • A stationary camera lens is adjusted to make an object seem to move closer to or further away from the camera.
    • Moving toward a character often precedes a personal or revealing movement,
    • Moving away distances, or separates the audience from the character.


  • The camera is on a track that allows it to move with the action. The term also refers to any camera mounted no a car, truck or helicopter.


  • The camera is on a crane over the action. This is used to create overhead shots.


High Key

  • The scene is flooded with light, creating a bright and open-looking scene.

Low Key

  • The scene is flooded with shadows and darkness, creating suspense or suspicion.

Bottom or Side Lighting

  • Direct lighting from below or the side, which often makes the subjet appear dangerous or evil.

Front or Back Lighting

  • Soft lighting on the actor’s face or from behind gives the appearance of innocence or goodness, “the halo effect”.



  • Sound that could logically be heard by the character in the film.


  • Sound that cannot be heard by the characters but is designed for the audience reaction only. An example might be ominous music for foreshadowing.

Theatrical Elements

Acting Choices

  • Acting choices are the ways the actors in the film choose to “act” their part. It could include how they walk, talk, or use certain gestures for effect.


  • Costume choices are always taken under extreme awareness of the scene and the overall mood/atmosphere the director is trying to portray.


  • The addition of props and how they add to the overall feeling of the scene is always taken into consideration. Remember, everything that you see in a film is put there for a reason and captured on camera for a particular effect.


  • The overall set of each scene is carefully planned out for the director to get his/her point across in the film.


  • Make-up has a tremendous amount of impact when filming. With the use of make-up, directors are able to film profound differences in the characters in an instant. Whether it is for an aging effect or to change the appearance of the actors playing a role, make-up plays an integral role in the making of films.

Editing Techniques


  • The most common editing technique. Two pieces of film are spliced together so that the film “cuts” from one image to another.


  • Can be to, or from black to white. It often implies that time has passed or may signify the end of a scene.
    • Fade in: A fade can begin in the darkness and gradually assume full brightness.
    • Fade out: the image gradually gets darker.


  • A kind of  fade in which one image is slowly replaced by another. It can create a connection between the two images.


  • A new image wipes off the previous image. A wipe is more fluid than a cut and quicker than a dissolve.


  • Cut or dissolve to action that happened in the past.


  • A shot of one subject, then another, then back to the first. It is often used for conversation or reaction shots.

Cross Cutting / Parallel Editing

  • Cuts between actions that are happening simultaneously. This technique is also called parallel editing. It can create tension or suspense and can form a connection between scenes.

Eye-Line Match

  •  Cut to an object, then to a person. This technique shows when a person seems to be looking at and can reveal a character’s thoughts.

Created by Nick Ioannidis


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