Students can then move to studying the relationships between
separate shots through analysis of various film techniques employed
in cinematography. For background reading on various techniques,
the two best resources are:
Bordwell and Thompson’s (2004) Film Art, An
Introduction (7th ed.) — a
sample chapter on Film Production, Distribution, and Exhibition
Louise Giannetti (2002), Understanding Movies, (Prentice Hall, 9th
Click here for an online
study guide to this textbook.
Another useful book is James Monaco’s (2000) How
to View a Film (Oxford University Press, 3rd ed.) which
is available as a book, as a “multimedia edition” which
provides for extensive use of pdf files and visual materials.
For English teachers, John Golden’s (2001) Reading
in the Dark: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom
(NCTE) is a useful resource because he integrates study of film
technique with study of literature based on shared reading strategies
— predicting, responding, questioning, and storyboarding,
as well as links between aspects of characterization, point of view,
and irony in film and literature.
In studying different types of techniques, what’s essential
is that students understand the underlying purposes for why filmmakers
are using these different techniques. Simply having students memorize
a lot of definitions for different techniques will do little good
unless they are able to understand the ways in which these techniques
are used to develop the storyline, setting, or characters. You may
therefore want to have students construct their own script and storyboard
(see later material on this) that requires them to apply their knowledge
to thinking about purposes for using different techniques.
The meaning of these different techniques is based on a set of
Hollywood film conventions in which certain techniques have become
associated with certain conventional meanings based on realist representations
of the world. However, it is important to recognize that these conventions
have been and continue to be violated by more experimental or expressionist
filmmakers who do not believe that they need to conform to realist
assumptions. For example, most realists attempt to portray a smooth
transition between shots so that someone walking through a house
moves seamlessly from room to room. Experimental filmmakers may
not perceive the need to follow these conventions. They may, for
example, employ a set of jump-cuts in which the person is in one
side of the house but suddenly appears at the other side of the
If you are working in an on-line context, you can have students
share on-line film trailers and have them identify uses of different
Frames. One of the most basic concepts is the idea of
the frame — what is included as well as left out of a shot.
This relates to what is known as “off-frame” action
— the fact that an audience may be aware of someone or something
that is outside of the frame — a lurking murderer. The size
and focus of the frame defines the types of different shots employed.
Shots also differ in terms of where they position the audience in
relationship to the setting, persons, or objects portrayed.
Establishing/extreme long shot. A shot that serves to
initially set the scene is an establishing shot often framed by
an extreme-long shot of a landscape or locale in which characters
are only specks in the scene.
Long-shot. In contrast to the extreme long-shot, people
are now shown at the point to which the audience can view their
Medium shot. A medium shot portrays the people’s
bodies from the waist up; in some cases, an over-the-shoulder shot
with two people portrays one person looking up or down at the other
person. In the 1950s, females were often shown looking up at males,
not only because they were often shorter than the males, but also
because this shot implied a power imbalance.
Close-up shot. A close-up shot often fills the screen
with only a face or an object for the purpose of dramatizing nonverbal
reactions or signaling the symbolic importance of an object.
Wide-angle lens. If a filmmaker wants to emphasize the
relationships between foreground and background aspects of a face
or object, they will use a wide-angle lens that creates an exaggerated
Telephoto lens. If a filmmaker wants to give the appearance
that a person or object is closer to the audience, even though they
may be quite far away, they will use a telephoto lens. This can
be used in shots in which a person is running towards the audience,
in a manner that seems like a long time.
Low-angle shot. If a filmmaker wants to place the audience
as looking up on a person or object, they use a low angle shot,
often for the purpose of associating power with the person or object.
High-angle shot. In contrast, a shot down on the person
or object places the audience in a dominant position over that person
Pan shot. A pan shot is used to move or scan across
Tracking shot. A tracking shot is used to following
a moving person or object; the camera itself is moving, on a dolly
or moving car.
Zoom shot. A zoom shot is used to focus in on or to
move back from a person or object.
Point-of-view shot. A point-of-view shot is designed
to mimic the perspective of a person so that the audience is experiencing
the world through the eyes of the person.
of different types of shots
Film Institute. (2002). Introduction to film language.
[CD Rom]. London: British Film Institute.
Glossary of Film Terms
Vocabulary for Film Studies
Movie Guide Glossary
excellent links to different aspects of film/production
The Motion Picture Industry Behind-the-Scenes
Video production skills
in the Classroom: Resources
of links to film technique resources
Online: Making Movies