15 Camera Shots Every Movie Fan Should Know

8. Locked-down shot

An unusual technique as far as visual storytelling goes, the locked-down shot keeps the camera on the same subject even when something new starts happening out of frame; what would usually happen is a camera movement or a new shot to include the new elements of the action. This effect creates suspense in regard of what the spectator knows is happening but cannot actually see yet.

EXAMPLE: Manhattan (1979)

Woody Allen often employs locked-down shots. For example, in the museum scene of Manhattan he stays on Mariel Hemingway’s Tracy and on his own character while they start talking to a couple which remains off-screen for a while.


9. Over-the-shoulder shot

This shot is a very common one, and it is taken from behind a character (you can usually see his shoulder or part of his head); its main use is in dialogue scenes, and while it can be alternated with the reverse shot of the other character talking, sometimes it is also used to keep a character out of a scene while someone is talking to him, thus creating suspense about his reactions or even his identity.

EXAMPLE: Heat (1995)

Heat’s restaurant scene is one of the most iconic dialogue scenes ever produced, mainly because of the two actors involved. The scene alternates the two characters by using over-the-shoulder shots.


10. P.O.V shot

The point-of-view shot shows the scene from the eyes of a character. It is a device to make the scene subjective and identify the spectator with a character since it shows everything he sees the way he sees it. A particular version of p.o.v. shot is the one used in “found-footage” movies where we see everything through a camera or a device held by a character.

EXAMPLE: Lady in the Lake (1943)

Lady in the Lake is one of the few movies completely shot in the point of view of a character, who in this case is private detective Philip Marlowe. The aim of director/protagonist Robert Montgomery was to visually convey the first-person style of Raymond Chandler’s novels, but the reception for this experimental film were quite mixed.


11. Bird’s-eye Shot

The bird’s-eye shot looks at a scene from directly above it. It is not to be confused with the aerial shot, which is more angled and requires more movement from the camera; still, both the aerial shot and the bird’s-eye can be used as establishing shots. The bird’s-eye is also a good technique to isolate a character or make him or her look smaller or isolated.

EXAMPLE: Zodiac (2007)

In Zodiac, David Fincher uses a very high bird’s-eye view in order to follow a car through the streets of the city. This shot qualifies as bird’s-eye since the car stays directly below the camera and at the center of the shot.


12. Iris Shot

A true classic of visual storytelling, an iris shot begins or ends a scene with the expansion or the closing of a black circle. It was very frequently used in silent films, and movies from that era are often identified or parodied through this technique. An additional advantage from using an iris shot is the chance to concentrate the viewer’s attention on a particular element of the scene by making the circle open or close around it.

EXAMPLE: The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

In his second Hollywood movie after Citizen Kane, Orson Welles employs the Iris technique to end a scene in which Joseph Cotten’s character rides way in a carriage, and does so by closing the circle on the carriage itself.


13. Crane Shot

A crane shot films a scene from above (it is usually taken from an elevated crane or a jib) and moves vertically, either upwards or downwards. It usually has a descriptive purpose since it shows the setting of the scene in full; it can also be used to express isolation if the camera moves away from a character.

EXAMPLE: To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

The spectacular car chase scene from To Live and Die in L.A. was directed by William Friedkin, who already gave the world a similarly memorable chase in 1971 with The French Connection. For the scene Friedkin used remote cranes to give the spectator a better view of the overall action and increase the spectacularity of the moment.


14. Tracking Shot

A tracking shot follows the subject of a scene for an extended time; the term refers to both the smoother tracking shots made with a dolly and the less regular sequences which use a steadycam or even hand held cameras (like in the tracking shot of Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men).

The main effect of this technique is to put a person or an object at the center of a dynamic moment: it can be described as staying on an element and at the same time showing a changing environment around it. It is not to be confused with long takes.

EXAMPLE: Atonement (2007)

This 5 and 1/2 minutes shot follows James McAvoy’s character through the beach of Dunkirk during World War II’s retreat of the British forces. The shot moves from the character to other soldiers, but it is a continuous tracking shot showing the desolation and sense of despair of both the protagonist and the other soldiers.


15. Long Take

A long take is a prolonged shot of a single scene and has no cuts; if a long take covers a whole sequence, it is called a sequence shot. Long takes and sequence shots are among the most talked about techniques in cinema since they always require an impressive technical ability but also have an almost breath-taking effect on the viewer.

When employing long takes, directors often add many camera movements or cover a lengthy space to underline or enhance the shot’s effect.

EXAMPLE: The Russian Ark (2002)

Set in the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg, The Russian Ark was directed by renowned master Alexander Sokurov and is composed of a single 96-minute take; this impressive technical achievement garnered much attention and reached a part of the public which wasn’t familiar with Sokurov’s experimental and conceptual works. Fourteen years after its release, the film remains one of the greatest achievements of recent filmmaking history.

Author Bio: Riccardo Basso is an Italian cinephile specializing in Humanities and Philosophy. He has only recently started writing about his favorite interest, cinema, but wishes to continue doing it (just don’t tell his cinephile friends he has seen every 007 movie at least three times).