Vector illustration of a camera frame and subject

Camera Shot Sizes: The Definitive Guide

This is a definitive guide to the nine basic camera shot sizes you need to know for filmmaking, television, live streams, corporate events, IMAG, houses of worship, keynote speeches, education, government, concerts, festivals, and more.

Free printable posters, training documents, and cheat sheets are available for download at the bottom of the article.

Let's dive right in...


1. Extreme Wide Shot (EWS)

  • Suggested Live Director Calls: Wide, Bail, Out
  • Alternative Terms: Extreme Long Shot (ELS), Establishing Shot, Bail Out Shot, Cover Shot
Vector illustration of an Extreme Wide Shot
  • Composition Notes:
    1. Place the subject vertically in the frame to reveal areas above or below with the most interest
    2. Place subject along thirds breakpoints
    3. Entire subject stays well within action-safe area

The Extreme Wide Shot provides a context of the subject(s) within their environment.

This shot is also commonly used as an Establishing Shot - the first shot of a scene that helps the viewer understand where, when, what, and who.

In live events and broadcasts, this shot is also commonly referred to as the bail out or cover shot - giving the director a way to cut away from tighter shots during times of uncertainty or transition.

PRO TIP: Starting from an Extreme Wide Shot and slowly zooming/dollying in is a great way to bring the viewer into the scene. Inversely, slowly zooming/dollying out to an Extreme Wide Shot is also a great way to end parts, or all, of a scene by making the viewer feel as if they are being pulled away or removed from the action.


2. Wide Shot (WS)

  • Suggested Live Director Call: Loose
  • Alternative Term: Long Shot (LS)
Vector illustration of a Wide Shot
  • Composition Notes:
    1. Place the subject vertically in the frame to reveal areas above or below with the most interest
    2. Place subject along thirds breakpoints
    3. Entire subject stays well within action-safe area

Similar to the Extreme Wide Shot above, the Wide Shot reveals the subject(s) in slightly more detail while cropping out some of the surrounding environment.

In live events, this can be a good compromise to show a wider view of an audience/room while being able to crop out some potentially distracting elements like IMAG screens or lighting fixtures.


3. Full Shot (FS)

  • Suggested Live Director Calls: Full, Body, Toe
  • Alternative Terms: Head-to-toe Shot, Body Shot
Vector illustration of a Full Shot
  • Composition Notes:
    1. Subject's entire body should stay just within the boundaries of the action-safe area, even when arms are raised above their head

The Full Shot shows a subject as detailed as possible without cropping off any parts of their body.

In live events and television broadcasts, this shot is often referred to as the loose follow shot - revealing how the subject moves around within the environment.

PRO TIP: If the subject is not directly facing the camera, be sure to give them lead room in the direction for which they're moving and/or facing. For example, the subject's nose should be just to the right of frame center when the subject is facing or moving camera left.


4. Medium Full Shot (MFS)

  • Suggested Live Director Call: Knee
  • Alternative Terms: Knees Up Shot, Head-to-knees Shot, ¾ Shot
Vector illustration of a Medium Full Shot
  • Composition Notes:
    1. Subject's head almost touching top action-safe line
    2. Subject's knees slightly above bottom action-safe line

The Medium Full Shot tends to be a secondary or backup composition dictated by the number of subjects or parts of the environment you want to crop out of view.

In live production, especially in situations that have multiple cameras, this shot size tends to be used less than the others, and sometimes not at all.

However, it is a good compromise between full and tighter shot sizes for single camera setups, or for when you need to crop out something like a sparse audience.

Just be sure not to cut off the subject directly at the ankles or knees with this one.


5. American Shot

  • Suggested Live Director Calls: American, Cowboy
  • Alternative Terms: Plan Américain Shot, Cowboy Shot, Thighs Up Shot, Head-to-thighs Shot
Vector illustration of an American Shot
  • Composition Notes:
    1. Subject's head almost touching top action-safe line
    2. Bottom action-safe line cuts through middle of subject's thighs
    3. Subject's knees completely out of frame

The American Shot was made popular, and received its name, during the early days of Western films.

It was used to show subjects in as much detail as possible while keeping their face and gun holster in the frame.

Which also generally makes it a great shot size to ensure a subject's hands always stay within the frame.

Pay close attention with this one because it can get awkward if you go too tight and place a subject's crotch at the edge of the frame.


6. Medium Shot (MS)

  • Suggested Live Director Calls: Medium, Torso, Waist
  • Alternative Terms: Waist Up Shot, Torso Shot, Head-to-waist Shot
Vector illustration of a Medium Shot
  • Composition Notes:
    1. Subject's head touching top action-safe line
    2. Subject's elbows just above bottom action-safe line
    3. Subject's waist completely out of frame

The Medium Shot is a popular shot size in television and film.

But it's also easy to trend too far towards an American Shot or Medium Close-up Shot if you're not careful.

The idea here is to crop out a subject's waistline while keeping their entire upper arm within the action-safe area.

In live events and television broadcasts, this shot is often referred to as the tight follow shot - showing the subject as large as possible while keeping most face and upper body communication visible.

Be sure to give lead room in the direction which the subject is moving and/or facing. For example, a majority of the subject's head should be just to the right of frame center when the subject is facing or moving camera left.


7. Medium Close-up Shot (MCU)

  • Suggested Live Director Calls: Chest, Bicep
  • Alternative Terms: Chest Up Shot, Bicep Shot, Head-to-chest Shot, Head-to-bicep Shot
Vector illustration of a Medium Close-up Shot
  • Composition Notes:
    1. Subject's head touching top action-safe line
    2. Bottom action-safe line cuts through middle of subject's biceps
    3. Subject's elbows completely out of frame

The Medium Close-up Shot is also quite popular in films and scripted television.

This framing resembles what we see in a natural face-to-face conversation, and keeps just enough of the subject's upper body in the frame to include most visual communication.

Be sure to keep elbows cropped out of frame when the subject's upper arms are relaxed to their sides.

Also watch out for clothing necklines and female cleavage to prevent awkward details from touching the bottom of the frame.


8. Close-up Shot (CU)

  • Suggested Live Director Calls: Bust, Shoulder
  • Alternative Term: Bust Shot
Vector illustration of a Close-up Shot
  • Composition Notes:
    1. Top of subject's head above top action-safe line
    2. Top of subject's hair can be cropped out of frame
    3. Subject's eyes along or near top third breakpoint
    4. Entire width of subject's shoulders visible in frame

The Close-up Shot is often referred to as a bust shot because it frames a subject similarly to a bust statue.

The idea here is to show a subject's face in detail while keeping the neck and some of the shoulders, so it doesn't appear like a "floating" or decapitated head.

Don't forget to give adequate lead room if the subject faces or moves left or right.


9. Extreme Close-up Shot (ECU)

  • Suggested Live Director Calls: Face, Tight
  • Alternative Term: Detail Shot
Vector illustration of a Extreme Close-up Shot
  • Composition Notes:
    1. Top of subject's head cropped out of frame
    2. Subject's eyes along or near top third breakpoint
    3. Favor areas of interest toward top half of frame
    4. Crop off top of subject's head before cropping off their chin

The Extreme Close-up Shot is easily the most stylistic and flexible shot size that is determined by the specific details on which you wish to focus.

This shot size can also be anything between a subject's full head/face in the frame to any finer detail like a mouth or single eye.

Just remember not to put major parts on the edge of the frame, like cutting off the tip of the chin or nose.

PRO TIP: For face shots, I like to draw an imaginary inverted triangle from the outside edges of the subject's eyebrows down to the center of their bottom lip. Then I try to favor that triangle more towards the top half of the frame than the bottom half. This prevents making the frame feel claustrophobic or unbalanced, and usually keeps the subject's chin from bouncing in and out of frame when they talk.


Why You Can Trust Me

I started my career over 24 years ago as a freelance live and ENG camera operator for broadcast television networks including ABC, FOX Sports, and Speed Channel. Since then, I have spent countless thousands of hours as a director, director of photography, filmmaker, producer, editor and more throughout 25 different countries. Additionally, I have spent the last decade running this website and consulting with organizations to help them find the right gear, get the most out of their systems and processes, and maximize their results. Learn more about Joel

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