Filming with a Smartphone: 20 Basic Camera Shots

Remember the opening scene in the original (1978) Halloween movie? In that scene, we see the exterior of a house, but from the point of view of one of the movie characters, which happens to be Michael Myers, the crazed killer…but as a child. He is creeping around looking in the windows of the house at the people inside. The camera faithfully shows us what he sees as he enters the house, opens a kitchen drawer, and takes out a large knife. We don’t see him, only his hand and what he is looking at. The suspense builds as he climbs the stairs to the bedroom…

That scene from Halloween used a point-of-view shot, which is one of a variety of camera shots used by filmmakers. A shot is the space seen in a frame of film. Different types of shots (wide shot, close up, cut-away) are used to show a film’s setting and its characters, as well as to set a mood or otherwise convey unspoken information to the viewer.

You are probably vaguely aware of the different camera views and moves that are used in the making of movies, even if you can’t name them. Of course, professional filmmakers know all the basic shots because that knowledge is essential when making a film that people want to watch. But did you know that you, the scientist videographer, can use the same set of camera shots to add visual variety to your science videos?

In the following video tutorial, I provide examples of 20 camera shots that you can use to make a video with a smartphone. I’m focusing on shots that can be done easily with a smartphone since many people are now using them to make their videos. I’ve illustrated each shot with one or more clips from my own video library. Most of these are traditional shots used by filmmakers, but I included some additional ones that I, well, totally made up. But I think you’ll find that they all will give you some ideas of different ways to shoot your videos, which will make them much more interesting to your viewers.

Here is a list of the 20 basic camera shots, along with a brief explanation, that I cover in the video.

  1. Extreme Wide Shot: In an extreme wide shot, the subject is visible but the emphasis is on showing him in relation to his environment.
  2. Wide Shot: The subject is closer to the camera in a wide shot, but he is still shown in perspective to his surroundings.
  3. Full Shot: A full shot is even closer, but the subject’s body is still in full view.
  4. Mid Shot: In a mid shot, only part of the subject is visible but the view gives an impression of the whole.
  5. Medium Close Up: A medium close up shows more detail by framing the subject’s face and upper body, for example.
  6. Close Up: One portion of the subject, such as a face, takes up the entire frame in a close up.
  7. High Angle: A high angle shot looks down on the subject or scene, perhaps to show an activity as in these examples.
  8. Two Shot: A two shot is a shot of two people in the same frame.
  9. Group Shot: A group shot shows three or more people in a frame.
  10. Cut-in: A cut-in shot focuses more closely on some aspect of a scene or subject. This can be done by moving the camera, as in this example, or by the subject moving closer to the camera, as in this second example.
  11. Cut-away: A cut-away shot moves the view away from the main scene or from one subject to another, as in this example.
  12. Pan: A pan moves the camera horizontally to sweep across a scene. It’s better to use a tripod to pan smoothly, but if you don’t have one, you can also move the camera freehand as in these examples to gradually reveal your subject.
  13. Tilt: A tilt shot moves the camera vertically. For example, to reveal a tall object.
  14. Tilt & Pan: A combination tilt and pan shot can be used to follow an object moving through space such as this quadcopter.
  15. Aerial Shot: An aerial shot is a view from a plane, a helicopter, or a drone.
  16. Point of View (POV) Shot: In a point of view shot, the camera shows what the subject is looking at. This shot can be used to put the video viewer into the subject’s shoes.
  17. Moving Vehicle Shot: The moving vehicle shot is a view of subjects being transported through a scene in a boat, car, or other vehicle.
  18. Selfie Shot: The selfie shot is when the subject is holding the camera and filming themselves talking or engaging in some activity. The selfie shot is accomplished with the aid of a selfie stick and a phone mount.
  19. Selfie Arc Shot: In an arc shot, the camera circles the subject. The selfie arc shot is one in which the subject twirls in place while shooting a selfie. This shot sustains the same view of the subject but reveals the subject’s surroundings in a 360 degree turn.
  20. Entrance/Exit Shot: With the camera fixed in place, a subject can move toward or away from the camera. Such shots can be used to open or close a video.

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