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How to Get the Most Out of Every Shot

Following the shot-sequencing tips in this article will give you a wide variety of shots and angles to use to bring your video to life. It can help you capture a lot of coverage in a short amount of time without feeling overwhelmed.

Legendary Hollywood director Martin Scorsese says he storyboards every single shot that might appear in his films before meeting with any cinematographer. That may sound daunting to some, but it’s the reason why the images in his films are so memorable.

While overplanning for video shoots is never a bad idea, most of us simply don’t have that luxury. We’ve all been victims of the frantic call from a marketing or public relations professional who needs video coverage at the very last minute.

Whether it’s an event, an interview, or even a wedding, there is not much time to sit down and storyboard or even plan how things will go. In these situations that I’ve found myself pausing and reverting back to an old technique that I learned in my very first videography class. The art of sequencing each scene or shot can cover all of your bases. It’s also a proven formula to speed up the coverage you get from one position.

Another Scorsese tip is that he shoots for the edit. Sequencing scenes will deliver several creative options in the editing room. Below are the steps I take for covering and capturing a scene.

The Wide Shot

The wide shot has made quite the comeback in recent years. At one point, many online video professionals were hesitant about using wide shots due to the nature of small-screen devices. Some research even showed that viewers were not emotionally connecting with these visuals because it was difficult to make out the details of a large-format composition.

Recently, the wide shot has come back into favor with the introduction of larger mobile screens. The latest iPhone (iPhone 7) boasts a 5.5-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit widescreen retina display. It’s safe to say that wide shots are perfectly acceptable these days, even for video being produced for viewing on mobile devices.

The wide shot is the establishing shot for any scene. It puts the viewer in a place, atmosphere, and setting. Figure 1 (below) and Figure 2 (below Figure 1) show some examples of wide shots.

Figure 1. A wide shot establishes the location or setting for a scene.

Figure 2. Another example of a wide shot to establish a scene

There are several variations to the wide shot, but the way I prefer to capture them is by using the widest setting my lens allows. Typically, that’s in the 14mm to 24mm range on most popular industry lenses. If your lens doesn’t allow a wide enough frame, then you can physically move your camera back until you achieve the composition you’re after.

I like to start any coverage of a scene with a wide shot. I’ll let the camera roll for a minimum of 10 seconds (the same for any of the additional shots I mention below).

The Medium Shot

Following the wide shot, I’ll move closer into a scene with a medium frame (Figure 3, below). This formula is even easier if you have a zoom lens, so you don’t have to physically move your camera.

Figure 3. The medium shot

Physically moving in closer to capture a medium shot is also perfectly acceptable in the event that you’re using prime lenses. However, you should always keep in mind how the edit will come together. Keep the framing consistent, so the cuts used in postproduction don’t appear jarring.

Unless you’re going to make a creative choice or use the action/reaction technique, you’ll want to capture subjects and objects from the same angle or perspective. This will help the cut between a wide and medium shot look natural and smooth.