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The Power of Close-up Shots in Filmmaking

In the world of cinema, we have many kinds of shots. Close-up, medium, long-range, and wide range shots. They all have their own significance. When it comes to telling the objects and the scene, medium to wide range shots capture the essence of every element. But when you want to tell the non-obvious part of your story, you need to close-up. A whole another level of depth is achieved.

Filmmakers of the early cinema often used long and medium-range shots. They thought of a movie as a play going to a theatre. It took longer to realize the power of close-up shots. If you see the movies today, they believe in details. Every smallest of the objects might be used to tell the whole dramatic scene. For eg. – A bloodied knife on the counter, completely tells what might have happened.

Today we may take the close-up shots for granted, it is difficult to imagine how lengthy, costly, and stupid the visual storytelling would have got.


Why should one use Close-up shots?

Let’s first understand one thing, there is more than one type of close-up shots. You may imagine a camera coming closer and closer to the object or subject with a little change of background elements. Typically one sees a close-up shot to be capturing a person’s face, hands and so. Yes, it is a close-up but there is a medium close-up where you don’t show the entire body of the subject. When you move too close, it reveals a person’s skin or the eye movement maybe.

Close-ups are used for both narrative and stylistic purposes. In the movie ‘whiplash’ there is so good use of close-up shots to build the tension of playing instruments. In the end, scene where J.K. Simmons, smiles in approval of Miles teller, the shot is iconic. The whole frame focuses on the eyes of Simmons but you can easily imagine that he is smiling. Such small details won academy awards and nominations for the movie.

YouTubers use the close-up shots very frequently. It might be for a cooking show where one is drooling the audience or a gadget review where people decide themselves buying the product someday. They are frequently used in the infamous reaction videos to capture every ounce of the emotion developing on the viewer’s face.


When to use Close-ups

We have already reached a point where we know how dramatic a scene can be with help of close-up shots and for the shots involving insane details. You might like to highlight comic moments too. In filmmaking, a close-up allows the movie to focus on the face of a great actor. Their skills are completely tested in close-ups, anything from nervousness, anxiety, anger, and happiness, it’s all out in the open.

When the movie is all about the protagonist, close-ups mean a lot. In “The pursuit of happiness” will smith’s misery is shown through very powerful close-up scenes. We all know the drama series “friends”. Its comedy is generally with unique situations and hilarious dialogues. But whenever they have an emotional scene, they use close-ups and light music to bring out the essence.

Biopics in Bollywood like “MS Dhoni” and “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” are prime examples of quality close-up shots. In popular Youtube videos where people are trying to teach you something or sell their business, they always opt for the close-up shots. These shots are more affirmative as you tend to believe a guy when you close upon his emotions.

Close up of objects tells a scene like poetry. If you’ve seen the movie Interstellar – the movement of the second’s clock on the girl’s watch could tell the whole climax of the story. That’s the power and wisdom of close-up shots.


How to Shoot them

We must discuss the cameras first. The ability of a close-up depends on the ability of the camera lens. A smartphone may give you the option of zooming in and taking good shots. We prefer the use of higher detailing with modern DSLRs from companies like Canon, Sony, and Nikon.

If you are trying to use a smartphone, in a Youtube video maybe. Focusing and zooming are the onscreen features and you might struggle with the use. On the other hand, a gimbal or an external camera lens may come in handy.

DSLRs are full of versatility. Professional prefer prime lenses for close-up shots. These cannot be zoomed in or out very much and that brings the use of perfect positioning and focus. They are really great at cinematic close-ups and high end detailing. You get more control of your shot as the adjustability to different levels of exposure is superb, unlike smartphones.

Good Close-ups need proper lighting. Sometimes natural light will do but for indoor shots, you must be ready with a setup. At some point, you will need to invest in a lighting kit. Check-out another blog for 3 point lighting system to learn the basics of lighting.

Once you have settled the lighting and focused on the camera, now you need to work more on framing the subject from medium to extreme close-ups as the situation demands. By doing this one can be more comfortable in zooming in, focusing, and adjusting the lights as one goes ahead.


To sum it up

Cinematography needs a mix and match of various kinds of shots. Aspiring videographers may think of delivering the whole video in one still kind of shot, but that’s a mistake. People get bored even when they follow you religiously. Having a few long shots, some medium shots and quality close-ups can be a winning strategy.

Whenever you want to depict certain emotions of the subject or make your audience curious with the details is small objects. You must definitely use the close-up scenes. But having said and done, DO NOT OVERUSE IT! Unless your whole video is about the details of work like woodworking, programming or dining antiquates.

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