Use wide shots and extreme close-ups to enhance the mood and drama of a scene
Whether it’s a big budget action movie or a regular location photo shoot, the wide shot can be used to add some drama and interest to your scene. Environment provides context. The exact opposite of the wide shot is the extreme close-up, which focuses in on the small details while still providing some of the same effects.
In these two videos, put together by Jacob T. Swinney, we see a study on both the wide shots and extreme close-ups of Hollywood director David Fincher.
The wide shot is often used in TV and cinema as an “establishing shot”. It provides context to the events that are about to proceed, letting you know where and in what sort of environment they are to take place.
Fincher, however, thinks a little differently to most directors. In scenes where one might normally expect three or four cameras and a lot of cutting between actors, Fincher often goes wide and uses long takes to capture the scene in a very effective way.
When it comes to stills photography things are as much about what you cut out of a scene as it is about what you include, and then there’s that immortal phrase…
If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.
– Robert Capa
But sometimes going wide gives your scene extra information to inform the viewer. It helps them understand what’s going on around your subjects, and lets them get inside their head, adding to the story you’re trying to create.
On the other end of the scale, we have the extreme close-up, and Fincher is no stranger here, either.
Close-ups let us see details. They can help to show the viewer what’s important in a scene, or let them spot details that they may otherwise miss, and like the wide shot they can also be used to intensify drama or tension, or give an insight into the subject’s mind.
Again, the close-up technique can be applied equally to stills photography, and a simple close-up shot can describe an entire event in a single image.
Just look at wedding photographers. A shot of the rings seems almost compulsory, and that one photograph tells you everything you need to know about what’s going on.
Cinematography and movies are always a great inspiration for me. I don’t do weddings, but most of the sessions I do shoot end up in photo books or albums rather than on the wall. Putting together a sequence of stills to show a progression and tell a story is a lot like cutting together a movie.
I daren’t try to add up the cost of all the DVDs and Blu-Rays I have in my collection, many of which I kept simply for how the camera work or the editing informs the viewer or tells a story.
So, if you’re used to sticking with “safe” medium shots, then start experimenting, and don’t be afraid to use movies as a reference.
Try some wide shots to give a sense of environment and mood. Have a go at some extreme close ups to highlight details that are important to you or your subjects. Try to tell a story.
Do you shoot the wide and detail shots that others often miss? Do you often miss the shots that others see? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.