Use of Long Shots in Films

Use of Long Shots in Films

A long shot is a term used in filmmaking, video production, and photography, and is sometimes called a full shot or wide shot. Typically, the entire person, object, or figure can be seen, therefore showing how it is related to the surroundings. If the environment or background is of little or no importance, a long shot is not normally the chosen angle.

A likely choice to film a long shot is a camera with a wide-angle lens. But actually, since establishing shots and extreme wide shots are from so far back, encompassing an entire scene, almost any variety of camera will work for those.

Extreme long shots can be taken from as much as a quarter of a mile away. It’s generally used to set the scene, perhaps as an establishing shot. It will normally be the exterior, such as the outside of the building, or possibly the landscape. It can also so scenes full of action, such as war movies, science-fiction movies, and movies about natural disasters.

There are a variety of ways to frame a scene in a movie. When talking about films, a long shot is a view of a scene from a notable distance. People and objects from that distance may not even look like real objects.

When a director or filmmaker wants to stress the setting of a scene or the environment, a long shot is the logical choice. Many scenes can’t be shown close up, because the enormity of the situation will be missed.

For example, perhaps you’re viewing an action movie with a car chase scene. When you’re seeing the overall city as the helicopters fly overhead, a long shot is appropriate, while the director may switch back and forth between close-ups, high angles, and a bird’s eye view.

An extreme long shot is even farther away. People and objects will look like specks in the distance. People may not even be seen in long shots of things like mountain ranges or city skylines. Those that are considered long shots may also be called wideshots. These include:

Wide shot

The physical aspects of the character can be seen and the audience can see the subject comfortably and clear, as they take up the whole frame. The body is visible from head to toe, but the surroundings will normally be visible as well. With this type of shot, the cinematographer gets to choose the view in which we see the character. By choosing and showing the location, the audience becomes familiar with the chosen characteristics.

Very Wide Shot

The amount of scene shown makes it so the character is barely visible. The amount of the character shown is between a wide shot and an extreme wide shot. This is achieved by showing both the characters and the background, and finding a balance between the two. With this, we can reap the benefits of both types of shots, adjusting the amount of the scene, while still having some of the focus on the character or object in the movie.

Extreme Wide Shot

The audience has been zoomed out so far that the objects and characters in the scene are no longer visible. This creates a feeling that the character became less and less significant compared to the world around them. The audience may feel that the character is lost or shrinking in importance.

Establishing Shot

This is likely going to be the first scene you see, as it shows a large location, scene, mountain, skyline, or body of water. It may tell the setting of the movie, but is from a bird’s eye view and very general. Many movies begin with these, as a way to bring the audience in and set the mood.

Master Shot

This shot displays important characters and scenes, so it’s often confused with the establishing shot. What makes it different is that the relevant characters usually spend the whole scene in the frame. It’s also common for there to be little to no cuts in the scene, therefore keeping the audience focused on what is happening and the dialogue.

Notable Examples

Many directors use a variety of wide shots. One example is The Princess Bride (1987) when Princess Buttercup shoves her “sweet Wesley” down the vast hillside. They also show a wide shot of the Cliffs of Insanity. These types of scenes are used to show the impact of the action and how far they fell after she went tumbling after him.

The hills were alive in The Sound of Music, and the establishing shot at the beginning of the movie really set the scene for where the abbey was located. It was released in 1965 and directed by Robert Wise.

In the 1997 blockbuster hit by James Cameron, Titanic, would the scene showing the entire half of the ship, vertical in the freezing ocean have had the same impact with a close-up shot? That was definitely a money shot.

Think about Tom Hanks writing “HELP” on the beach in Castaway. Picture the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz. Imagine any of the Star Wars movies without longshots of the outside of the ship. They just would have the same impact on the audience.

Recognizing a Long Shot

Often, there is confusion as some feel the category of long shots in films are hard to categorize. However, just remember that if you see an image approximately life-sized, so that on the screen it seems to be the real size of the person or object, it’s considered a longshot.

A long shot will show the entire body of the character and fill most of the scene, meaning the head is near the top and the feet stretch to the bottom of the screen. Focus being usually on the characters, often the background details is highly important for showing contrast or enhancing the characteristics of the person.

If you think about it, longshots are one of the most important ways for a photographer to capture the true essence or emotion of a setting. This is how the filmmaker gets your jaw to drop, so to speak. Any movies with landscapes, large battle scenes, natural disasters, or beautiful mountainsides would feel very different without longshots.