It can be difficult to convey the importance of a landscape or emotion, especially when framing a subject at a distance with a wide shot.
Whether you’re making content for an IMAX or an iPhone, scope matters.
Today we’re going to go over the wide shot (aka “long shot”), and show you how it contributes to the scope of your story. We’ll cover the things you should consider before adding wide shots to your next shot list.
We’ll also delve into establishing shots, extreme wide shots, and talk about how they can accentuate character and theme without being overbearing on the story.
Wide shot (WS) definition
A wide shot (“WS: on a shot list) can vary depending on its intended medium. In photography, filmmaking and video production, a wide shot can sometimes be referred to as a long shot. It also goes by the name “full shot.” This camera angle shows the entire object or person and their relation to what surrounds them.
Note: Wide shots, establishing shots and extreme wide shots can be captured by any type of camera or lens.
What is a wide shot?
The wide shot is a directors’ best friend. It’s an easy way to show where we are, and who’s with us, without having to do much camera movement.
The wide shot lets the audience absorb all the information at once. That’s a lot of pressure! But let’s do a bit farther with this dissection.
That’s some heavy lifting, so let’s pick the wide shot apart with some wide shot examples.
Wide shot examples
The wide shot is crucial to every project. Let’s go over some common uses and break down why they are so important. Check out Terrence Malik’s Tree of Life.
Everyone wants to know what heaven looks like. You think you can do that without a wide shot? Absolutely not.
This is a sweeping wide shot. It’s used so we understand the breadth of Heaven. The woman at the center, the mother, is positioned to deflect the light. She’s looking away from us. As an audience, we want to follow her. What about wide shots that convey the opposite?
Take Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
In this wide angle shot, Foxx has power and purpose. Django Unchained
Here we have Jamie Foxx as Django, entering a plantation. If you squint you can see slaves watching Django from background.
Django is a free man. He’s marched into hostile territory. The awkward costume choice makes him stand out. But so does the framing. He’s a bold statement on a racist institutions of the plantation.
Check out the entire scene to see how the wide shot is edited to provide the context of Django tracking down the Brittle Brothers.
So how do the best directors and cinematographers plan their shot list to incorporate wide angle shots?
How to shot list wide shots
So, you have the perfect vista for your wide shot. What do you do now? You need to put it in a shot list so your DP can anticipate and prep. Wide shots take lots of planning. You’ll have to scout for where to set up the camera, and clear all the crew, so they’re not accidentally in the frame, and wait for the light to be just right.
Add your wide shots and storyboards to your shot list.
Specific camera movements matter too. Is your wide static? Are you tracking with someone on horseback, or in a helicopter? What about on a crane or using a drone?
You want to capture all these crucial details in your shot list. With StudioBinder, these details are already listed as options, so you only need to check them. This allows you to create creative combinations that make your movie come to life.
Your signature long shot is only a click away.
Collaboration is fast and efficient. Send your shot list to the DP with the click of a button. The best part? We let you start shot listing for free. This gives you more time to think about the intangibles.
For example, what if you want to add another level of nuance to your wide angle shot?
What else can wide shots do?
How about to convey isolation? We know Cary Grant’s character Mr. Thornhill is supposed to have a meeting with a man on a deserted road in North by Northwest.
When he gets out into the middle of nowhere and confronts the only person there, he realizes it was all a setup.
No one here but us spies in this long shot. North by Northwest (1959)
Hitchcock uses this wide shot to show no one is around. It’s a sense of foreboding. Something terrible can happen to him out here, and there will be no one to hear him scream.The wide shot is so big and bulky it’s hard to imagine it can carry nuance and grace. But let me present to you Schindler’s List.
Wide shots in Schindler's List
It starts early, with the medical round up scene. Spielberg stays back so the audience understands how many Jews were affected.
Eventually, he works into close up shots and medium shots as we get to know the people suffering.But what about Schindler’s List’s most iconic wide shot? It’s when Oskar Schindler sees the little girl in the red coat.
When you watch this scene the wide shots are used to bring you into Schindler’s mind. We’re constantly bouncing back and forth between a close up on his face and a wide shot where we follow the travesty and the little girl.
Spielberg adeptly put her in red to draw the audience’s eye as she moved. No matter how wide of a shot we get, we always are following one person. It’s a genius maneuver to communicate the scale of the tragedy while simultaneously personalizing the story for anyone watching the movie.
Not every wide shot needs to carry such a profound message. Sometimes they’re only there to tell us where we are. Those kinds of wide shots are called establishing shots.
But what is an establishing shot?
Establishing shot (ES) definition
An establishing shot (marked as “ES” on a shot list) is typically the first shot of a new scene. It can be accentuated with a wide shot, or an extreme wide shot. The establishing shot shows the audience where the action is taking place. They are frequently labeled with chyrons to indicate to the audience where we are in the universe.
Example 1: New York City, New York
Example 2: Schiaparelli Crater, Mars.
Establishing shot examples
The Lord of The Rings has many establishing shots that set up the various kingdoms and cities they visit.
The establishing shot definition. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The same goes for Guardians of the Galaxy. We hit a different planet every ten minutes, So to establish them, we go wide. It gives us the scope of outer space and also allows the VFX team to build unique worlds that look different.
Okay, James Gunn. We have the establishing shot definition already.
Seriously. We have the establishing shot definition already.
Okay, whatever. We have the establishing shot definition but these are cool.
But can you subvert the establishing shot?
David Fincher’s Fight Club ends the movie on an establishing shot of a new world. Tyler Durden’s plan works.
All credit card debt has been erased. The film fades out on an establishing shot of a new world juxtaposed against a couple holding hands. We’re establishing a new romance as well. Pun intended.
So what’s wider than a wide shot? Believe it or not….you can get extremely wide.
Extreme wide shot (EWS) definition
An extreme wide shot (or “EWS” on a shot list) is a shot that is so wide the subject is barely visible. The point of the extreme wide shot is to show what surrounds our subjects. The EWS can be used as an "establishing shot.”
Example 1: A sweeping landscape, like in Gone With The Wind.Example 2: Outer space like in Interstellar.
Extreme wide shot examples
The extreme wide shot is utilized when you want a character to feel completely overmatched or unimportant in their world.This is how we meet Rey in The Force Awakens. She’s a blip on a planet. A girl who was left behind. The movie then takes you on her journey. Her arc is one that defines her importance.
The Force Awakens mastered the extreme wide angle shot
Let’s try something a little closer than a galaxy far, far, away. Think about Ridley Scott’s The Martian. That movie lives and dies on making Matt Damon’s character completely alone and insignificant on Mars.
The Martian lives on the wide shot
But maybe you want your extreme wide shot to be on our home planet. Let's take a look at some examples that you don't need a rocket to find.
Extreme wide shot examples on Earth
Like the Pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean coming toward shore. We see the scale of an impending invasion here.
This is the definition of an extreme wide shot. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
The most famous extreme wide shot comes from Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a film that is defined by its extreme wide shots of the desert.
When you watch the scene play out you can see how breathtakingly amazing it is that David Lean took the time to show the scope of the desert in this way.
We experience the ride in real time. Lawrence is stuck in Arabia with no way out.
What else can an extreme wide shot do? What about using it to punctuate the emotional conclusion to a movie?
In The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, we follow three men chasing buried treasure.
Sergio Leone goes to the extreme wide shot at the end to show how far the men have come, and how far they still have to go.
When you watch the entire scene you can see how Leone uses wide shots to prove a point. The distance between one another is a stand-in for the idea that they’re willing to kill and to die for the gold buried nearby. How do I know that? They’re surrounded by graves.
Yeah, Leone is a master. This is a mic drop shot.
The definition of the extreme wide shot. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)
Up next: How to use the medium shot
Now that you’ve got an excellent understanding of the wide shot, start thinking about how to employ it in your next production. For that, you’re going to need shot list software to make sure you consider the key shot requirements for your production.
Want to learn more about other angles? Perhaps get a little closer? Head to the blog where we will show you how to utilize medium shots to add nuance and meaning to your screenplay.
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