Close-up shots are an incredible tool to help build a story by supercharging the small details in someone’s face or of an event. These shots change the fabric of the scene, by altering our perception of their importance.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’s most well-known scene is one of the best examples of close up shots used to build tension and tell the story.
You can look at Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, where Wright uses the style to artificially dramatize the importance of the minutia (ie. making a cup of coffee, or doing police paperwork). The question becomes... When can use them, how should you frame them and how many can you use? Let’s talk about that!
Framing the close-up shots
A close-up shot, as the name suggests is a close shot to the object in question. In the context of a human being as the object, your framing can range from a medium close-up, which would cover from their shoulders to the top of their head. A standard close-up would frame just their head, and an extreme close-up would focus on just the eyes. As the close-up shot captures things in great deal, knowing which framing to capture is important - so plan the edit beforehand.
When to use a close-up shot
Knowing when to use a close-up shot relies on what YOU want to convey. Some directors use close-ups to convey information, others use them to generate emotion. Some simply use them as filler content to make transitions easier or to show the passage of time.
The usage of the close-up bridges nearly any production, so you need to recognize how you want people to feel when using them. If you feel that a close up will add to your production by allowing the audience to focus on the main character or a pinnacle scene – then, by all means, go ahead. But, you should be cautious in overusing close-ups. When used too much, the audience can lose touch with the setting, or what’s going on around them.
So, definitely make sure to be aware of how often you’re using them – less is more when it comes to the close-ups.
Will close-ups be useful for non-movies?
There are no limits on the kinds of video productions that can use the close-up shot. Whether you’re filming a movie, an animated YouTube video, or shooting your family Christmas, there’s benefits for all situations.
While often used in movies, you’ll find them in television (especially soap operas), and for live sporting events. The next time you watch a football match, or basketball, notice how often the camera uses a close-up shot of an athlete after they make (or miss) a big play. It conveys so much to the viewer, that you can’t help but FEEL what they are going through. Jubilation or pain and sadness of missing the shot.
So, don’t be afraid to experiment and get a sense for how a close-up shot can benefit your production. A few quick examples include building tension and fear in a horror film by focusing on the eyes, while your protagonist hides in the closet. Or, your next YouTube animation, stirring a cup of coffee that turns into a galaxy showing the depth of the universe. Or maybe, your family Christmas vlog – capturing your mom’s face as she opens the perfect gift from her kids. The close-up can benefit any production, genre or style of film, tv show, live event or personal vlog. Experiment and find what works for you!