What Is a Wide Shot in Film? How You Should Set Up This Camera Angle

wide shot in film

Key Takeaways:

  • Wide shots are a powerful tool in film, as they allow viewers to see characters in their full surroundings and for the way that they set the mood of a scene.
  • Wides are perfect for establishing the location of a scene, emphasizing the grandeur of a setting, and showing the dynamics between characters.
  • They can also show action, create an emotional impact in viewers, and provide visual breaks in a film.

As a movie-lover and a dad, I love watching my two daughters enjoy good movies. One movie they both love is The Sound of Music. One part of the movie that they can watch over and over is the beginning scene, where Maria is singing and dancing carefree in the Alps.

That scene is a fantastic example of a panoramic wide shot in film!

As a filmmaker, I’ve always been fascinated by how this single angle can add so much depth, context, and emotion to a scene.

The wide shot is a stylistic choice for visual storytelling. Wides have the power to transport audiences to different worlds and evoke strong emotions.

So, grab your director’s chair, and let’s get into learning more about wide shots!

What Is a Wide Shot in Film?

Ever watched a movie scene where a character seems so small in a vast landscape or city? That’s the perspective of the wide shot!

A wide shot helps you to take a step back and see the whole picture. You get to see characters in their full surroundings, and you feel the mood and vibe of the place they’re in.

Prefer to watch rather than read? Check out my video on this topic, below!

How to Set Up a Wide Shot

1: Understand the Scene.

Before setting up a wide shot, make sure you understand the scene you’re going to capture with your camera.

Ask yourself:

  • What does this scene represent?
  • What emotions are you trying to evoke?

Remember that a wide shot is typically used to establish the setting or to show the scale of an environment or situation.

2: Choose the Right Equipment.

person holding a wide angle lens

The equipment you use will greatly influence the quality of your wide shot. A wide-angle lens is typically used for this type of shot. The wider the lens, the more of the scene you can capture.

Don’t forget about your tripod – you need stability with these types of wide angle shots.

3: Position Your Camera.

Place your camera at a distance that allows you to capture the entire scene or subject but not so far away that the details get lost (unless that’s what you’re going for!).

4: Frame Your Shot.

frame a shot

When you are considering the framing of your shot, make sure that your main subjects are visible and well-positioned within the frame.

Remember the rule of thirds: divide your frame into nine equal parts and place important compositional elements along these lines or their intersections.

5: Check Your Lighting.

Wide shots often include many elements, which means they can be affected by different lighting conditions. Ensure your scene is evenly lit, and adjust your camera settings accordingly to avoid overexposed or underexposed areas.

6: Shoot Multiple Takes.

Don’t settle for just one take. Shoot multiple takes from slightly different angles or distances. This gives you more options during editing and increases your chances of getting that perfect shot.

7: Review and Edit Your Shot.

After shooting, take the time to review your footage. Look out for any issues with framing, focus, lighting, or other elements that might detract from your wide shot. Use editing software to fine-tune the shot to make it perfect!

Why Are Wide Shots Important?

It Sets the Scene and Location

wide shot of city

As an independent filmmaker, I can’t stress enough how important it is to ground your audience in the world you’re presenting! Before you get into the details of your scene or location, you want to show an overview of where everything is happening.

Wide shots help me introduce the surroundings of each shot, whether it’s a sleepy town, a mysterious forest, a lively street festival, or even a dark basement bar. You want to give the audience a reference point for the shot before you focus on the finer details.

Emphasize Scale and Grandeur

wide shot of forest

I’ve always been a fan of showcasing the majesty of a location.

With a wide shot, you can display a mountain range’s breathtaking expanse or a city’s impressive skyline. It reminds the movie audience of the vastness of the world or the enormity of a character’s journey, and it sets the mood right from the get-go.

Character Relationships

wide shot of two people hugging

The space between characters can say so much.

Using a wide shot, I can show the audience the physical distance or closeness between characters, hinting at their relationships.

  • Are they distant, suggesting estrangement or anger?
  • Or are they close, indicating intimacy or friendship?
  • And how close are they to the rest of their surroundings?

The wide shot lets the audience infer these details in a nice and subtle way.

To Show Action and Movement

wide shot of horse race

In sequences with a lot of movement – a car chase, a bustling market scene, a fight, or even a dance – I lean heavily on the wide shot.

It ensures that the audience can see the action in its entirety without missing any moments. Plus, it’s a fantastic way to highlight choreography or coordination in the scene.

To Create an Emotional Impact

Some of my favorite scenes to shoot are those where the character feels overwhelmed by their environment.

With a wide shot, I can make a character seem small against the backdrop of a vast desert or city, which helps to evoke feelings of loneliness or insignificance for the audience.

Conversely, showing a character dominating a wide shot can evoke feelings of power and importance.

Visual Breaks and Transitions

Wide shots are my go-to transitional shots between intense scenes or when I want to indicate the passage of time.

They allow the audience to breathe, taking in the visuals before getting back into the story with the characters. This technique is especially useful in montages, where I want to show a character’s journey over time and space.

Improve The Visual Storytelling

Sometimes, words aren’t necessary.

There have been scenes where you can let the visuals do the talking, with minimal dialogue. A well-composed wide shot can tell a story all on its own, revealing details about the world, the characters, and their circumstances in a single frame or camera angle.

Fantastic Examples of Wide Shots in Film

Let’s take a look at some of my favorite examples of wides in popular films. Click to watch each YouTube clip to see the wide in action.

Example 1: “The Shining” (1980)

In Stanley Kubrick’s chilling adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel, one of the most memorable wide shots is the Torrance family’s drive to the Overlook Hotel during the opening credits.

As the car twists and turns on the winding mountain roads, the vast wilderness around them is clear to see. This view shows how isolated the hotel is, and hints at how the family will soon be trapped here.

The sweeping landscape, juxtaposed with the tiny car, paints an ominous picture of what’s to come.

Example 2: “Sicario” (2015)

“Sicario,” directed by Denis Villeneuve, shows the complex world of drug cartels and covert operations.

One striking wide shot captures the task force team’s silhouettes set against the amber backdrop of a setting sun.

As they descend into the darkness below, the shot metaphorically hints at their entry into the shadowy world of the cartel. The blend of nature’s beauty with the foreboding descent creates extreme tension that resonates throughout the film.

Example 3: “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)

George Miller’s high-octane, post-apocalyptic epic, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” is a visual masterpiece filled with dynamic wide shots.

One such shot that stands out is the barren desert landscape, with Immortan Joe’s war party in hot pursuit of the war rig. This wide shot encapsulates the vastness of the wasteland and the relentless nature of the chase, emphasizing the stakes of survival and freedom in a world gone mad.

Example 4: “Inception” (2010)

Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending thriller, “Inception,” plays with the concept of dream manipulation and reality.

A jaw-dropping moment in the film is when the streets of Paris fold onto themselves in a surreal wide shot. This gravity-defying visual stuns the audience, showing the limitless possibilities within the dream world. It goes along with the film’s central theme: the power of the mind and its ability to construct and deconstruct reality.

Types of Wide Shots in Film

Now, let’s take a closer look at the different types of wide shots filmmakers have in their toolkits.

Extreme Wide Shot (EWS)

Often used to establish a setting, the Extreme Wide Shot captures a large expanse, making characters appear small or sometimes even indistinguishable. It’s perfect for conveying the scale of an environment.

Extreme Wide Shot - Mad Max: Fury Road

Very Wide Shot (VWS)

Slightly tighter than the EWS, the Very Wide Shot includes more details and might show characters from a distance. It’s ideal for showcasing the surrounding environment while still keeping characters or subjects as reference points.

Very Wide Shot - North By Northwest

Full Shot (FS)

The Full Shot captures a subject in its entirety, usually from head to toe. While it encompasses a broader scene, the primary focus remains on the character, making it great for introducing someone or displaying action.

Full Shot - Django Unchained

Medium Long Shot (MLS)

Sitting between a full shot and a medium shot, the Long Shot showcases characters in their environment. It’s used frequently in films to establish a character’s relation to their surroundings.

Medium Long Shot - Skyfall

Wide Angle Shot

Made using a wide-angle lens, this shot exaggerates the distance between foreground and background, creating a sense of depth. It’s ideal for dynamic scenes or when filmmakers want to infuse a touch of surrealism.

Wide Shot - The Martian

Master Shot

A master shot captures an entire scene, typically from a wide or long shot perspective. It’s often the first shot taken and provides editors with a continuous version of the scene to reference during editing.

Master Shot - American Beauty

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Neglecting the Rule of Thirds: Keeping to the rule of thirds can help maintain balance and focus in your wide shot. Avoid placing your subject directly in the center unless it’s intentional.

Overusing the Wide Shot: Overusing wide shots in your film will dilute their effect on your audience. You need to balance wide and medium shots along with other angles for variety.

Ignoring Foreground Elements: It’s easy to just think about the background in your wide shot! Remember that the foreground elements can add depth and interest too.

Not Considering Lighting: Lighting plays a huge role in all shots, including wide ones. Try not to overexpose or underexpose your wide shot!

Failing to Stabilize the Camera: Camera shake becomes more noticeable in very wide shots, especially if there’s movement in the scene. Make sure that you use stabilization equipment or techniques.

Overloading the Frame: Just because there’s more space doesn’t mean you should cram in more elements. Overloading the frame can confuse the viewer and detract from the main focus.

Neglecting the Horizon Line: An uneven horizon can be distracting, especially in nature or cityscape shots. Keep the horizon straight – unless you want to use a tilted angle as a deliberate stylistic choice.

Misjudging Focus: While wide shots often have a deeper depth of field, you still need to ensure that the main subject or action is in sharp focus, especially when using wide-aperture lenses.

Over-relying on Post-Production: While post-production can correct certain issues, getting the shot right in-camera is always best. Over-relying on post can result in a loss of quality or an artificial feel.

Ignoring the Story’s Needs: Every shot, including the low-angle shot and the wide shot, should serve the story.

Wide Shot in film pin

So, what have we learned about the wide shot?

It’s a fundamental technique in film, as it sets the scene and gives your audience a full view of the action. But it’s more than just stepping back with your camera. When you set up your wide shot, you need to understand your story’s environment and how best to invite your viewers into it.

The effectiveness of a wide shot lies in the details – the placement of objects, the angle of light, and the movement within the frame. These elements come together to create a shot that’s both beautifully composed and helps to tell the story of the film.

As you experiment with wide shots, think about their purpose in your story. Are they establishing a location? Highlighting contrasts in your narrative? Or maybe they’re there to create a certain mood. Whatever your goal, the wide shot is great way to bring your audience into the world of the film.

Now, it’s your turn. Take these insights, grab your camera, and see how wide shots and establishing shots can make your film even better!

How will your wide shots voice your tale? Let me know in the comments below!

Potential Questions On The Wide Shot

How is a wide shot different from an establishing shot?

A wide shot captures a broad view of a scene or subject. It often helps to emphasize scale and context. On the other hand, an establishing shot introduces the audience to a new location or setting, which gives a sense of time and place.

What is the difference between a full shot and a wide shot?

A full shot captures an entire subject (usually a person) from head to toe, within the frame. A wide shot, however, emphasizes the surrounding environment or setting. This helps to get a broader perspective of the scene.

When to use an extreme wide shot?

An extreme wide shot is best used when you want to emphasize the vastness of a setting or show a subject’s insignificance or isolation within a large environment. Wide shots are great for filming expansive landscapes, city skylines, or massive crowds.

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