A setting defines how something is filmed. Because it also determines the framing of the image, the shot size is an essential part of the language of film and, for the creation of a video, a component of the grammar of film and video. But unlike grammar, setting are easier to understand. This article shows you with concrete examples and pictures.
Note: In this article, settings are not understood to be the technical settings for the correct handling of a photo or film camera when creating a video (menu settings, programs for regulating aperture, exposure time, etc.), but rather the actual image detail and the setting size.
Why setting size is important
Making films means breaking life down into its component parts. But more on that later. First, it’s about terminology.
A setting refers to the amount of time a camera runs without interruption. It is initiated by the slamming of the film gate. In the English language, this period of time is called take. The term shot size or the English word “shot” means the same as setting.
Settings describe what a setting shows. This is about the content of the image, the cropping of the image. Conversely, the size of a shot, at least in theory, has nothing to do with the camera angle. This determines the angle from which the setting is rotated.
Setting sizes are important not only for storytelling, but also for editing. As always in a sequential, visual narrative, connections (continuity) play an important role here.
A good storyboard usually shows one shot per frame.
Image cropping in film and video = cadrage and framing
Often one finds in connection with the size of settings also the terms Cadrage (from the French, in German language also as Kadrage used) or the English Framing. Both words mean nothing other than the determination of a section of the image. Nevertheless, there is a difference to the cropping of the image. Why?
Cadrage and framing are umbrella terms for framing in film and video. They help determine the setting size. You decide what belongs in the film frame. The choice of setting then depends on this.
The French word “cadrage” shows this wonderfully: it means nothing other than frame. First, determine what belongs in the “picture frame”. This is then implemented with the image composition (which includes the selection of the appropriate setting).
Two questions are important for working with moving images and image design. Which setting should be used where and when. And what types of settings are there anyway.
Often the term “setting size” is used as a synonym for setting or framing. That is only partially correct.
Many filmmakers count not only the criterion of proximity to a person (subject) or an object (object) among the settings. But rather also the way the camera looks at something.
It could be from upstairs. From a sub-perspective. Furthermore also frontal or sideways.
Setting sizes are expressive possibilities of the camera. They are as important as the movement of the camera. Together with the image composition (foreground, middle ground, background), settings create the film image.
The transition between individual types of setting sizes is fluid. In order to make it possible to discuss the framing of a shot at all, the distinction into
- Semi-close-up shot
- Detailed view
naturalized. These six forms of setting are called classical setting sizes. In addition, there are intermediate forms and extreme variants such as the supertotal or the so-called American, which have also gained a firm place in the course of film history.
Setting: The long shot
The panorama setting is colloquially known as a “long shot”. Wide-angle shooting usually means the same thing. Both settings show an overview of what is.
Conversely, in a total camera shot, there is usually little detail to be seen. There is a great distance between the position of the camera and a person or thing.
Because the long shot allows the viewer to orientate himself, it is often used as the first image of a scene. Therefore, it is also called an Establisher (which can be translated as “setting out the introduction”).
This type of recording embeds an action in its environment. In the total settings, the spatial context in which something takes place is revealed. This can have an oppressive or liberating effect on the viewer psychologically, depending on how the plot unfolds.
|Frame size: Wide shot||German designation||English name|
|Wide shot, Panorama, Establisher|
Documentaries often feature more long shots than staged videos. Simply because in the documentary film the events take place in reality and cannot be controlled.
If the director and cameraman want to be sure to have everything in the picture, they shoot a long shot.
The long shot can also be increased. Then it becomes a super-panorama or an extreme form of the long shot.
|Shot size: Super-total|
|Super Panorama, Super Wide Shot|
Often this type of setting is also combined with slow driving or panning. This combination is popular for landscape shots.
In Hollywood, when people talk about an ELS, they are referring to the extreme long shot. LS or WS denote a normal version of it.
Setting: The half-total
The half-total, the name says it, is only half as far away from the subject. The distanced viewer becomes an observer with the half-total. He sees more.
The half-length shot reveals more. It narrows the field of vision more and thus directs the gaze.
For TV productions and small screens, the half-total is more suitable. One step above that, in a western in the cinema, the rider in the background is still clearly visible. On the smartphone, however, horse and human in the same film are only recognizable as a pixelated dot.
|Shot size: Half-total|
People are seen from the soles of their feet to the tips of their hair in half-total. The half-length shot is important when physical actions are to be made clear in the film.
A jump or a fall has a much more intense effect in the half-total than when an actor jumps or falls out of the picture. The semi-still shot is also used for comedy and slapstick.
The English abbreviation MLS corresponds to the half-total in the settings. Whoever speaks of a Complete View means the half-total, which mainly shows a person in the picture like this. This is done in such a way that the human being is depicted in its entirety and the surroundings only to a limited extent.
The semi-close-up includes the one actor from the hip to the head. This setting size corresponds to the human point of view on another person during a conversation. This is why this setting is often used for dialogue scenes.
The semi-close-up is also often used for interior shots. Depending on the number of people in the frame, one also speaks of a semi-close-up two or, for example, a similar three (setting size shows 3 people).
|Setting size: Semi-close-up|
More famous than the semi-close, also called the Medium Shot or the Mid Shot (MS), is its brother, the “American”. This variation, also a semi-close, is called completely American Shot (AS). It was invented to depict cowboys in westerns from the thighs (where the hands and Colt were located in the duel) to the head.
|Setting Size: American|
The close-up is the improvement of the half close-up. In a close-up, the field of view starts above the hip and goes to the top of the head. The camera films someone as they would have been sculpted as a bust by a sculptor in the past.
The closer proximity to the head emphasizes the facial expression and the eyes in front of the camera in the close-ups. The viewer literally looks his counterpart in the face.
In the German-speaking world, the close-up is again referred to as a close single (1 person in the frame) or close double (the shot includes 2 people).
|Setting size: Close-up|
|Close-up||Shoulder Close Up (SCU)|
The English name for close-up refers to the image center of this classic setting size, the shoulder directly into the designation.
The close-up, as the name suggests, is even closer with the film camera than the half close-up and the close-up. While the head is in the picture, the shoulders are only just visible or can be guessed at.
Accordingly, facial expressions and facial expressions can be read clearly. Consequently, what is not important is cut off by the camera. A close-up can of course also show only hands or any other body part.
|Shot size: Close-up|
The Close-Up (CU) is the same setting size.
Even closer to a person or object is the detail shot. Consequently, it only captures a section. But this one is very clear, therefore unmistakable and very large.
The viewer doesn’t have to think about what he’s seeing once he’s served this kind of image detail. Example: we see personal data on an ID card of the performer.
In short, a close-up view leaves no room for misunderstanding. This proximity can have a pleasant or repulsive effect on the viewer, depending on the dramaturgy and the content of the image.
|Setting size: Detail shot|
|Detailed view||Extreme Close-up (ECU)|
A special variety of the detail shot is the “Italian”. Its origin also goes back to the Western.
For the film Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod, director Sergio Leone wanted to reduce the drama to the look between the two actors in the duel between Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson beyond the detail shot. The conventional settings could not do that.
The “Italian” setting size invented by Leone therefore only covers the narrow eye area and the head up to the middle. This only works with an appropriate film format. Instagram, with its square cropping, makes many settings impossible.
|Setting size: Italian|
|Italian setting||Italian Shot (IS)|
A detail shot is the maximum possible. She’s a superlative. That is why it should not be used too much. It is the most extreme form of close-up.
What is the best setting size?
There is no general answer to this question. Each species has its advantages and disadvantages. Because depending on the framing, different shot sizes can be ideal for a scene because the story requires it.
Likewise, the size of an image section also has an influence on the image illumination. In other words, without expertise, talent and experience, professional work with film is impossible.
- Settings are individual shots that are later used to assemble a scene in a video or film.
- One setting differs from the subsequent setting in that the image is cropped differently.
- Repetitions have nothing to do with the size of the shot, because they keep the same section of the image.
- The sequence of shots in a scene is determined by the dramaturgy and finalized during the montage.
- The main image details are: Total, Half-total, Half-close, Close-up, Close-up and Detail.
Every and every film nation also has its own cultural rules for dealing with shot sizes.
In dealing with settings, the camera and director must consequently be aware that films are told sequentially. It’s like an orchestra. It is the interplay and, in the case of film, the change of image section that give the film and the film language their power.
How do I work correctly with setting size and image detail?
An outdated movie rule says that if you go from overview to detail, and back again, you’ll never go wrong with setting. A scene would totally start with that, where we see who is where in the room. From the half-total, which gives us more information about the people and objects, we move on to the semi-close-up and close-up, undercut with close-ups and details. This is always coordinated with the content of the story.
According to this principle, we see what is important larger and closer, what is less important or what we need for spatial orientation, rather from a distance. Towards the end of a scene, the sequence is reversed: we move away and leave the action.
Films staged and edited in this way resemble a medieval courtly dance. Strictly formal, this sequence leaves the viewer no room for surprise. This is what filmed theatre feels like. Because the scenes are always played out (= visually resolved from beginning to end) there is also often a lack of pacing.
Modern videos handle the composition of shot sizes and framing differently. As a rule of thumb, it has been established in practice that never more than one setting size should be skipped. This makes sense in everyday video production, but has no claim to general validity. As far as it is justifiable in terms of content and dramaturgy, several sizes may be skipped.
Also, no one today assumes that a scene has to be “ridden out” to the end. The “accordion” game, through all the stages to close-up and back again, is outdated. It is permitted to leave a sequence with a close-up. Only one thing is important: information and emotions, in short, the guidance of the viewer must not suffer.
Influence of the settings on the montage and image editing
The often quoted argument that the sequence must skip one step at a time when cropping the image, so that the image does not jump later in the cut, is complete nonsense! Here, angles of view (the camera perspective) are confused with the setting size. Anyone who jumps into a picture on the same axis, whether over one or more setting sizes, either needs impeccable content-related reasons for doing so or has never heard of the 30-degree rule. See also the Filmpuls article on the phenomenon of invisible cuts.
You can read more about film editing in a four-part series of articles also in our magazine. Their contents at a glance:
- Repetition and rhythm (this article)
Overview of setting sizes
Finally, a summary of the most important settings and image details:
|Classic setting sizes|
|Example||Name||Features for cropping the image|
|Total||Orientation in space (English = establishment). Man is “only” part of the environment. Answer question: Where are we? That’s why it’s called Establishing Shots.|
|Supertotal||Space is overwhelming, man appears frighteningly unimportant and small in the panorama.|
|Halftotal||Man from head to toe in all his greatness. The viewer is a few arm’s lengths away.|
|Half-Near||Head to hip, from the height of the hair. Half close corresponds to the distance of the spectator from a person he does not know well. It shows persons from the head downwards to slightly below the middle of the torso, as well as the immediate surroundings.|
|American||Thigh to head. Because cowboys and spacegirls wear their guns on their legs. The American setting is used in every genre today.|
|Near||above waist to head. That’s how you talk to someone you know. Facial expressions are unmistakably legible.|
|Close-up||Head with shoulder. A form of close up. Every detail counts. Whether it’s a twitch of the mouth or a flash of the eyes, the close-up shows it.|
|Detailed view||Detail of a larger whole. For example, a hand or pistol. Guides the viewer’s gaze .|
|Italian||Shows only the eye area, eyes and mouth. Made famous with Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns.|
More about settings
For those who want to delve deeper into the subject of framing, setting and shot size, Daniel Arijon’s book “Grammar of the Film Language” on the language of film is highly recommended. It explains assembly and settings with many illustrations from scratch. That’s why the work is considered a classic for filmmakers and video producers.
Granted, there are lighter reads than these 600+ pages. But the work is worth it.
In addition to case studies (practical examples of how a plot can be resolved visually and what rules should be followed to do so), almost every chapter also contains many storyboards that are easy to read and understand. Unfortunately, the book is currently only available in English, Japanese, French and Spanish.
Original title: Grammar of the Film Language | Author: Daniel Arjon | Publisher: Silman James
© 3D-Grid: “Action Girl” by turbosquid.com, Artist: WindTrees
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