A guide to camera shot sizes for filmmakers

In a close-up, something is filling the large part of the image. That can be a character’s face, another body part, or a certain prop. A close-up is a little closer than a medium close-up and wider than an extreme close-up.

How close-ups can be used

One of the most interesting things to observe is the human face. The close-up shot in a film does primarily that: It puts the human face at the center of attention in an image.
Close-ups are also used for props or other body parts, like the hands, to visually underline the importance of a certain object or small actions for the story.

example of a close-up

The broken jar and strong smell of its content will play an important role later.

Show facial expressions

A close-up brings forward the smallest nuances of a facial expression, which cannot be seen in a wider image. Due to the exclusion of almost everything else from the image, the audience can fully concentrate on that expression.

example of a close-up

She has a personal moment reflecting on her life while looking into a mirror. Her face fills almost the whole frame, which allows us to closely observe her expression.

Create intimacy

If you want to create a connection between the character and the audience, a close-up of the face is one of the most powerful tools you can use in visual storytelling. By composing the shot right and excluding unnecessary visual elements, you can ensure that your audience will pay attention only to what you want them to focus on.
A close-up of a face makes an audience feel close to a character. Not only does it allow the viewers to look at the face but it also reveals a person’s feelings.

example of a close-up

The expression on her face tells us that she isn’t enjoying the car ride, it doesn’t seem like she wants to be in that car. In addition to the close shot size, the perspective from the back seat creates an intimacy between the character and the audience.

Dramaturgical use

Through editing, a close-up can gain additional potential: By showing a close-up, the filmmakers want to draw the audience’s attention to whatever is shown and establish an emotional connection in that particular moment. 

In the following example, a man is looking at an old picture of his deceased wife and estranged daughter.
The first image establishes the situation. In the next image, we see the photo he is looking at. Through the ensuing close-up of his face, we can see the sadness and regret that intimate memories release in him. The experience of that moment will drive his subsequent actions.
example of a close-up
example of a close-up
example of a close-up

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