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TutorTime’s Extensive Guide to Film Techniques

When we go to the Movies we often focus on the storyline or the characters and how it all makes us feel. When we study film, however, we pay closer attention to all the techniques and tools filmmakers use to engage our emotions. It can be so easy to get caught up in the sound effects or the dialogue and miss all the tiny intricate details that make us empathise with a character or feel a certain way. Here is our extensive list of film techniques and some examples. If you struggle to understand any of these or require further information, book a TutorTime tutor today!

CategoryTechniqueExplanation and Examples
Shots and FramingEstablishing ShotA single piece of film, uninterrupted by cuts. An establishing shot is used to set up a setting or location. It sets the scene.
Long ShotShot from a distance, this shows a person’s full body. It is often used to establish loneliness or isolation. 
Medium ShotShows a person from the waist up. This is the most common shot used in movies. Often used to ground a story. 
Close upThe subject of the shot takes up about 80% of the frame in a close-up. It is used to create empathy and show a character’s emotions.
Extreme CloseupThis usually only shows a part of the character’s face such as an eye. Used often in horror movies, this creates intensity and drama.
Two shotThis is a shot that features two characters and is used to develop their relationship.
Bridging ShotThis is a shot that establishes the movement of time. Often we see the sun and moon moving over a landmark or we see a clock turning quickly. These are used to show the audience that time has passed. Whether it be hours or days.
Camera AnglesEye-levelThis angle puts the audience literally eye-to-eye with the character and lets them feel more involved in the story. It is the most common camera angle used.
High angleThis is when the camera looks down on the character. An extreme version of this would be a bird’s eye view, these are used to make the character look small or vulnerable. They could also be used to demonstrate another character looking down on the subject from their perspective.
Low angleThe opposite of the high angle, this is when the camera looks up at a character from below. This makes the character look powerful or strong. It can also make the audience feel vulnerable or small.
Dutch angleAlso known as a tilt shot, this is when the camera is placed on an angle. Often used to make the audience feel the disorientation or confusion a character faces. For example, if a character is feeling faint or has a head injury, we might see the dutch angle used so that the audience feels the wooziness the character is experiencing.
LightingFrontalThis is when the lighting diffuses from right in front of the subject. It is used to emphasize the subject.
Side lightingThis creates a shadow on one side of the character or subject’s face. It creates a sense of intrigue and mystery, suggesting that there is another side to this character.
BacklightingWhen the light is coming from behind the character or subject we only see a silhouette. This is used for dramatic effect, for example, if a character has yet to be revealed.
Under lightingImagine that moment around a campfire when you turn on a torch and hold it under your face before you tell a ghost story. That is under lighting. It is most commonly used to create a sense of fear. It can also be used to make a subject seem powerful.
Top lightingThis is often used when a divine character appears, such as an angel or a god. It is used to glamourise characters as well. The light shines down on the subject.
Camera Movements
PanPanning is when the camera sweeps over a location or setting using a panoramic view. This, like the establishing shot, is used to set the scene.
TiltSimilar to a pan but tilting vertically rather than horizontally, this is often to emphasise how tall a building or landmark is or to create a sense of height. It can often be used when a character is afraid of heights.
ZoomZooming into a character’s features is often used when delicate or important information is revealed, it allows the audience to feel closer to the character. On the other hand, zooming out from a character is often used to create a divide between the audience and the character.
Dolly TrackingThis is often used to show a setting in more detail as it gives the audience a ‘tour’ of the location. Alternatively, it can be used to track or follow a character. This can be used to create a sense of adventure, for example when we are running with velociraptors in the Jurassic World movie.
Rock ShotThis is when the focus shifts from the foreground to background while within a shot. Most often used to focus on one character and then shift focus to another character. This is used for dramatic effect. For example, when a character reveals something important, we watch that character say something, and then we are shown the other character reacting to this information.
Boom/ CraneOften used at the end of a film, this is when the camera is attached to a crane or a helicopter and moves away from the subject as though we are leaving the scene or the story behind.
SoundDiegeticDiegetic sounds are sounds that the characters here.
Non-DiegeticThis includes sound effects and soundtracks that are added for the audience but not heard by the characters. For example, in a horror movie, this might be the ominous music. In a sitcom, this might be the sound of laughter from the sound stage. These are used to create mood.
Editing TechniquesCutawayThis is when a shot is interrupted by another shot. For example, someone driving down a highway gets interrupted by a shot of a truck heading towards them.
FadeUsually used at the beginning and end of a film, we fade from or to a black screen. This creates the sense that the audience has been given a glimpse into another world for a short period of time.
DissolveUsed to transition between two scenes, a dissolve is when the new shot is overlayed on top of the one and the old one dissolves from under the new. It is often used to show memories, daydreams or even phone conversations between two characters.
WipeUsed to transition between two scenes. A common wipe is the clock wipe. Like the bridging shot, this is used to show the passing of time.
FlashbackEditors often use a dissolve or a ripple transition to show the audience something that happened in a character’s past. This can be used to create foreshadowing or to tactfully reveal an important detail.
Shot-reverse-shotThis is often used when two characters are having a conversation. It is when the camera jumps from one person to another and then back again.
Cross-cuttingThis is when action is established in two different shots simultaneously. Often used to create a connection between two scenes. For example, someone is running as fast as they can to reach a destination, while someone else may be doing something that the first character is trying to prevent. Often these two scenes will meet eventually.
Eye-line matchThis is when we are shown a person looking at something and then shown what they were looking at, at the same level. This can provide the audience with insight into what the person was thinking.
MontageThe splicing together of several shots that fit together to show something happening over time. Most commonly used to show a training sequence as it shows a character improving at a skill over time.

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