Video & Photo Presentations: 3
Basic Shot Types and Their Uses

by Roger Roth

So far, we have established you as the presenter, a length of your actual presentation, its storyboard, and basic lengths of individual shots depending on the importance of those shots to the story.  This month, I’ll discuss the use of long shots, medium shots, close-up shots, and direction of action as I’ve learned it from reading over a decade’s worth of articles in Skin Diver magazine written by the venerable Jim Church.  Please note this is only a short synopsis of the wonderful teachings that can be found in Jim’s instructional books and is not meant to replace them.  For a more complete and in-depth instruction, you should read his books, or better yet, take a course with him.

Last month, we began chapter two of our presentation with a wide-angle shot of a wall or panoramic view of the reef.  Once you’ve taken the viewer to the wall or reef, then a medium length shot of something there will take the viewer closer to the action, like a shot of divers pointing to a sponge that looks as if it’s smoldering.  Be sure to include the divers as well as the sponge in your shot.  Then use a close-up shot of the sponge alone, or the sponge with a diver immediately next to it and looking at it.

The change from wide angle (long shot; LS) to a medium length shot (MS), to a close-up (CU) shot is imperative in your presentation.  This eases the viewer comfortably to the action.  The next logical shot might be an MS of the diver leaving the sponge and pointing towards a passing turtle, or just taking the viewer elsewhere on the reef.  If you do have numerous good close-up shots you want to use, you should always show a long shot or medium shot of that subject before showing the close-up.  This will give your viewers a better idea of your subject and where it is.  This holds true for slide as well as video presentations.

The length of each shot will again be determined by the importance of it.  If the importance is equal for each of the three LS, MS, and CU shots, then the length can be the same; possibly determined by the music count (I’ll discuss music choreography next month.).  If the LS and MS are only tools to the CU action then they should be shorter, leaving more time for the action shot itself.

Once you master the use of LS, MS, and CU shots, direction of action is the next important thing to consider in assembling your presentation.  In video, when a fish exits your picture to the right, left, top or bottom as you hold your camera still, your next shot should have a subject appearing from the right, left, top or bottom, respectively.  You can use a shot where the fish enters and exits the picture, but then the fish should exit from the same side it entered from.

If the fish doesn’t exit your picture (now also applying to slide presentations), then the direction it is facing should be similar to the direction your next subject faces.  The placement of the subject in your picture at the end of your shot (i.e. middle, top left, etc. following the compositional rule of thirds, which won’t be covered in this series.  See Jim’s books on composition for this.) should also be similar to the placement of the subject in your subsequent shot.  To change this facing direction when your subjects don’t exit the picture, different special effects transitions can be used here effectively, whether in video or slide shows.

One additional point of information about the direction of action is that the good guys usually enter and exit from the left, and the bad guys usually enter and exit from the right (watch some old Lone Ranger episodes for verification).  This follows the normal way we read, from left to right.  To introduce a bad guy like a shark, or a new subject, right to left action is appropriate, as it represents something different from the norm.  Keep in mind, this is all not absolute, but only a basic guideline for comfortable viewing.  Sea Ya! 

Next: Music Choreography, Transitions and the Edit Room Floor

Critter corner:Since the cartilaginous skeletons of sharks do not lend them themselves to fossilization, very little is known about the sharks’ actual evolution.

copyright © Roger Roth, 2002 - 2011

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Roger Roth is a roofer by trade and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. But his passion is underwater vidiography and after several decades of learning how to shoot and edit he has evolved into a teacher and a photographic philanthropist. Roger is the founder of the annual international Underwater Images Photo and Video Competition. You may contact Roger at