Three Key Shots

By Jim Church

Watch any movie or TV program and you will see that they are combinations of three basic shots: the long shot (LS); the medium shot (MS); and the close-up shot (CU). The use of these shots can help U/W videographers produce an impressive video with professional appeal.

The Long Distance Shot: The LS shows a large scene. (Underwater, we usually shoot long shots with a wide angle lens to minimize camera to subject distances.) The picture area shown depends on the purpose of the shot and the subject's size.

The four main uses for the LS are:

1. To establish location (topside or U/W) and conditions (weather if topside; visibility if U/W). It sets the stage so the viewer can relate to the closer shots that follow.

2. The LS reminds the viewer of the overall scene. Imagine you are watching a football game on TV. After showing several close-ups of players, the image cuts to a wide-angle of the field. This re-establishes the location. Underwater, after shooting several close-ups of a fish, for example, an LS re-establishes the overall scene.

3. Use the LS as a transition to lead the viewer from one location to another. If you wish to leave a fish feeding sequence and move to close-ups of other reef creatures, use an LS of divers swimming away to signal the impending change of scene and action.

4. Use the LS to end action sequences or the entire story. An LS of divers swimming up to the boat or of divers during their safety stop, are examples of ending shots.

The medium shot: After establishing location and conditions with the LS, the MS identifies specific subjects. If a diver is looking at an octopus, for example, move in for a head and shoulders view. The MS is often your most important shot because it introduces the viewer to your undersea cast of characters and shows their actions.

The close-up shot: The CU makes your videos more exciting to watch because the viewer gets a closer look at your subjects. You can shoot a CU with a close focusing lens or with a wide-angle lens up close. If a preceding MS showed a diver looking at a small octopus, use a CU cut-in shot to provide the diver's view of the octopus.

Sequencing shots: The basic pattern is LS, MS, CU, MS and LS. Start with a wide-angle establishing shot. Move to an MS to identify your main subject and then use a CU to pinpoint the action. You can pull back for another MS and then end with an LS. For example, consider the following story line: Two divers approach a sunken ship (LS). One diver looks at some artifacts (MS). You move in for a close view of the artifacts (CU). You pull back for another view of the diver looking at the artifacts (MS). You end the sequence with a shot of the divers swimming away (LS). You can now move on to another subject.

You can, however, vary the pattern. You might start with a CU of the artifacts, then move back for an MS to show the diver looking at them or an LS of a diver approaching them. Use the three key shots as building blocks that you arrange and rearrange to suit your video movie.

Camera angles: For many LS and MS views, you'll get much better images if you are slightly lower than your subject. Getting low helps isolate subjects and makes them stand out against the midwater background. If you shoot LS and MS shots with downward angles, make sure you have contrast between the subject and the seafloor. Sandy bottoms make good backgrounds for LS and MS views of divers. For CU shots, there is no definite rule. Use whatever angle enhances your small subjects. In the next lesson, we will discuss advanced techniques for improving your video shots.