The Power of Close-Up Shots

Film Shot Vocabulary

Filmmakers use a variety of shot types to capture different perspectives and elements of a scene. These shots make up a sequence of filmed images that are then edited together to create the final film.

Mise en scene:

Everything you need to set the scene—from lighting, to sets, to costumes.


Filmmakers have long understood the power of close-up shots. These are tightly framed and typically used to frame a character’s face and dominate the screen in a scene. They can elicit powerful emotions from audiences and provide a deeper understanding of the character’s state of mind. Filmmakers have a variety of other shot sizes at their disposal and work them together to tell the story they want to tell. For example, Bong Joon-ho’s recent hit Parasite is a perfect blending of long, medium, and close-up shots to convey the complex emotional journey of its protagonist.

The close-up, also known as a tight close-up (CCU), is a type of camera shot that shows the subject in greater detail than a medium or wide shot. Close-ups are usually used to frame a subject’s facial expressions and to show small details on objects in the scene, such as tapping feet or sliding rings on fingers. Often, close-ups will be cut with other types of shots to add contrast and depth to the scene. For example, an extreme close-up of a character reacting to a sound may be cut with a wide shot of the source of the noise, such as the shower drain in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Historically, the close-up was used by early filmmakers like George Albert Smith and James Williamson to develop characters and evoke emotion in their films. However, with the rise of digital cinematography, the close-up has become an essential tool for every director. In fact, many modern-day films make heavy use of the close-up to create a sense of intimacy with their audiences.

One of the most famous examples of the close-up in action is the iconic scene from Casablanca, where Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman stare at each other with strained expressions. This scene, which was filmed in black and white, is known for its powerful emotional impact, as well as the use of close-ups to establish the two characters’ relationship.

Filmmakers have been using close-ups to establish powerful emotions and develop exposition and plot since the turn of the century. The late Sergio Leone, for instance, famously used an extreme close-up during the final duel in his film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. This close-up of the gunfight showed the audience exactly what was at stake in the scene and fueled their tension as the shootout unfolded.

In addition to establishing powerful emotions, close-ups can help build suspense by showing viewers what is happening at a very detailed level. This allows them to feel emotionally attached to the characters and their struggles, which increases the likelihood that they will care about what happens in the end. The close-up, therefore, is an invaluable tool for any budding director to learn how to use. To further your skills in this area, consider attending one of Nashville Film Institute’s comprehensive filmmaking programs. These courses will teach you all of the fundamentals of filmmaking, including how to use a range of shot types, including the close-up. Contact us today to find out more.

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