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A 'Full Shot'. What is it & what are its uses?

Updated: May 6, 2023

In traditional film production, multiple cameras are often used to shoot each scene. (See the camera positions A, B, and C in the figure on the right). Actors play the same scene a number of times until the director is satisfied with their performance and also until each scene is recorded using all the camera positions that may be needed.

A camera capturing a full shot of a subject.

A full shot is a type of camera shot that captures a character or subject's entire body from top to bottom within the entire frame. In a full shot, the character is meant to be framed from their head to their toe. Full shots enable the spectator to see the emotions on the character's face while also enabling them to see their physicality, body language, and actions. These shots are typically used to capture the character or subject's setting and context of the character. They can be used with one or more characters.

Full shot is another name for wide shot or long shot. It shows the subject fully, from head to toe (in the case of a person). Full shots using the 4x3 aspect ratio tend to include the subject and very little else. In wider aspect ratios it's common to include more points of interest than just the subject, otherwise the extra space may appear empty or wasted. - MediaCollege

Why use a full shot?

Think about what you might see in a Full Shot. What someone is wearing, for example. If the guy sees his date walk in, he’s going to look her over, and you would use a Full Shot to show what he’s seeing. If you have a fight scene with two men hitting and struggling, you may not want the camera in so close you only see the faces. You want the reader to see those arms swinging and legs kicking. Yet, you don’t want to be so far away you can’t hear the moans of pain or see the blood flying when the bad guy gets his nose broken by a hard punch.

When a filmmaker is creating a shot list, they have innumerable options for each shot. By identifying various shot sizes and/or the types of camera lenses, one can decide the perfect shot for the perfect moment if you have several lenses at your disposal. What defines a full shot is the correct framing of the camera to capture the character's entire body. Through this kind of camera framing, most Cinematographers and Directors use this shot for communicating specific types of emotions or information to the audience. What different things can be communicated through the use of a full shot in film?

A Full Shot may cover a conversation until an important point (or high moment) is being reached, and then either the Zoom or Close-Up will come into play—or a Pull Back to a Long Shot, to reveal a bigger picture. After the climactic moment, a return to the Full Shot might be utilized. - C.S. Lakin

A person standing in front of a beautiful mountain view captured in a full shot.

1. Characters

Viewing a character’s full body can help discover who they are. A character’s posture, apparel, and mobility can all reflect who that character really is perhaps better than any conversation could. One of the best auteur directors, Wes Anderson, prefers to use the full shot for this effect. For Anderson, these shots demonstrate the apparel and posture of his witty, cumbersome, and idiosyncratic characters.

2. Context

Another benefit of the full shot in film is that it is wide enough to display a character’s full body while also revealing their context. This enables the audience to create a connection between the character, the context, and the narrative.

3. Body Language

What is the use of a full shot in a scene that contains multiple characters? Well, films do not only use dialogue to communicate a conversation between two characters. Body language makes one hell of a difference. the full shot allows the director to display the characters' body language which can subtly be used to add a great deal of information in dialogue scenes.

As you can see, there are numerous reasons to utilize the full shot in film. All of them aim to tell a better story. A full shot is generally confused with the wide shot. Although the two have a few similarities, they also have some key differences.

A full shot of a person standing in front of a beautiful mountainous landscape.

Full shot vs. Wide shot

The terms full shot and wide shot are generally, but mistakenly interchanged. Due to the similarities between the two, we can't blame those that mistake them for each other. A full shot is a type of wide shot. However, not all wide shots are a full shots. There are various types of different wide shots such as the medium wide shot and extreme wide shot.

Full shots are defined by the framing of a character from head to toe from the bottom of the frame to the top of the frame. Wide shots, however, frame characters with more space around them to capture more of their context and setting. - StudioBinder

It is vital to understand the difference between the term 'full' and 'wide' when used in filmmaking because this allows the filmmaker to be more specific when communicating ideas of the visuals to various members of the crew (especially the Director of Photography).

When a director tells a cinematographer to frame their character using a wide shot, the cinematographer may not instantly be able to decipher how wide the shot's framing needs to be. However, when a director says they want a full shot, it's pretty obvious.

Various shot sizes have various storytelling functions and advantages. Understanding the different types of shot sizes you can use will make you a better-equipped filmmaker and help you tell a better story and at Cinemagic, we want to empower the youth to be better storytellers.

An image showing a full shot in cinematography, depicting a person standing in the center of the frame, with their entire body visible from head to toe.

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