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Ministry of Education.

Film Terms and Definitions


  • EXTREME CLOSE-UP (ECU): Emphasises a portion of the face, a small detail. 

  • CLOSE-UP (CU): Close-up (often of a face). Draws attention to detail, especially facial reaction. 
MEDIUM CLOSE-UP (MCU): Figure framed from the chest up. 

  • MEDIUM SHOT (MS): Figure framed from the waist up. 

  • LONG SHOT: Also known as 'establishing shot'. Indicates the environment and places the human figure in a setting. 


  • LOW ANGLE SHOT: Camera positioned low, looking up. Emphasises the size of the object in frame. 

  • HIGH ANGLE SHOT: Camera positioned high, looking down. Emphasises the vulnerability of the object or person in focus. 

  • WIDE ANGLE SHOT: Special lens gives wide-angle view - gives context or setting of action. SUBJECTIVE/POINT OF VIEW SHOT: A shot from the perspective of a character ie; seeing it through their eyes. 


  • STATIC: The subject remains in relatively the same position. 

  • ZOOM: A smooth change in focal length to make the objects in the frame appear to come closer or recede. The camera does not move. 

  • PAN: Camera swivels slowly, giving a sweeping view of a wide area. 

  • HEAD ON: Subject moves towards the camera, this involves the audience. 

  • TAIL AWAY: Subject walks away from camera, often a final shot. 

  • TILT: Camera tilts up or down. 

  • TRACKING SHOT: Camera moves along a track on a dolly, keeping pace with a moving object which is being filmed. 

  • PULL BACK TRACK: Camera moves back from an object first seen in close-up. It places the object in context and is sometimes used as a surprise technique. 

  • CRANE SHOT: Camera is placed on a crane and can move in any direction. 

  • FREEZE FRAME: All movement on screen stops - action is frozen. 

Special Purpose Shots

  • CUT: Abrupt end to a shot. One shot is instantly replaced on screen by another. This is sometimes used to emphasise a change in mood or to point to a contrast. 

  • CROSS-CUTTING: Cutting back and forth between two scenes to create the impression that they are happening at the same time. Again, this is often used to point to a contrast. 

  • RE-ESTABLISHING SHOT: Usually a long shot, it shows the audience the whole scene once again slowly
  • FADE: image slowly fades from the screen, usually to black. 

  • DISSOLVE: As one image fades out, another fades in. The two images will be mixed together for a time. 

Camera Adjustment

  • SHALLOW FOCUS: Focus is clear in only one plane, the rest of the image is blurred. 

  • DEEP FOCUS: All areas from foreground to background are in focus. 

Other Terms 

  • FRAME: A single image; 24 projected frames per second create the illusion of movement 

  • MIS EN SCENE: The composition, the placement of objects within the frame, the setting, the lighting, what is happening. 

  • SHOT OR TAKE: The footage taken by one camera without interruption. 

  • SCENE: A segment of film in which the narrative takes place in a single space and time. 

  • SEQUENCE: A segment of film involving a complete stretch of action. 

  • SOUND EFFECTS (SFX): Sound effects - noises other than the spoken voice. 

  • VOICE OVER / VOICE OFF: A voice is heard but the person speaking is not on screen or does not appear to be talking. May be an unseen narrator or a character's thoughts. 

  • GRAPHICS: Lettering or drawing by artists eg. for credits. 


  • BACKGROUND NOISE - This creates the atmosphere in a scene, for example the sound of intercoms, a lot of people talking and planes taking off will give the impression of an airport. 

  • BACKGROUND MUSIC - This usually ties in with the action. It can be used to let the audience know what is about to happen or to affect their emotions. The music heard at the start of a film sets the tone for the whole film and is sometimes repeated at important times throughout. There are many different types of music used in films:
  • loud, rhythmic and fast - supports violent or rapid action
  • soft, melodic, use of harmony - romantic
  • sudden and discordant, use of brass and percussion - humorous
  • electronic, synthesised - sci - fi
  • rising melody, discordant - builds tension


  • NATURAL LIGHT - The best shots are made with light to one side of the subject. This avoids heavy shadowing, little shadowing (which creates a flat appearance) and squinting. Shadowy outdoor areas create dark pictures. 

  • KEY LIGHT - Towards the subjects face at eye level. Gives the effect of natural shadows. 

  • FILL LIGHT - This is a lower powered light nearer to the camera. It softens the key light so that the shadows are not so dark. 

  • BACK LIGHT - A light high up behind the subject creates a halo effect and gives depth to the scene. A stronger, lower backlight gives a silhouette effect

Published on: 05 Dec 2010