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Lens Focal Lengths - Wide shots vs Close ups

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

Note: To have a better understanding of the terms in this article please see 'Lens Focal Lengths - Zoom lenses vs Prime lenses'.

Often you will hear the terms 'wide shot', 'mid shot' and 'close ups'. This is simply describing how big a subject is in the frame.

Here are some of the different terms to describe the size of a subject in relation to the frame:

  • Extreme close up (short version: XCU)

  • Close up (short version: CU)

  • Medium close up (short version: MCU)

  • Mid shot (short version: MS)

  • Wide shot (short version: WS)

  • Extreme wide shot (short version: XWS)

There are two ways to manipulate whether a shot is considered a 'wide angle' or 'close up' or anything in between.

  1. Moving the camera physically closer to a subject or;

  2. Using a longer or shorter 'focal length' depending on what you are wanting to achieve.

In this exercise we are going to look at keeping our subject in as a 'mid shot' no matter what our focal length is, this means no matter 'how zoomed in or how zoomed out the lens is'. Here we will be covering from 16mm through to 200mm focal lengths.

At 16mm we the face is distorted (oversized nose and ears than normal) and we can see a lot of the backgroundj:

Now let's take a look at the difference as we go up focal lengths – take a look at what happens to the background and also the subject's face as we increase the focal length of the zoom lenses we are using:

To have the subject remain as a mid-shot (MS) throughout our focal range we have had to physically move the camera away from the subject in each instance. Below you can see the distance for the first shot (16mm) and the last shot at 200mm:

How do we know that we have kept a midshot (MS) the whole way along? When doing the exercise we've made sure that the subject's same amount of head and shoulders are always 'in frame'.

Note: In frame simply is referring to anything that is seen within the image that's been filmed or photographed.

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