One of the biggest challenges in film and video production is figuring out how to compose interesting, dynamic shots, no matter the nature of the project.
Whether it’s a corporate or commercial video production or a feature film, the choice of frame composition is always critical to success.
Now, for more information on frame composition in general, check out our previous post, The Art of Frame Composition in Video Production, but this post is all about the establishing shot.
In our time in NY / NJ video production, we’ve created our share of them, so let’s see what it takes to ensure your establishing shots not only serve their purpose, but hook the viewer and draw them in closer to your content.
Look at the bigger picture.
An establishing shot’s purpose, first and foremost, is to orient the viewer, to provide context by giving them a sense of the space that the scene is taking place in and when it’s taking place. It should establish the setting, however, that’s not all it can do.
First of all, look at the bigger picture. Yes, you need to let the viewers know where they are, but try to showcase the unique elements of the setting along the way. It doesn’t have to be a straight long shot of a house in the center of the frame.
Trust us, as longtime NJ / NY video production vets, like any other element of the film or video production, you should try to use the space to support or enhance your story, whether that means including clues as far as backstory or simply helping to set the mood.
For an extreme example, think about a long shot of a house near a mountain, with peaks and valleys and windy roads leading up to it.
Think about a rainy or nighttime setting and how all that could work together to represent the scene’s main character’s current emotional-roller-coaster-like state.
The point is, look for eye-catching elements of the space, try unusual angles, experiment with different distances because, while the establishing shot must serve its central purpose, you can still get creative with the space.
Think about who’s in the picture, and where.
The establishing shot doesn’t always simply need to establish the size and nature of the setting, it may also need to let the viewer know which characters are in it.
In that case, just as you should try and think creatively in terms of the physical space, you should do the same with any characters that may be occupying it.
Think about the distance between the subjects. Think about their position in the frame. What can the viewer take from these visual cues? You need to take that into consideration, no matter if it’s a film, commercial, or corporate video production.
For example, if two characters in a scene aren’t happy with each other, you can put some distance between them and maybe have one turned away from the other to enhance the effect.
And we’ve been in NY / NJ video production long enough to know that it’s not just about placement either. Think about the body language of the characters. Even if you’ll be cutting in closer quickly, it still affords you the chance to give the viewer an idea of the current state of the scene’s characters.
So, the establishing shot may not only have to establish the setting of the scene but who’s in it as well, and you should use that as an opportunity to establish relationships, dynamics, etc., if and when appropriate.
The good news? Drones…
Some of the best establishing shots are aerial and from a fairly long distance. These birds-eye-view shots tend to boost the production value of the content, but in the past, that came with a pretty hefty price.
However, you don’t need to rent a helicopter anymore to achieve these kinds of establishing shots. Now, there is another solution to the problem… drones.
We’ve watched, firsthand, drones burst onto the NJ / NY video production scene as an inexpensive and highly efficient way to capture incredible aerial footage.
That’s what makes them so perfect for establishing shots and, on top of that, drones can go places that helicopters can’t.
So, that means you can think creatively about how you establish your scene from an aerial perspective and try to use it, as always, as an opportunity to support or enhance your story or message.
You may not need one, but when you do, think of it as an opportunity.
Now, you can start with a medium shot or close up and work your way back out to a long shot and, sometimes, you may just want to withhold information from the viewer and omit any type of establishing shot altogether.
If you’re working on a mystery short or feature film, for example, there could be scenes where you don’t want to reveal too much.
However, when your film or video production does call for an establishing shot, just try to think of it as an opportunity. You can roll your eyes and go get the necessary coverage and call it a day, or you can take it to another level.
By considering every element in the frame, its placement and movement, and by thinking carefully about what to emphasize, you can create establishing shots that do a whole lot more than simply establish the time and space of the scene.
About KVibe Productions: A veteran in NY / NJ video production, KVibe can handle every aspect of any film or video production, from development through distribution. Whether it’s a product promo video, a commercial, a corporate video, a feature film, or any other video project, KVibe creates to inspire. Check out our work to see for yourself.