Framing Shots for Better Storytelling

When creating storyboards, framing a shot is part of the goal, along with telling the story.

Framing or composing a shot is like taking a picture with a camera. Learning some basic elements of framing can help students learn to take well-composed pictures as well as teaching them how to create storyboards to visualize and tell a story.


Some types of shots and shot names that will be addressed are:
Establishing Shot, Over-the-Shoulder Shot, Reverse Shot, Two Shot & Cut Away.

But before we start looking at shot types, a brief word about framing:
Framing a character: (from left to right) 
1. This is a Long Shot of a character.  A long shot shows the character from head to toe.
2. Medium Shot—the character from the waist up.
3. Close Up—shoulder and up.
Notice the space above the characters head. This is called "head room."
Using filmic terms makes it easy to communicate with a camera person or director of photography while shooting a project or designing shots (i.e. rather than saying "move the character down in the frame," a director would say "give the character more 'head room'").


Learning the language of film, such as the types of shots and when/why they're used, can assist students with successfully communicating their ideas. The examples of the shots that will be given in this article are examples of the typical use of these shots.

Establishing Shot:
Usually a wide shot which helps orient the viewer about where and when the story is taking place. 
(Wide shot: another term for a long shot which also shows a large portion of the scene or setting.)
(Long Shot: when framing a person means showing them from head to toe in the shot.)

We've put a man with a briefcase and a dog in front of a school.  As the story continues will show and tell more about this man and the dog.


Here's an interior establishing shot of the same character sitting at a desk.  It is also a long shot of the character, but in this case we'll call it an establishing shot because we are establishing that the story has changed the location to inside.  The shot shows the audience that he is in an office. The viewer will mentally join this shot with the establishing shot of the school exterior and assume it's an office in the school.

Here we see the character at the principal's desk. We see that it is a principal's desk because we put a sign on the desktop.

When storyboarding to shoot a movie, an important element of the storyboarding process is showing the spatial relationship of the elements within the shot (i.e. the screen position of the main elements) so the crew knows where to set up the camera and lights and where to position the actors.  This board shows the director wants a medium shot of the principal behind his desk.

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When storyboarding to illustrate a story in order to pitch a concept, we would want to "dress the set" (in this case, the office) with visual elements that say "school principal."  (Use props, i.e. books, flag, wall decorations.) When pitching an idea, it's important to sell the idea visually!

Another technique used by professional film crews is called location scouting (finding the actual physical location for the production). Professionals will take a digital photo of the location at the time of day that the script calls for, and then import the image and place a character into the board.

A professional script would indicate the location in slug line.  That slug line might read as follows:



Introduction of another character:
Long shot of the new character coming into the room.

A storyboard can contain a caption along with the picture.  Sometimes it’s a scene description and/or dialog.

John walks into the principal's office.
John: Excuse me, Principal Moore.


Using the types of shots we've already discussed, we can progress the story by moving the characters into medium shots in the same locations.  This indicates to the audience that we are still in the same locations but now we are getting closer to the characters, which allows the audience to get to know the characters more intimately.

The caption adds additional information to the storyboard:
Principal Moore turns towards the door.

Principal Moore:  Please come in John and have a seat.

Since we've already been introduced to John as a character in the long shot, the next step is a medium shot to give the audience more time to see who John is.  When setting up for a medium shot, we will give the actor room to show some of his personality (we will see how he's dressed, how he walks, what he may be carrying). In a visual medium like film or television, everything about the character says something.  Some characters physical presence says more than the words that might come from their dialog.

John walks closer.


Another type of shot commonly used is an Over-the-Shoulder shot.  It connects the two characters and shows that they are in the same location at the same time and sets up the ability for each character to be seen when talking.

Often, beginning filmmakers choose to film conversations in profile because it's easy.  However, profiles don't allow the audience to see the emotion on the face of the character.  So over-the-shoulder shots are preferable in shots of conversations.


John: I see you found my dog, Maddie.

Over-the-shoulder shot set up. 
When creating over-the-shoulder shots for a conversation, keep the camera on the same side of the characters’ shoulders.  Here, John is on the left side of the frame and Principal Moore is on the right. In the previous shot, John was also on the left side of the frame and Principal Moore on the right. Characters should occupy approximately the same screen position.

Advanced: At this point you can teach about a "stage line" and how the camera stays on one side of the character until a neutral shot is taken and then the camera can change sides.

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This shot is also called a Reverse Angle Shot (reverse of the prior shot). The audience gets to see the reverse side of the conversation.

Principal Moore:   You know we don't allow dogs in the school. And this is the third time this week she's been here.

Cutaway Shot

This is a shot of an element or item in the story that the storyteller wants to highlight or bring into focus for the audience to notice. It is often, but not always, in the same location as the rest of the story and it is in support of what the story is about. In a mystery, the director might cut away to a clue hidden in the room so that the audience is given privileged information. Here, the cutaway is of John's dog so that we now see that the puppy is close at hand. The conversation or dialog between the Principal and John might still continue.

John: I'm sorry, Mr. Moore.  I told her to go home but she didn't listen to me.

A Two Shot is simply two of the characters together in one shot.  This is a filmmaker’s short cut to say that we need both characters in the same frame at the same time.

John is happy to his puppy. John's puppy barks as John says:

I taught her to sit but maybe she came to school to learn how to speak!

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Close Up
A close up allows the audience to see the character's reaction to what's going on in the story.

Principal Moore:
She sounds like she already knows how.  They both laugh as puppy continues to bark.


People, places and things are the visual elements of a story.  A software program like StoryBoard Quick helps imaginations bring ideas, concepts and stories to life.  Whether you have a story idea or need to stimulate your imagination, StoryBoard Quick provides tools and artwork to make the job fun and easy.

Visit for more information about PowerProduction Software's storyboard line of products.



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