Let HITCHCOCK teach you shot, composition and rules

When you are learning how film works, the technical information you need to remember can be dizzying. Let master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock teach you the basic shot types, composition and “rules”.

This is a primer – there are many more terms and details, but use this as a starter guide!

1. EXTREME CLOSE UP (Psycho - 1960)
can show smallest detail
1. EXTREME CLOSE UP (Psycho – 1960)
can show smallest detail

2. CLOSE UP (Psycho - 1960)
in this case, shows the full face
2. CLOSE UP (Psycho – 1960)
in this case, shows the full face

3. MID SHOT (Blackmail – 1929)
waist up

4. LONG SHOT (The 39 Steps – 1935)
shows full figure

5. EXTREME LONG SHOT (North by Northwest – 1959)
shows widest range of information – often used as an establishing shot to introduce a scene or new location

6. TWO SHOT (Saboteur – 1942)
two individuals in the shot

7. OVER THE SHOULDER SHOT (North by Northwest – 1959)
camera positioned behind one actor, looking “over the shoulder” to the other actor

8. LOOKING ROOM (Family Plot – 1976)
space made in the frame in the direction the character is looking

9. HIGH ANGLE SHOT (North by Northwest – 1959)
camera is high up, looking down at actors – character can appear low status. Can be used differently – in this case the villain James Mason (right) is suggesting that a spy could be killed by dropping him from a great height – so the camera rises to a high level to look down.

10. LOW ANGLE SHOT (Dial M for Murder – 1954)
camera is low down, looking up at actor – character can seem powerful or dominant

11. TILTED ANGLE / DUTCH ANGLE (Notorious – 1946)
camera is at an unusual angle, perhaps reflecting that something is slightly wrong with the characters or the emotions of the scene.

12. RULE OF THIRDS (Marnie – 1964)
main focal points of the frame correlate to gridlines that divide the frame (see below)
Marnie - gridlines

13. THE 180 DEGREE RULE (To Catch a Thief – 1955)
camera is positioned on one side of the 180 degree “line” between actors, to ensure that when edited together the actors seem to be looking at each other. The actress (Grace Kelly) looks to right of frame. The actor (Cary Grant) looks to left of frame. But if the camera for Cary Grant was repositioned to be on the far side of the “line”, he would also be looking to right of frame, leaving audiences confused.

14. OVERHEAD SHOT (Frenzy – 1972)
camera is directly overhead looking down – can show the actor’s relationship to environment or make them look small. In this case, it allows us to see how small the jail cell is.

15. TILT UP (Vertigo – 1958)
the camera is fixed on the floor, but tilts up – obviously the opposite move is tilt down

16. JUMP CUT (The Birds – 1963)
a jump cut is an edit where there is a deliberate “jump” in continuity. In this case the camera seems to jump closer to the victim, giving a shocking effect. A slow zoom or dolly in would also have worked, but would not have the same effect. The jump cut usually draws attention to itself.

17. DOLLY SHOT (USING CRANE) (Notorious – 1946)
the camera is on a crane which sits on the “dolly” – a special camera truck on wheels. The crane lowers the camera as the dolly is pushed closer to the actor. (At the same time, the camera operator is manually altering the focus on the camera – a complex shot)

18. PAN RIGHT AND PAN LEFT (Rope – 1948)
the camera is fixed on the floor, but is swivelled to the left or right

19. TRACKING SHOT (North by Northwest – 1959)
the camera moves with the actor, but keeps the same distance (doesn’t get closer to or move away from him.) A strong action shot where the audience are with” him in this tense scene.

It wouldn’t be right to discuss Hitchcock without mentioning one of the camera “tricks” that he used. In “Vertigo”, the main character, played by James Stewart has an accident at the start – and the sudden fear of heights he develops is represented using a dolly zoom

20. DOLLY ZOOM (Vertigo – 1958)
A dolly zoom is when the camera is moved towards the actor, while zooming out – or by pulling away from the actor while zooming in. The effect is that the foreground action remains the same size while the background changes. It can be quite disorienting – which is why Hitchcock used it to represent the character’s fear..

The dolly zoom has been used by many filmmakers – here are some of the most notable:

Jaws (directed by Steven Spielberg)

Goodfellas (directed by Martin Scorcese)

Poltergeist (directed by Tobe Hooper}


All Hitchcock films (c) Universal Pictures except
Blackmail (c) UGC UK / Canal+

All screengrabs are for educational purposes only.

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