Cinematography: The Art of the Close-up | Piotr Złotorowicz | Skillshare

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Cinematography: The Art of the Close-up

teacher avatar Piotr Złotorowicz, Screenwriter & Director

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Assgnment 1: Theory and terminology


    • 3.

      Building Context


    • 4.

      Quiz 1: Identifying Close-Up Shots


    • 5.

      Quiz 2: Proper Noting Techniques


    • 6.

      Aspect Ratio


    • 7.

      Main Class Project: Develop Your Intuition


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About This Class

Are you ready to take your filmmaking skills to the next level? Dive into the world of close-up shots and discover the secrets to creating captivating cinematic moments!

In this immersive course, you'll not only get hands-on with practical exercises but also delve deep into the theory behind what makes a close-up truly impactful.

Here's a sneak peek of what you'll learn:

  • The Real Purpose of a Close-Up - Uncover the hidden potential of close-up shots. Learn the basic shot sizes to harness their emotional and narrative impact to elevate your visual storytelling.
  • Building Context for Powerful Close-Ups - Context is key! Explore the art of building the scene with medium and wide shots around your close-up to make it resonate with your audience on a profound level.
  • Aspect Ratios: The Visual Canvas - Discover how different aspect ratios can transform the way you frame your shots. Master the art of composition to create stunning visuals.
  • Filming Emotions: The Heart of Cinematography - Capturing genuine emotions is an art. Learn to analyze films to develop your intuition.

Join our class and start discovering the elusive magic of close-up shots!


If you have found this class helpful, please check out my other video classes here on Skillshare:

Fundamentals of Cinematography: Three Techniques of Subjective Storytelling

Fundamentals of Cinematography: Choose the Best Camera Angle with 180-degree Rule

Fundamentals of Cinematography: The Art of Visual Storytelling

Meet Your Teacher

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Piotr Złotorowicz

Screenwriter & Director


I'm an academic teacher at Polish National Film School, a screenwriter, an award-winning director, and an online film teacher here on Skillshare.

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1. Welcome: This course is for anyone interested in understanding how to film actors. It's a deep dive into cinematic techniques that are going to help you make actors performances really shine. Hi, my name is Piozgodovich. I'm a film director, screenwriter, and an academic teacher at Polish National Film School. My films were presented at film festivals, cinemas, and on television. In this course, I want to take your cinematography skills to the next level by filming actors in a way that will make their performances really stand out. We are going to cover everything you need to know to create stunning and emotionally compelling close up shots. In this easy to follow course, I'm going to cover topics like the definition of a close up. Building a context of a scene with a wide shot and a medium shot, how aspect ratio impacts the close up, and much more. In this class, everything is practical and applicable. We are going to put your new knowledge to the test with exercises and a quiz. Welcome to cinema. I explained and hopefully see you in a class. 2. Assgnment 1: Theory and terminology: Thank you for taking this class. So today we're going to take a look at the way you're going to film the characters in your movie. Very exciting topic. But before we'll begin, I will mention briefly that at any point during the lectures, you can change the tempo of the recording. If my way of speaking is too slow for you, you can go ahead and speed it up to 1.5 speed. Or if you feel like there are sections that you would prefer to watch slower, you can turn the tempo down to 0.5 It's totally up to you. I usually watch lectures with 1.5 speed. But whenever there is something technical that I want to make sure I understand, I turn the tempo down to 0.5 If you'll decide to change the tempo, just remember to turn it back to normal whenever we will be watching an example scene. Also, during this class, I might mention that you can deepen your knowledge about a certain topic by taking my other courses about cinematography. In those cases, remember that I want you to finish this course first. So watch the course till the end. Make the exercises. And then expand your knowledge by watching my other classes. They are all fully modular so you can watch them in any order you like. So as you know, films tell stories. The crucial component of every story is the character. You have to be proficient in photographing actors who are playing those characters. This is the most important part of cinematographers job. Now you may say, but wait. Good cinematographers have to have many talents, right? Have to be able to build a sense of space of the scene with the bread taking landscape. That's how they invite you to engage you in the reality of the movie. They also need to be proficient in shooting cataways and inserts. You need to be able to see the bomb taking under the table to be afraid of the explosion. Right? And you are right. Being a great cinematographer demands flexibility, But I would say that photographing characters is the most important skill in your arsenal. Without the characters, there is no story, and there is no way of telling the story with only white shots and cataways. When you'll get on the set, 90% of your work will be photographing actors performances. And this skill alone will determine what kind of cinematographer you really are. I mean, you can be clumsy with the camera, you can be a little colorblind. But if you're talented in capturing actors performances in a way that elevates that performances, then you'll have many work proposals. Now, I was obviously joking about being colorblind, but there are quite a few cinematographers who do not feel comfortable operating the camera. I mean, physically operating it, that's why they prefer to work with the camera camera woman. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Because it's simply about delegating the task that others can do better. Now, being good at photographing actors performances is like a muscle. It really comes down to how empathetic you can be with your camera. This kind of sensitivity is a talent that depends on your upbringing and your genetics. It basically depends on your empathy. If you're good at recognizing emotions, it's going to be easier for you to intuitively photograph actors performances. If you're bad at recognizing other people's emotion, then nothing is lost. Nobody said that you cannot practice it and become better over time. I am going to share with you my favorite exercises that you can do regularly to become better at empathizing with your camera. But first, let me teach you the basics of shot sizes so you know how to approach shooting characters. In my work, I learned to distinguish three main character shots. The first one is a close up, then we have a medium shot, and finally we have the white shots. However, there are many ways of shooting, wife shots, medium shots or close ups. We have the close up, we have the choker and the others. I'm going to explain every variation of these categories later. But first I'm going to distinguish these three categories because it's much easier to work with different directors of photography if you establish the nomenclature correctly at the beginning of your work, you have to understand that there is a massive confusion in the industry about the names of particular shots. I don't know what is the reason for this. When I was studying at Polish National Film School, I realized that the professors from the Cinematography Department were teaching us different names of the same shot sizes, for example. The regular close up could be called a double T close up because you could see the teeth and the throat. When collaborating with different students, filmmakers from different countries, it's good to establish common names for these shots. It doesn't matter if you're a cinematographer starting to work with a new cameraman or a director who begins working with a new DOP director of photography. Establishing a common nomenclature for shot sizes should be the basis of your cooperation. So let's begin with a close up. I've prepared a little cheat sheet for you that you can print out and take on a set. It's in the guidebook that is available to this class. We are going to begin with the tightest shot possible, and then we are going to go outward to wider shot. The first type of a close up is an extreme close up. It's when you just shoot a part of the actor's face. Usually the bottom of the frame is just below the lips of the actor, and the top of the frame is about his eyes. This type is used to capture the most subtle performances and extreme close up can also show only the eyes or the lips. The second type is a tight close up or the choker. At the bottom of this shot you can see just a small part under the chin. At the top of the shot, you just cut the forehead in half. Usually we don't see the top of the head in this shot, the focus is on the mouth and the eyes. This type of shot is usually considered as a close up. When somebody doesn't really know the terminology and asks for a close up, they usually have this type in mind in Polish National Film School, they call it a psychological close up, but I've never heard this term used on the film set outside of my country and film school. I'm mentioning it because it's really important that you research the proper names of these shots in your own language. The shots are going to be the same, but the names may differ. Now, the most popular close up, in my opinion, is the regular close up or a double close up. One T stands for a throat and the other T stands for T. Nothing fancy. You can see the whole head and sometimes a little bit of the shoulders, but this depends on the anatomy of the actor. If they have a very short neck, you will see their shoulders every time the camera will be looking from above. Then the next type of a close up, which is somewhere in between a regular close up and a medium close up is the three T. The first two we already know teeth and throw. The last, let's say it stands for the chest. The bottom of the frame is the actor's chest. And the top of the frame is the above the actor's head. To remember what you've just learned, I want you to make a little exercise. It will only take a minute and will require you using your smartphone. Um, one selfie for every category of a shot of a close up shot. My suggestion is to take those selfies holding your phone horizontally. It resembles the cinematic format. You can move the phone towards your face to change the perspective, or you can zoom it if you want. By doing the exercise practically, I want you to memorize crucial types of close ups. Later in discourse, I will explain how to use them correctly when you will be filming your actors. 3. Building Context: By shooting a scene, you always want to find a way to engage your audience emotionally. The best way of doing this is to show the actors emotions. Close up is the best way to do it. But to make a close up work, you need to give the audience information about the context of the scene. You'll need all the other shot sizes to build the context of the scene. In reality, to be able to shoot good close ups, you need to be profession in wide and medium shots as well. As you've probably noticed, the terminology regarding how wide the shot is going to be is defined by a human figure. All the shots we have discussed in the previous lesson would be called singles. It made sense since the subject of the shot is always just one actor. But what if you could see another actor on the left or the right border of the shot? Well, this type of a shot is called over the shoulder. A shortcut name for this type of shot is OTS. These types of shots make you feel the connection between the characters in the scene. It literally shows them looking at each other while talking, just reacting to one another Over the shoulder shots are also called dirty singles. I know it sounds a bit funny, but this is really how they are called on the set. Now let's say that I would like you to shoot a close up of a character named Tom with another actor on the side of the frame. Then I will say to my cinematographer something like, let's prepare for a dirty choker of Tom. This would mean that Tom would be shot in a tight close up that we previously called a choker and that the actor that he's interacting with is present in the frame. Another way of saying it would be, let's prepare for over the shoulder of Tom. It's going to be mouth and eyes. Ecu, which stands for an extreme close up. Well, I would say something like that to a person that I really know. I mean, the cinematographer that I worked before, when you don't know the person that you're working with and you haven't established the nomenclature, it's best to use terms that everybody knows, like let's prepare for a close up of Tom. It's going to be over the shoulder. And then when they would set everything up, it's best to check what kind of a close up is it in the preview monitor and then correct if needed. And by correcting it, I mean suggesting cinematographer to make it a little bit tighter or a little bit wider. What you don't want to do on the set is to lecture your colleagues on terminology. As I said before, there are many names for the same shots and it's better not to waste time persuading someone to use your terminology. It's enough when they know what you want, okay? Now you understand one of the basic elements of film vocabulary, a close up. I know this course is all about close ups, but in every film, it's important to establish bearings for the audience. And then to shoot close ups to show the psychology of the characters. So you need to show the surroundings of the actor to make people understand where the actor is and whom are they talking to, right? So let's talk shortly about medium and wider shots as well to understand the nomenclature. If you have seen the course Fundamentals of Cinematography, every Shot Size explained, you can skip the rest of this lesson since this material was covered there. But even if you have seen it, I encourage you to stay and consolidate the lecture material. We are going to begin with a medium shot. The bottom of the frame is above the character's waist and we are going to see some space above his head. Anytime you want to use it, you probably need to specify whether you want your medium from the waist up or from the tight. In Polish language. We have a special name for the shot, which is Plant Passove, which direct translation is waist up. The medium shot is very common in cinema since it's similar to how we see people in real life. Then we have something in between a medium shot, which is called a cowboy shot. The bottom of the frame is somewhere above the knees, and you can see the whole body to the top of the head, leaving some additional space above the head. It's important to make sure to leave some space above the head because this type of shot is used, usually when the character is walking. Now we move to the category of full shots or wide shots. A full shot is a shot where you can see the whole actor from the top of his head to his toes. Anytime you see a full human figure of an actor, you are dealing with a full shot. You can also call them wide shots. If you want to study the division between different wide shots, you can see the guidebook to this class. Or you can watch the fundamentals of cinematography. Every shot size explained. This is basically it when it comes to photographing the actor. You have these three categories of shots, close ups, mediums and white shots. There is one more useful division that you need to be aware of. As I mentioned before, you can distinguish shots as singles. When an actor is alone in a frame, it's a single. When there is another actor in the shot, it's called two shot. Every over the shoulder is also a two shot. The actors can face each other, but you can also have a two shot where they sit next to each other, facing forward as if they are, I don't know, sitting in a car. They can be turned away from the camera. And it's still a to shot, by the way. This type of a to shot is called a French over shoulder. Now, I know that learning this nomenclature might take some time, but trust me, after making one film, you will be fluent in using all of these terms. It's going to be natural to help you out with learning these terms. I prepared a little quiz where you're going to test what you've just learned. 4. Quiz 1: Identifying Close-Up Shots: Okay, I'm going to show you a number of shots from my films and I want you to write down the proper names of the shots. Now take something to write and a piece of paper. The shots are going to be extracted from different scenes, so they're not going to make any sense as a whole. I'm going to number these shots and show them separately and between the shots, you will have something about 10 seconds to write down your answer on a piece of paper. The way I want you to do it is to write down whether it's a single or a two shot and then specify the proper name of the shot. For example, this shot would be a two shot over the shoulder, three. So this one is a clean single, medium shot. Are you ready? Let's have some fun. 5. Quiz 2: Proper Noting Techniques: In this lecture, I'm going to explain how to tag shots in your script. We are going to focus on proper communication regarding the shot you want to make. You can also use these shortcuts when you're making a shot list. A tag or a shortcut of the shot is usually the first letter of the name of the shot. For example, it's CU. For the close up, remember to use capital letters when you're writing it. For example, if we are talking about a medium wide shot which is over the shoulder, this shot would look like this. The proper short name for this shot is MS OTS, where MWS stands for medium white shot and OTS stands for over the shoulder. Please check the guidebook for all the short names of the shots. You can also use these shortcuts when you're writing a screenplay. Paul Thomas Anderson scripts have a lot of indications of how the scenes are going to be shot. Just remember that when you're writing a screenplay, you're not supposed to direct the scene on the page. Meaning that the screenplay is a document where the main purpose is to give a description of the action and the dialogue. It's not supposed to be loaded with information on how you're going to shoot a particular scene. Some directors or cinematographers who write screenplays for themselves may do it, but if you're writing for somebody else, it's not the place. Clarity should always be the most important thing in your shot list or a script. I came across the situations where there was a confusion because someone didn't understand the shortcut that somebody else used and was ashamed to ask. We all have to learn these shortcuts at some point, so I don't think that if somebody doesn't know them, they are not professionals. They may be great at what they do, but maybe they just haven't heard this particular phrase or this particular name. As a homework for this lesson, please watch the quiz one more time and mark every shot using just the short names of the shots. 6. Aspect Ratio: Close up is usually used whenever you want to focus your audience attention on the actor's performance. When you're doing that, usually you're going to lose a sense of space in the scene. That's why it's so important to begin the scene by describing the space with an establishing shot. However, in the modern cinema you don't have to do this every time. There are circumstances when you can tell the whole scene with just one shot. I'm going to show you the scene like that during this lesson. But first, let me tell you how the aspect ratio influences the perception. Years ago, the most popular aspect ratio was four by three in this aspect, if you would make a close up, there was not much room left for the space around the actor's face. Nowadays, the most popular aspect ratio for movies is either 16 by nine for TV and the most popular cinema format, 235 by one. Now these formats are wider and similar to human vision. When you look at the close up framed in one of these modern formats, you will see actors face, but you're also going to see a little bit space in the background. That's why cinematic wide ratio close ups gives you more natural vision. Let's watch a scene shot purely in close ups, please somebody, please. When you watch the scene, you don't need an establishing shot explaining this characters at a party, you can hear it. The filmmaker, Pet Anderson, decided to focus on main characters. Suspicion that his brother is a phony. This type of a camera work is screaming at us. Don't look at the circumstances, the party. Focus your attention on the character's suspicion, the emotion of the character. Now, what does this has to do with the aspect ratio? Well, if the film would be shot on a narrow aspect ratio like four by three, I don't think the filmmakers would shoot the scene using only coups to be honest. I'm pretty sure that when they were shooting that scene, they shot an establishing shot of some sort. And they've probably also shot a medium of the brother at the bar. These shots were supposed to serve as your main characters POV like an insert. My guess is that during the editing period they were confident enough. They decided not to use all of these shots and focus on the main theme of the scene, which is the suspicion, right, in this format, which in the case of there will be blood is 239 by one. You can comfortably fit the face of Daniel, the main character, and Henry the brother. Now let's watch the same scene converted to four by three format for the reference. Somebody, please, somebody, please see it doesn't work. When you will remove the background, this is how aspect ratio influences the way you're going to stage the scene. Fortunately for us, the standard aspect is not four by three anymore. Modern frame formats give us the sense of space around the actor when we're making a close up. Which gives us flexibility to shoot the entire scene with only a close up if we want to. Now, when you're preparing to shoot a scene, you need to be ready to adjust the shot size to whatever the story demands. Or when you're on a set, you need to be able to adjust the shot size to the performance of an actor if the performer is very subtle in his expression. You need to be ready to tighten the shot to make it visible to the audience. On the other hand, if the expression is very excessive but it's accepted by the director, you need to go wider. There are no defined rules on how to follow the actor. You have to adjust to the situation and the actor's performance. It requires intuition, but you also need some practice. In the next lecture, we are going to talk about developing your intuition. 7. Main Class Project: Develop Your Intuition: So you've watched discourse this far, so I assume that you are really interested in cinema and filmmaking. Therefore, I assume that you already have your preferences. Or maybe you are a beginner who really wants to make movies, but doesn't know yet what kind of cinema you like best. Either way, you always have to develop your sense of aesthetics. You're going to do that by watching movies analytically, which is the first step on our list of the things to do. What do I mean by this? You're not going to just watch the film one time and that's it. You can do that with films that you didn't like, but when you watch a film that is affecting you emotionally, somehow, you should examine it again. And try to define how the filmmakers achieved that emotional effect on you. To do so, you need to know how to find the underlined meaning of the film. If you're interested in a method of discovering the meaning of any film, you can check out the link. In the end of the class guidebook, I published a 35 step guide clarifying the process. It's a checklist, a few paragraphs. You're going to need it since in this class we are focusing on expressing the meaning by framing the actors performances. Understanding the film's meaning is the first step you need to take if you struggle with film analysis. Another useful course is how to write character driven films and how to write plot driven films. In these courses, I explained how the meaning was conveyed in Joker and Arrival. These are screenwriting courses, but I think that a good cinematographer should understand the basics of screenwriting as well. Don't forget that a good cinematographer is a partner for a director in conveying meanu to the audience. When you watched a film that impressed you for the second time, you need to think of the moments that you remember. The scenes that impacted you the most don't exist in a vacuum. They were so captivating because you've seen other scenes, the ones which were preceding the given scene. They were the ones that built the story up and provide you with necessary context. By explaining this, I want you to understand that to be able to appreciate a particular scene or a close up, you have to be willing to appreciate everything that happened before in the fill. The second step in analyzing is figuring out how the context influenced and prepared you for the particular impressive scene. Now the third step is to take a look at the particular shot and determine what shot size were used and how they contributed. So yeah, just by going through this process of three steps, you will practice your analytical skills and it will refine your sense of aesthetics. For your main class project, I want you to recreate a close up that made an impression on you. I want you to make a picture that resembles the shot in the film. For this task, you will need another person who is going to be your model. It's best if you'll use a camera with a **** that lets you adjust the focus and zoom. But if you don't have it, you can use the camera on your phone. It's it's up to you. The same with the lighting. If you have access to studio equipment, that's great. But if you don't just use the stuff that is available at your house, the goal here is to step into the filmmakers shoes and try to reverse engineer the decision that they took while shooting this particular scene. When you make the picture, it would be great if you could share it in the project gallery. Just don't forget, let us all know what is the title of the film and the scene that you are trying to recreate. Nowadays. Any famous scene can be found as a clip online. Stay tuned for future classes from the series. In the following course, I will explain four techniques you can use when you are filming an actor. You can use a intimidating stair or a row close up to pick the right shot. I always use my own invention, which I call the rule of greatest distance is also going to be a topic for a future course. Now if you've enjoyed this class, consider making a review. It's going to help the other students to discover this class. Reading your reviews really keeps me motivated to make more. All of my courses are modular, which means that you can watch them separately in any order you like. But they were designed as a part of a series. If you want to know the correct order in which you can watch them and learn the practical filmmaking, the best way to check it out is to visit my website, Thank you for taking this class and see you soon.