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The Power of a Close Up

A tool many video shooters fail to understand…

With the explosion of filmmakers, social influencers, livestream worship services, and YouTube producers these days, when it comes to shooting video, there appears to be a significant lack of understanding the power of a close up. In classic Hollywood movies, close ups were used strategically to help enhance the story – particularly when it came to emotional moments. And today, the greatest filmmakers are masters of close ups – which makes me wonder: why do so few video shooters and directors today avoid such a critical shot?

Perhaps it’s because equipment costs have lowered the bar so much that anyone with a mobile phone can call themselves a “filmmaker” – whether or not they actually had any media education, worked with mentors, or spent time on professional sets. But regardless of the cause, let’s talk about why close ups are so important when shooting short videos, social media, or live-streaming:

When it comes to telling the story, nothing is as important as a face.Click To Tweet

It’s been said that the “eyes are the window of the soul,” and that’s absolutely true. In a video, there’s nothing like seeing facial expressions to help viewers understand the story. Eye movement, smiles, facial changes – all work together to share a message that can as important – if not more important – than what’s actually being said.

But in video after video, a growing number of shooters focus on wide shots – which is particularly ineffective during a teaching or training video. But when I’m watching a podcast, short video, or livestream teaching, I’m not interested in the plants in the room, the pictures on the back wall, or the furniture.

And it’s especially frustrating when watching on a mobile device (which is exactly what most of your audience is doing.) A phone video screen is already small, so filming a speaker or program host in a wide shot makes little sense. A wider shot simply makes a person so tiny it’s nearly impossible to see facial expressions or emotion.

I watched a live-streamed sermon from a church recently and at least 90% of the pastor’s message was a wide shot. I could see a row of plants to his right, the piano to his left, a window behind, and a huge stage (with a used coffee cup sitting on the edge) – none of which I was interested in.

A simple closeup would have been far more powerful in telling the story.

Worse, on two-camera shoots it’s not unusual to see the odd set-up of a wide shot as the main camera with a close up as a side shot for occasional edits. Essentially, it’s the exact opposite of a recommended setup.

When shooting a video, remember the power of a close up. Particularly when capturing a speaker or host, it’s a compelling way to engage viewers, and when it comes to emotions, there’s nothing that makes such an amazing impact.Click To Tweet

Photo by Andrey Zvyagintsev on Unsplash

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  1. I agree, there is a fine line between style and human connection via the digital landscape. With response-driven pieces, the viewer must feel some connection with the person speaking. A question to ask is, do you want the viewer to feel a part of your conversation or just an observer? An observer never gets close but peers into the conversation from a distance. If the viewer is genuinely part of the conversation, you must “bring them into the conversation,” which naturally is the close-up.

  2. I always say you need to see the whites of their eyes. Churches need a good head and shoulder shot on live streams on a good tripod and stabilized lens. It makes a huge difference in putting the emphasis on the the video being able to connect to the viewer.

  3. Video is a close-up medium. We connect with the viewer by looking directly at them. We don’t use terms like “all of you,” or “everybody.” We speak to them as if they are across the kitchen table from us. When we realize that, the close-up is vital in connecting with our audience. Even in an IMAG situation, I see wide shots. The idea there is to MAGnify the Image. Anything other than a close-up in that application as well, is pointless. Director, Robert Zemeckis says his favorite special effect is the close-up. It’s a storytelling tool that must not be overlooked.

  4. Excellent point Phil about the power of the close up!

    Back in the early days of my documentary filmmaking career, I learned the importance of the “60 minutes shot” as it was stated to me then. That was a shot framed so tight that you can feel the emotion of the person on camera. You can see the nervous eyes, the sweat on their brow, the quivering lips and the misty eyes. The shot is so evocative that at times words are superfluous in a particularly powerful moment.

    Great tip for the younger or less experienced filmmakers out there!

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