Making Your Shots More Interesting

I often find myself on set trying to improve a shot, to make it more dynamic and interesting.  Here are a few general tricks and techniques I use a lot.

1.  Add some movement.  I love my Dana Dolly, and I sometimes even keep a slider mounted on to a Fisher Dolly just to be able to add a small amount of movement quickly on a moment’s notice.  This makes the shot feel like it’s going somewhere and also creates a 3-dimensional effect by revealing different parts of the background.

2.  Add a foreground element.  This works really well, especially when combined with camera movement.  I’ve seen some really boring wide shots become much more interesting when we added a bit of foreground (or a lot of foreground) such as furniture or set dressing.  Also, even Close Ups can be made more interesting by adding some out-of-focus foreground element, even if it’s the back of another actor’s head.  This is why I often find over-the-shoulder shots much more interesting than clean-singles.   Usually I like darker foreground objects, so we’re often setting flags to take the light off of them. 

3.  Add a highlight to the background.  This could be a window or a practical lamp, or anything to break up a flat background.

4.  Switch to a tighter lens.  I can’t tell you how many times my AC has turned on the focus magnification on the camera to check focus between takes, and the director and I looked at it and thought — this looks so much better!  Flipping to longer lenses are one thing I think to do when a shot just isn’t quite working for me. 

There are a bunch of other things you can do to make a boring shot more interesting, but these are my more common approaches.  Not every setup is a big sweeping crane shot, and we all have to shoot Wides, Cowboys, and Close-Ups, but they can always be improved upon.  


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About Graham Futerfas

I'm a professional Cinematographer working in Los Angeles.
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