The over the shoulder shot

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What does it do?

  • Also knows as a dirty single normally accomplished using medium shots, medium close ups or close ups
  • These shots are widely used whenever an exchange between two or more characters takes place, or when a character is looking at something
  • Placement of camera directly behind the shoulder of one of the characters, partially obstructing the frame while the principal character faces the lens
  • Creates depth in the frame by adding a foreground layer, usually has a shallow depth of field due to the very short camera to subject distance used to frame it
  • In cases of dialogue exchange, the composition is designed to make the character facing the camera the focal point
  • In most cases the O.T.S. shot is edited in a matched pair


Examples of use

The shot from Whiplash illustrates everything we remember when thinking about the relationship between Fletcher and Andrew. The tension is partly created by the tight looking room between the two characters, narrowed down even more by Flechter’s finger which is commonly known as a gesture of power, aggression and dominance. We have a very shallow depth of field isolating the conversation from the background which became unrecognizable for the audience, allowing them to focus on the dialogue.

  • close up shots emphasize facial expressions (here authority and power)
  • use of a normal or longer lens for more “portrait quality” as well as narrowing the already little looking room between Fletcher and Andrew making us feel uneasy since every person needs some clear space arround him, which is crossed by Fletcher, underscoring is power

Synecdoche, New York

This is the classic example of an o. t. s. since parts of the image are obstructed by the shoulder effectively placing the audience in a line behind the back of the person out of focus. This feels comfortable and natural while making the face of the main character the inevitable focal point.

Moreover his face is accentuated by light, and our eye is often attracted to the brightest part in the frame.

  • slight high angle shot (main subject inferior, powerless)




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