Establishing shot

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What does it do?

  • The establishing shot is usually an exterior, long or extreme longshot that showcases a location where the action that follows will take place
  • These shots usually precede and contextualize scenes of action and or dialogue, sometimes they are placed at the conclusion of a scene providing a revealing or unexpected context
  • In the mind of the audience, a scene that immediately follows an establishing shot takes place in that location, regardless of where it is actually filmed
  • s. can also function as reveals, usually by following a character who arrives at a destination the audience cannot see until this wider perspective lets them see the broader location
  • The composition of an e. s. must convey something about the location that communicates a particular tone, or relationship to a character, or thematic association according to the vision of the filmmaker
  • Lighting can still be controlled by waiting for just the right time of the day to shoot, while composition can be manipulated to fit your needs by taking the time to find the right vantage point from where to shoot
  • Useful strategy is to develop a visual relationship between the location being established and the surrounding area included in the shot, the careful arrangement of visual elements can influence the location in looking imposing and dominant, or innocuous and nondescript, depending on the needs of the story (a location is a character and often stands for something be it an emotion or impression)


Examples of use

This shot shows us the location 007 has to flee to as the story evolves. As we learn this location is connected to James’s mysterious past, as perfectly illustrated by this shot. We see a wide, beautiful, untoched and uninhabited landscape far away from civilization. Still the focal point of the composition is James’s silhouette and his car since our eye is very capable of identifying human subjects (even in a extreme long shot). It becomes clear that the odds have turned against the special agent and that he is isolated. Because we wouldn’t expect humans living there we begin to question why James is from a place like this.

  • high point of view
  • wide field of view
  • illustrates the inferiority, being little in comparison to nature


This shot has a corresponding shot as Batman starts to loose control against the Joker and his property is removed from his “secret garage”.

  • use of establishing shots to show progress in story


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