Why Establishing Shots Are So Important for Every Production and How to Shoot Them Properly?

Even though the video below explores mainly filming of establishing shots for wedding films, it has a lot to do with establishing shots in general. Matt Johnson, the producer of this tutorial, reveals a few useful techniques regarding his personal approach towards capturing establishing shots for his projects. All in all, the opening shot of a sequence or a scene is paramount for every production as it shows the audience where the actual action is taking place. It shouldn’t be ignored, nor underrated, unless you want to confuse your audience or hide the location of the action intentionally. Establishing shots also provide context for all the future actions of your characters as they can navigate your audience from scene to scene while drawing them into the story as it unfolds.

What a better way to capture some breathtaking establishing shots than filming with your drone above the given location. For even more convenience, you can divide these shots into wide, medium and tight ones. Be careful not to overdo when using them later in your edit, though. As Matt highlights, in a typical wedding film, you’ll need two or three of the best establishing shots at the most. You can apply this rule to your narrative productions as well. Ultimately, try a few different angles and find which one of these would work best for your production.

Another great tip when using a drone for capturing establishing shots is flying the UAV either too high up in the sky or too low as close as possible to the ground. With the low shots, for instance, you can get a great motion created by the movement of the camera flying slightly above the ground. Bird-eye shots, on the other hand, can not only give the audience a clear idea where the main action is taking place but also can create a super panoramic view and a unique perspective of vast distance.


Furthermore, you can also capture some ground establishing shots by using a 3-axis gimbal stabilizer or a glidecam. These tools will give you a little bit different perspective, but they still provide fantastic capabilities to get some excellent results.

You can also capture a bunch of insert shots with these tools. As a rule of thumb, try to film at different angles where some motion is involved – moving leaves, grass, rocking chairs, etc. You can also utilise a second camera on a tripod or slider to capture a few timelapse videos that also can be a great addition to your list of establishing shots.


Ultimately, by utilising these cinematography techniques, you’ll be able to gather a wide variety of establishing shots to cover everything that you will need while editing. Just show up earlier on set and make sure you have some extra time for filming.To help the story be told as clearly as possible, try to capture multiple establishing shots of all the locations. It doesn’t take too long to do, and the results are definitely worth it. Plus, you’ll be more than surprised how beneficial this workflow could be for any of your productions.

[source: Matt WhoisMatt Johnson]

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