Cut: Switch from one image to another.

Dissolve:  Switch from one image to another in which two images are temporarily superimposed.

Wipe: An optical effect in which an image appears to “wipe off” the preceding image.

Fade:  Fade-in refers to the process whereby the screen is black at the beginning and the image gradually appears, brightening to full strength. Fade-out refers to the opposite process.

Iris:   Use of a diaphragm in front of the lens which is opened (iris-in) or closed (iris-out) to begin or end a scene.


Continuity:  The continuous flow of a film, where shot follows shot and scene follows scene in an understandable and smooth way. An effective continuity makes us unaware of the cutting as we watch the film, of the way in which the camera and cutting control our responses. Effective continuity is dependent upon the proper matching of details, movement, and dialogue from shot to shot and the logical and explicit development of plot from scene to scene. Continuity technicians keep a close record of shooting details (clothes, props, settings, eye directions etc.) so that scenes shot weeks apart will match up in the edit.

Continuity cutting:  Editing that keeps the film moving in a straightforward, logical, and smooth way, uses time and space coherently, and develops narrative in a linear manner. The cutting is unobtrusive, with characters and objects continuing from shot to shot largely through match cuts, and scene following scene without any sudden breaks or jumps.

Establishing shot:   The opening shot of a sequence, which establishes location but can also establish mood or give the viewer information concerning the time and general situation. Establishing shots generally are long shots or extreme long shots. Sometimes a series of establishing shots view the location from different angles and perspectives, or a panning or moving shot is employed for the same purpose. Re­establishing shots are also used during a sequence to remind us of location or mood, or to suggest the passage of time.

The 180-degree rule: In any scene, explains film director Robert Aldrich, ‘You have to draw the centre line …. You must never cross the line.’ If we assume the two conversing characters are angled somewhat frontally (as is usual), the classic 180° system will be as laid out in the diagram below. Camera positions A, B, C, and D (and indeed any position within the lower half-circle) will cut together so as to orient the viewer, while camera position X (or any position on the other side of the centre line) is thought to disorient the spectator.

Reverse angle: An angle of view opposite to that in a preceding shot. A series of reverse angles is frequently used to alternate two characters in a conversation (called shot/reverse-shot technique), or such a shot may be used to show a character entering a room after we have seen him leaving another room. Reverse angles have also been employed countless times to alternate points of view from victim to assaulter and back again in thrillers.

Point-of-view shot: A shot that shows a scene as a character would see it.

Eye-line match:  The linking of two shots which show someone looking at something off screen and then what is being looked at (often in the form of a point-of-view shot).





Film Gauge: The width of the film stock measured in millimetres. 35 mm stock is the standard for commercial feature films though 16 mm is becoming more prominent. 70 mm stock is used for many “major” productions. The larger the gauge the bigger the screen size and better the clarity of definition.

Aspect Ratio:The ratio of the width to the height of the film. The formerly standard Academy Aperture, established by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 1932 for 35 mm is 1.33:1 or 4:3. Widescreen usually refers to aspect ratios of 1.66:1 or greater and most 35 mm film is now masked for projection at an aspect ratio of 1.85:l. Cinemascope (aspect ratio 2.35:1) refers to the widescreen process invented by Henri Chrétien and first used commercially by Twentieth Century Fox in the 1950s. Its basis was an anamorphic lens which enabled the wide-screen image to be squeezed into a conventional 35 mm frame, with a compensating lens on the projector to expand it again. Panavision is now the most frequently used widescreen process where the image is photographed on 70 mm negative

and either printed normally for projection on 70 mm or squeezed anamorphically on to 35 mm positives, or in the case of Ultra-Panavision on to 70 mm (aspect ratio 2.7:1).


Split screen: When two or more separate images are in the same frame, not overlapping.

Double exposure: When a number of images are printed over each other.


Texture:  As used in regard to film stock, definition indicates the power of the film to define the elements of an image i.e. the measure of the grain (where grain is a quality of the emulsion of a film, emulsion being the thin coating of chemicals, mounted on the base of the film stock that reacts to light). The visibility of the grain varies inversely with the size of the film gauge and directly with the amount of overdevelopment (as used to compensate for under-exposure).

Focus:   Through the adjustment of the lens, a shot can be in focus,giving a sharply defined image, or out of focus causing the image to be blurred.

Soft focus refers to the soft and slightly hazy effect obtained by shooting slightly out of focus or through the use of filters placed in front of the lens, often synonymous with highly romantic images.


Depth refers to the range of distances from the camera at which the subject is acceptably sharp. Perception of depth is a product of choice of lens (the shorter the lens the greater the perception of depth), aperture opening (the narrower the aperture the greater the perception of depth), amount of lightand sensitivity of film stock(reduction of aperture opening requiring compensation in terms of additional light or increased sensitivity of film stock), camera position and angleand the use or absence of compositional and lighting contrastwithin the frame.

Normal lenses:  Used in 35 mm photography these have a focal length of between roughly 35 mm and 50 mm, where focal length refers to the distance from the plane of the film to the surface of the lens.

Wide-anglelenses:  Usually refer to lenses of focal length of less than 35 mm, which as well as increasing the angle of view increase perception of depth.

Telephoto lenses:  Usually refer to lenses of focal length of more than 60 mm, which as well as magnifying distant objects decrease depth perception.


Deep focus:  Refers to the technique in which objects very near to the camera as well as those far away are in focus at the same time.

Shallow focus: Refers to the technique that uses a shallow depth of field.

Follow Focus: To pull or change focus during a shot in order to follow a subject as it moves away from or towards the camera.

Rack Focus:  To pull focus to shift the focus plane, directing attention from one subject to another.


Angle:  Angle at which the camera is pointed at subject.

Aerial shot: A shot taken from a crane, plane or helicopter.

Overhead shot:  A shot taken from a high building or the like.

High angle shot: A shot taken from above looking down at subject.

Low angle shot:  A shot taken from below looking up at subject.

The term camera angle is not to be confused with the term     angle of view which refers to the angle subtended by the lens. Wide-angle lenses have broad angles of view, telephoto lens have narrow angles of view.

Distance:  The amount of subject viewed (in relation to distance of camera from subject – though this is course confused by the use of zoom lenses).

Extreme close-up: Very close shot, say of subject’s eyes only.

Close-up: Shot of subject’s face only.

Head and shoulder shot: As described

Medium shot: Shot cut off at waist. 3

Three-quarters shot: Shot cut off at knees.

Full shot: Shot of whole body.

Long shot:  Shot including more than whole figure.

Extreme long-shot:  Panoramic view of an exterior location.


From Fixed axis:

Pan:                                        Movement of camera from left to right or right to left.

Tilt:                                         Movement of camera up or down.

Roll:                                        Circular movement of camera around axis from lens to subject.

From Shifting axis:

Travelling/Tracking              Movement of camera from one point to another,

Dolly shot:                              whether sideways, in or out or diagonally. Being precise, a dolly shot refers to a shot where the camera is mounted on a dolly (basically a platform on wheels) and tracking shot when the camera is moved using specially laid tracks. Likewise a crane shot refers to the movement of the camera mounted on a crane.

Zoom:                                     The use of a zoom lens (one of variable focal length) can substitute for a travelling shot. Adjustment of lens focal length can bring the subject closer or further away from the camera without movement of the camera (though remember this has effects on depth perception).


Slow v fast v normal:            Normal shooting and projection of sound film is 24 frames per second (for silent film it is 16-18 fps). For fast or accelerated motion, film is shot at less than 24 fps and projected at normal speed; for slow motion, film is shot at more than 24 fps and again projected at normal speed.




3 main types of light:

Key light:-The primary source, usually from high and to one side of the camera, producing a hard light with sharply defined shadows.

Fill light:-Soft, diffused light, placed near camera, filling in the shadows created by the key.

Back light:-Direct light shining on actor from behind, which adds interesting highlights and helps differentiate foreground from background.

High-key lighting(note that key as used here not referring to key light) refers to lighting techniques where the ratio of key to fill light is small, providing an even illumination, whereas with low-key lighting the ratio of key to fill is great, creating areas of high contrast and rich black shadows.

3 point lighting

Lighting (basic):  

back light

1. keylight

3. filllight

‘Three-point lighting’refers to the Hollywood convention of using at least three light sources per shot, positioned in the manner described above. In other lighting styles (e.g. noir) the number and position of lights may deviate from this pattern (by the elimination of fill light or the positioning of the three lights in unusual ways).

Composition: All sorts of compositional elements (e.g. the visual organisation of space, the arrangement of objects, the use of costume and arrangement of figures in relation to objects and setting) come into play in describing and analysing the techniques of mise-en­scène. However, there are few specifically cinematic terms for discussing these components which, by and large, overlap with those used to describe other arts such as painting

Film Studies Vocabulary- VISUAL STYLE

An introductory guide to basic terms involved in the description and analysis of visual techniques in film.

VISUAL STYLE may be defined as the recurring or systematic employment of visual techniques in a particular film or group of films (e.g. classical narrative cinema, a genre, the work of a director). For purposes of analysis, visual style may in turn be subdivided into three sets of visual techniques:

  • Mise-en-scène
  • Cinematography
  • Editing

Mise-en-scène is originally a theatrical term and translates as “having been put in the scene”. In film study it refers to the visual arrangement of what is in front of the camera and refers particularly to the use of setting, lighting, costume and the positioning and movement of figures (often referred to as ‘composition within the frame’).

Cinematography refers to the actual filming process or use of the camera. This includes the photographic qualities of the shot (e.g. choice of film stock and lens, focus) as well as the framing and duration of shots (e.g. the position, angle and movement of the camera).

Editing refers to the joining of film images or shots together.