The term “shot” is typically found in film/television terminology to describe the field size of a single moment in a scene. Field size refers to the distance between the camera and the subject in addition to the focal length of the lens. To translate this into comic books is to imagine that the panel is a camera and it is shooting the subject. The distance between the “edges” of the panel and the subject determines the type of shot.
There are a few common shots used in comic books: close-up, extreme close-up, extreme long shot, long shot, full shot, medium close-up, and medium shot. Each one is used strategically to convey meaning, emotion, and hierarchy of detail.
Extreme close-up shots focus on part of a subject’s face—such as lips curling into a smile or eyebrows rising in suspicion—or an important object. This type of shot allows the reader to understand what the character is thinking based on visual cues. Like a close-up shot, it is often associated more with emotion than environment—specifically the character’s feelings regarding his or her environment. In this panel from JLA #22, artists Howard Porter, John Dell, and Oscar Jinenez illustrate only part of Superman’s face, specifically his eyes and eyebrows, which are conveying the emotions of anger and determination. The audience is able to clearly understand his thoughts and feelings in this moment and most likely would be able to even without the text.
Close-up shots (or close shots) contain the head, neck, and the tops of the shoulders of the subject. It is usually used to allow the reader to focus on the emotions of the character because the facial expressions are so visible. In this panel from The Amazing New Adventures of Superman #233, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson illustrate a very clear image of Superman’s facial expressions and emotions while eating the pickle.
A medium close-up shows a subject from the chest up. It is more intimate than the medium shot, but not portray feelings as much as the close-up or extreme close-up shots. In All Star Superman #11, Frank Quitely shows Superman from his chest and up. While the panel is meant to be about Superman’s emotional state in this moment, it also allows the audience to see the action of him taking his uniform off.
A medium shot shows the subject from the waist upwards. Because the panel won’t be able to capture the features on the subjects face as well as a close-up or extreme close-up, this shot is typically used for less emotional information.
In this panel from The Dark Knight Returns #4, Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley create a medium shot of Superman. It reveals little about his emotions and more about him as a character through the focus on his cape, symbol, and belt.
A full shot shows the subjects full body, but does not include much space between them and the edges of the panel. Therefore, the focus is less on the environment than it is on the subject. In this panel from The Man of Steel #6, John Byrne illustrates Superman’s full body, but pays little attention to the world around him. Therefore, the focus is on him and the audience can learn more about his character specifically.
In long shots, the entirety of the subject is in the panel. There will be significant space between the subject and the edges of the panel to reveal the environment. Often, the subject and the environment are of equal importance in the panel. Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant illustrate this panel from All Star Superman #10 to show the entirety of Superman’s body and the buildings behind him. It conveys the feeling of unity between Superman and the young girl and the sense of isolation they may feel from the world around them.
An extreme long shot shows the subject so far away that he/she/it is barely visible. It is usually meant to be an “establishing shot,” meaning it is the first shot in a scene and informs the reader of the setting of the scene. However, it can be used to provide context for a scene, show a subject’s relationship to the environment, or be an artistic choice the illustrator makes.
Camera Shots. Mediacollege.com.
Larson, D. (2014, February 5). Anatomy of a Storyboard Part 1: Terms and Techniques. Makingcomics.com.
Ascher, Steven, and Edward Pincus. The Filmmaker’s Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age. New York: Plume, p. 214.