Establishing Shot

In film, an establishing shot communicates to the viewer that the time, location, or setting has changed. This technique has become an expected and predictable flow in film that viewers have come to rely on. Often an establishing shot is a wide angle shot that does not contain the main characters. It serves to provide a locational context for the following sequence.

Examples include the outside of a building before cutting to the characters inside, a city skyline to indicate the characters have traveled to a new city, or a wide shot of the beach where the characters are about to go for a walk. Without such a visual device, viewers can easily become confused about the passage of time or a change of location. As always, rules are for breaking so filmmakers may sometimes omit an establishing shot to add uncertainty and disorientation to the sequence. It is an important and well established cinematographic and storytelling technique.

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