Extreme close-up

Filmmaker's Dictionary Jan 22, 2021

What is an extreme close-up?

An extreme close-up shot almost fills the frame with the subject. This type of shot lets the viewer see details that otherwise would be unnoticeable. The shot works for both characters and objects. The shot is often called an ECU on shot lists especially.

ECU shots are associated with close-up shots, but don't think there isn't a difference! As listed at Masterclass.com:

  • Medium close-up
  • Close-up
  • Extreme close-up
  • Insert shot

For our purposes, let's see the difference between an extreme close-up and a close-up.

Close-up vs. Extreme close-up

An extreme close-up shot or an ECU is a full-frame shot of a specific object or body part. When the frame show's nothing but an eye or a drop of water, that's an ECU. For example, in an old western, you see a shot only of the cowboy's eyes during a standoff!

A close-up shot is a wider shot and more common than an ECU. It frames an object or a character's body part, like in the "Here's Johnny" scene in The Shining. There we see Jack Nicholson's face barge through the door in a close-up shot.

The main distinction is how much you see in the frame. How close is the camera shot to the subject? If the frame captures portions of the face, it's an extreme close-up. And if you see the whole head, you have a close-up shot. There is no official standard for what an ECU is, only an estimate.

Why use it?

Directors use an ECU to emphasize a character's state of mind, and to add depth and detail. The shot is so intimate, making the audience emotional alongside the actor. For example, focusing on a single eye can induce empathy for a character. An ECU is a great way to show the actor’s subtle facial expressions.

Using this shot with objects can bring intensity and focus on details. Time ticking away or sweat dripping to the floor. Even though ECU shots are not as typical as medium shots, it can make a scene much more powerful.

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