You appear to be using a browser that is no longer supported. You may find that you are unable to use all features on the site. We recommend upgrading or changing your browser, if possible.
Skip to main content
Search... Open this section

Film Glossary

All the key terms you should need to study and discuss and moving image texts can be found here. A PowerPoint version of this Glossary is available in Classroom Resources

Jump to:

  1. #
  2. a
  3. b
  4. c
  5. d
  6. e
  7. f
  8. g
  9. h
  10. i
  11. j
  12. k
  13. l
  14. m
  15. n
  16. o
  17. p
  18. q
  19. r
  20. s
  21. t
  22. u
  23. v
  24. w
  25. x
  26. y
  27. z

# Back to Top

  1. 180 degree rule

    The line of action should not be crossed to maintain continuity - there should never be a difference greater than 180 degrees between camera angles in consecutive shots (e.g. two characters/elements in the same scene should always have the same left/right relationship to each other). Breaking this rule disrupts the scene/disorients the audience.

  2. 2D animation

    The creation of moving pictures in a flat, two-dimensional environment, through ‘cel’ (hand-drawn) animation or creating images in computerised animation software.

  3. 3-point lighting

    Standard lighting setup - key light, fill light, backlight; filmmaker controls illumination.

  4. 30 degree rule

    Camera angles between consecutive shots should never be less than 30 degrees.

  5. 3D animation

    Creating moving pictures in a three-dimensional environment with depth perception.

a Back to Top

  1. above the line

    The part of a film's budget that covers the costs associated with major creative talent: the stars, the director, the producer(s) and the writer(s); films with expensive special effects have more 'above the line' budget costs for technical aspects

  2. aerial shot

    Shot from in the sky and establishes a large expanse of scenery; aka helicopter shot.

  3. ambient lighting

    Light already on location; be aware when shooting for long periods as light will change.

  4. ambient sound

    Sound that is natural to the setting. It can be added during editing.

  5. animation

    Each frame of a film is individually produced by photographing artwork, models, etc. When the frames are run together, it creates the illusion of continuous motion.

  6. arc shot

    Camera moves around the subject, following a rough semi-circle.

b Back to Top

  1. backlighting

    Placed higher than actor/object; hits them from behind; helps frame feel 3-dimensional.

  2. below the line

    Production expenses that are not above the line, such as costs of material, music rights, publicity, the trailer…

  3. bird's-eye angle

    An extreme high angle shot where the camera looks straight down to create a sense of scale and movement (aka top shot or overhead shot).

  4. bounce lighting

    Uses white/silver boards to softly bounce light from any source; subtly highlights subject.

  5. breaking the fourth wall

    Where a character in the film directly addresses the audience or hams to the camera therefore breaking the illusion that the film is ‘real’.

  6. bridge

    Sound that carries on from one scene to the next; sound is heard then we cut to source.

c Back to Top

  1. camera angle

    The viewpoint chosen to film a subject.

  2. camera framing

    Deliberate use of camera; refers to the size of an image within the frame, how subjects are placed in frame, and how our point of attention is focused.

  3. camera movement

    The deliberate movement of a camera within a shot, incorporating position and speed.

  4. claymation

    A technique where clay/plasticine figures are filmed using stop-motion photography.

  5. close-up

    Tightly frames an entire face/object; can reveal emotions/reactions.

  6. composition

    The complete arrangement of a scene by the director. The process includes camera angles, mise-en-scène, the movement of the actors…

  7. continuity

    Making sure all details on screen are consistent from shot-to-shot to maintain realism. Errors could be a prop being held at waist-level in one shot then at chest-level in the next.

  8. continuity editing

    Seamlessly cutting from shot to shot without calling attention to the editing. Creates the sense of an unbroken period of space/time, and a believable, consistent world.

  9. continuity error

    When the action or elements of a scene don’t match across shots (for example, when a character breaks a glass window but in a later shot the window is shown undamaged).

  10. crab shot

    Allows the following of a subject sideways.

  11. crane shot

    The camera is mounted on a crane, to achieve striking height or aerial movement.

  12. cross-cutting

    Alternating between two or more different scenes which are (usually) happening simultaneously; aka parallel editing.

  13. crossing the line

    Failure to follow the 180 degree rule by crossing the line of action.

  14. cut

    A clean break between consecutive shots or sequences that marks a quick transition between one time/space and another. Each kind of cut will create a different meaning.

  15. cut-out animation

    A 2D animation technique that uses flat characters/props/backgrounds cut from materials (card, fabric or photos). Cut-out shapes are moved slightly and photographed.

  16. cutaway

    A sudden shift to another scene of action or different viewing angle; or a shot inserted between scenes to effect a transition (as a bridging shot).

d Back to Top

  1. deep focus

    Keeps all details in the frame in focus in case background is important.

  2. depth of field

    Distance between objects nearest/furthest from camera in acceptably sharp focus.

  3. dialogue

    The words spoken between the characters.

  4. diegetic

    Sound that can be heard by the characters.

  5. digital technologies

    Refers to any system for recording and reading information – images, sounds – in computer-based numerical codes rather than in the older ‘analogue’ systems where information is directly stored on film or tape. Digital versions are easier to access, manipulate and store than analogue copies. Unlike analogue recordings, the audio or visual quality of digital versions does not degrade over time.

  6. dissolve

    When two shots are on screen at the same time, visible through each other. The first shot is faded out while the second is faded in (aka mix).

  7. docu-soap

    AKA reality television/drama-mentaries. TV in the style of a documentary where a “plot” is constructed by intention/ editing so shows resemble soap operas. Often not seen as “real” documentaries due to misrepresentation/fabrication.

  8. documentary

    Screen texts seeking to represent versions of reality/fact. Forms evolved from early records of events to contemporary docu-soaps. Different types use different techniques.

  9. dolly

    A platform on wheels, capable-of movement in any direction, or other moving vehicle.

  10. dolly shot

    Camera is set on a dolly which allows smooth movement when following the subject.

  11. dolly zoom shot

    Camera dollies in/out while zooming in/out at the same time; creates a warping or disorienting feel.

  12. dubbing

    The elements of the soundtrack mixed together during post-production.

  13. Dutch angle

    A disorienting shot where the camera is tipped onto its side so the ‘world’ of the film seems crooked (aka canted angle).

e Back to Top

  1. editing

    The process of putting shots together into sequences/scenes. Described according to rhythm/pace (i.e. varying lengths of the shots in the sequence) and type of transition.

  2. end credits

    A list of everyone involved in the film’s production, shown at the end of the film.

  3. establishing shot

    Shows a (often exterior) setting; placed at the head of a scene to establish location.

  4. expository documentary

    Set up a specific point-of-view/argument about a subject; often feature “voice of God” style voice-over. Cinematographer will collect footage that supports/strengthens the spoken argument of the film (stock/archival footage, b-roll, re-enactments of historical events). 

  5. extreme close-up

    Shows a specific detail of a subject, filling the frame, to draw attention to it.

  6. extreme long shot

    Takes in a large expanse of the setting to emphasise location or isolation.

  7. eye-level shot

    Camera is set at eye level so mimics how we see people in real life.

  8. eye-line match

    Shows viewers what characters are seeing (e.g. if a character is looking at an off-screen object, the next shot will be of that object).

f Back to Top

  1. fade in/out

    Gradual increase/decrease of sound level (often from/to silence).

  2. fade to black

    Gradual disappearance of image into black screen.

  3. fill lighting

    Standard lighting: places a less powerful light opposite the key light to remove shadows.

  4. focal length

    The distance between the optical centre of the lens and the image sensor. The longer the focal length, the greater the magnification involved; the shorter the focal length, the wider the angle of view.

  5. focus pull

    Shifts focus from one subject to another (AKA rack focus).

  6. foley track

    Sound effects created using sources other than those shown on screen.

  7. frame

    Individual still image; the rectangle within which the image is composed or captured.

  8. frames per second

    The number of still images that pass through the camera/projector per second. Film usually runs at 24 fps, video at 25 fps.

  9. full shot

    Shows character from head to toe; highlights costume or shows multiple characters.

g Back to Top

  1. genre

    Groups of different types of films, defined by conventions which often appear in examples of a genre (e.g. narratives, symbols/icons, themes, settings, characters…)

  2. group shot

    Allows the camera to efficiently follow several characters; can create a bond.

h Back to Top

  1. hand-held

    Camera is held manually to produce irregular movement (can signify point of view).

  2. hard lighting

    Uses a direct beam of light and less fill light to create dramatic shadows/harsh lines.

  3. high angle shot

    A shot looking down on the action.

  4. high definition/HD/Hi-Def

    HD/Hi-Def refers to the quality of the visual recording. There are many more pixels used in a high definition image, which means that you can see more clear, crisp pictures, vivid colours, and up to five times more detail than standard definition.

  5. high key lighting

    Heightens the key light and uses fill light to brighten a scene; creates an optimistic tone.

i Back to Top

  1. icons/iconography

    A whole series of visual elements and symbols with the same range of reference.

  2. incidental music

    Background music that adds atmosphere to the action.

j Back to Top

  1. jump cut

    A cut between two shots of the same object, character or scene where the angle of the camera is less than 45 degrees.

k Back to Top

  1. key lighting

    Main light source in 3-point lighting setup: illuminates the form of the subject or actor.

l Back to Top

  1. lighting

    A filmmaker must light a scene in order to be able to see it on camera, but lighting is more than that. Atmospheric lighting is when light is used to create mood.

  2. line of action

    An imaginary line used to help stage camera positions for shooting action. Typically ‘drawn’ along the line of sight between two characters in a scene, or following the movement of characters, cars, etc. In the continuity system all shots will be taken from one side only of the line to maintain consistency (the 180 degree rule).

  3. lip sync

    Synchronising mouth and lip movements in the image with speech on the soundtrack.

  4. long shot

    Takes in much or all of the action while keeping the subject in sight (AKA wide shot).

  5. long take

    A shot that is allowed to continue for longer than usual without editing.

  6. low angle shot

    A shot looking up on the action.

  7. low key lighting

    Uses fewer light sources to gain shadows, contrast and blackness for an ominous tone.

m Back to Top

  1. master shot

    Establishes spatial relationships/setting; returned to when these need re-established.

  2. match cut/match on action

    Joining two shots with matching elements (an image, a line of dialogue, an action) for a stronger sense of continuity. These form the basis for continuity editing.

  3. medium close-up

    Middle ground between master shot and close-up; maintains eerie distance during conversations.

  4. medium long shot

    Shows characters from the knees up; useful when movement must be shown.

  5. medium shot

    Shows characters from the waist up; good for dialogue scenes.

  6. mise-en-scène

    French term: “put in the scene”. Refers to all the elements of a shot – set, props, costumes, lighting, colour, actor position – and the composition/choreography of these.

  7. mise-en-scène

    French term: “put in the scene”. Refers to all the elements of a shot – set, props, costumes, lighting, colour, actor position – and the composition/choreography of these.

  8. mix

    See dissolve.

  9. mixed media/multi-media

    When various types of animation and/or live action film are combined.

  10. montage

    Sequence of shots assembled for emotional impact, condensing story, conveying an idea

  11. motion-capture (mo-cap)

    Recording the movement of objects/people to animate digital models in 2D or 3D computer animation. Capturing face/fingers/subtle expressions is known as performance capture.

  12. motivated lighting

    Imitates natural light sources; a stand-in for sun/moonlight, street lights, car headlights...

n Back to Top

  1. natural lighting

    Uses light already at location, with bounce cards to reflect or block it to mimic reality.

  2. non-diegetic

    Sound that does not exist in the “real world” of the film - the characters cannot hear it.

o Back to Top

  1. observational documentary

    Attempt to discover the ultimate truth of their subject by acting as a fly-on-the-wall - in other words, observing the subject’s real life without interrupting. Cinematographers aim to be as unobtrusive as possible in order to capture their subjects in a raw, unguarded state.

  2. off-camera/off-screen

    Action belonging to the story world which takes place outside the frame.

  3. opening titles

    Credits shown on screen at the film’s start; includes the title, producers, director, writer and main actors. Used much less in recent years.

  4. over-the-hip shot

    Same as OTS but from a lower angle so can create a power imbalance.

  5. over-the-shoulder shot

    Camera sits over the shoulder of a character, looking at the same thing as them.

p Back to Top

  1. pan shot

    When a static camera pivots horizontally.

  2. parallel action

    When two story elements, happening simultaneously, are edited so that action switches between the scenes (often leading up to a point when the two meet).

  3. parallel editing

    See cross-cutting.

  4. participatory documentary

    Attempt to discover the ultimate truth of their subject by acting as a fly-on-the-wall - in other words, observing the subject’s real life without interrupting. Cinematographers aim to be as unobtrusive as possible in order to capture their subjects in a raw, unguarded state.

  5. performative documentary

    Focus on filmmaker’s involvement with subject, using personal experience/relationship with subject as a springboard for exploring larger, subjective truths. Cinematographer captures production process and intimate footage showing this direct/personal relationship. 

  6. persistence of vision

    Trick of the eyes: when still images are projected above a certain speed, we see fluid movement. (Old films were projected below this speed so images flickered: “the flicks”.)

  7. poetic documentary

    No linear continuity; focus on mood, tone, imagery. Often have little/no narrative content; cinematographer asked to capture highly composed, visually striking images that tell a story without verbal context.

  8. point-of-view shot

    Audience is positioned as if they were the character; we see what they see.

  9. practical lighting

    Uses props (lamps, candles, TV set…) to light corners/faces; helps ambiance of a scene. 

r Back to Top

  1. rack focus

    Shifts focus from one subject to another (AKA focus pull).

  2. reaction shot

    A shot in which we see the character’s reaction (sometimes after a point-of-view shot).

  3. reflexive documentary

    Focus on the relationship between filmmaker and audience. Subject is often the process of documentary filmmaking itself, so cinematographer will shoot behind-the-scenes style footage of the production process, including editing, interviewing, and post-production.

  4. reframe

    Adjustment of framing to compensate for movement within the frame.

s Back to Top

  1. scene

    The basic dramatic unit, usually continuous in time and setting.

  2. score

    The incidental music composed specifically for a film.

  3. script/screenplay

    The text version of a film; includes the dialogue spoken by characters, details all the action depicted on screen and indicates the intended atmosphere.

  4. sequence

    A group of shots showing a single piece of action, e.g. a chase sequence; aka scene.

  5. shallow focus

    Background is blurry while focus remains on subject.

  6. shooting script

    In a screenplay scenes are assigned numbers tying in to a list of resources needed to shoot that scene (dates, times, actors, costumes, props, equipment…)

  7. shot

    The moment that the camera starts rolling until the moment it stops; the continuous footage or sequence between two cuts. (The term "shot" is from the early days of film when cameras were hand-cranked, similar to hand-cranked machine guns of the time.)

  8. shot size

    The size of the subject in the frame – close-up, long shot, full shot, etc.

  9. shot/reverse shot

    Alternating shots, typically of two characters in a dialogue sequence.

  10. shoulder-level shot

    Camera is set at shoulder level; the most standard shot.

  11. side lighting

    Enters the frame from the side to highlight a person/object; provides drama and mood.

  12. silhouette animation

    Characters are only visible as black silhouettes, usually because they are backlit. It uses jointed, flat marionettes whose poses are minutely readjusted for each frame.

  13. single shot

    One character is alone in the frame to give them importance or create isolation.

  14. soft lighting

    Uses large light sources/diffusion for subtle shades of light. Good for romantic scenes.

  15. sound effects

    Sounds added in post-production to build mood or reinforce action.

  16. sound perspective

    Use of sound to create a sense of physical space (sounds in the distance seem far away).

  17. soundtrack

    The audio components of a film – dialogue, sound effects, the music track.

  18. static (fixed) shot

    Camera is unmoving; good for comedy/dance as it emphasises performer’s movement.

  19. Steadicam

    Trade name for a camera mount which, whether handheld or strapped to the operator, lessens movement, so making movement smoother and more fluid.

  20. stereotypes

    Often used as a derogatory term for a quickly drawn or ‘stock’ character; criticised as lazy/deliberate misrepresentations of people/groups but can have its uses.

  21. stop-motion photography

    When objects (e.g. puppets, models) are moved a tiny bit between each photographed frame to create the illusion of movement, such as in claymation.

  22. storyboard

    Typically a series of drawings which approximate to a sequence of moving images within each scene.

  23. symbols/symbolism

    A visual element representing something more abstract (e.g. water symbolises purity).

t Back to Top

  1. tilt

    When a static camera pivots vertically.

  2. tilt-shift

    Allows certain elements to be in greater focus; is quite dreamlike.

  3. time code

    Numeric reference (hours/minutes/seconds/frames) for each frame of the film.

  4. tracking

    Allows the camera to follow (track) the subject from behind/beside; can reveal a scene.

  5. transition

    The movement of one shot to another; can be achieved by a cut, a dissolve, a wipe, etc.

  6. two shot

    Shows two characters in a frame to create a relationship between them.

v Back to Top

  1. voiceover

    When an unseen person speaks on the soundtrack as a narrative aid.

w Back to Top

  1. whip pan shot

    A panning shot which moves quickly, as if the camera has suddenly ‘noticed’ something.

  2. whip tilt shot

    A tilting shot which moves quickly and creates motion blur, as with a whip pan shot.

  3. wide angle lens

    A lens with a short focal length, a wide angle of view, and less magnification than a telephoto lens.

  4. worm's-eye shot

    An extreme low angle shot where the camera is placed at ground level (aka ground-level shot).

z Back to Top

  1. zoom (lens) shot

    Image size changes as the focal length of the zoom lens is altered; can show shock/ surprise.