An illustration depicts the different camera shot types used in filmmaking and cinematography including wide shots, close-ups, bird's eye view shots, high angles, low angles, over-the-shoulder shots, and point-of-view shots.

The Ultimate Guide to Writing Shot Descriptions in Screenplays in 2024

Have you ever watched a movie or TV show and been captivated by a particularly powerful scene or image? Shots like the opening helicopter panorama in The Shining or the gruesome shower scene in Psycho?

Masterful cinematography doesn’t just happen on set – it starts from the script. Writing effective shot descriptions in your screenplay is crucial for translating your visual storytelling to the screen.

Understanding shot types and how to format shot descriptions properly can elevate your script from good to great. In this comprehensive guide, learn how to seamlessly weave shot descriptions into your screenplay to create compelling visuals that will leap off the page.

The Different Types of Shots in Film

Before diving into formatting and writing shot descriptions, it’s important to understand the basic shot types used in visual storytelling and their effect.

Here are some of the most common shot categories:

Wide Shots

These are wider-angle shots that show the entire area. Establishing shots, also known as master shots, are often wide shots used near the start of a scene to show the general setting. For example:


A WIDE SHOT of the vast ocean shore under the setting sun.

Medium Shots

Medium shots display the subject from around the waist up. They are useful for capturing dialogue exchanges and movement. For instance:

MEDIUM ON JOHN as he searches through kitchen drawers frantically.

Close-up Shots

Close-up shots zoom in much tighter on the subject’s face or other details. They convey emotion and intimacy. For example:

CLOSE UP of Sally’s eyes welling up with tears.

Insert Shots

Insert shots highlight specific objects and actions. They are typically interspersed between other shots. For example:

INSERT – JOHN’S HAND reluctantly loading bullets into a gun chamber.

Point-of-View Shots (POV)

These show the literal view of a character as if the audience has adopted their perspective. For instance:

JOHN’S POV – We see Sally standing eerily in the shadows down the hall.

Tracking Shots

The camera moves alongside the subject, like tracking them walking down a street. For example:

TRACKING SHOT follows Heather as she jogs through the park alone before dawn.

High and Low Angle Shots

The camera points downwards for a high angle or upwards for a low-angle shot. This conveys dominance or vulnerability. For example:

HIGH ANGLE on Derek collapsed sobbing on the bathroom floor.

There are many more types of shots, from bird’s eye to Dutch angles. But these cover the basic building blocks for impactful visual storytelling in your script.

How to Format Shot Descriptions

Screenplays have strict conventions for formatting all elements, including shot descriptions. Follow these rules to seamlessly incorporate shots:

  • Use ALL CAPS for shot descriptions
  • Maintain present tense, active voice
  • Be concise – every word counts
  • Introduce subjects clearly

For example:

WIDE SHOT of the breathtaking waterfall, water violently GUSHING over sharp rocks.

MEDIUM ON SARA as she gazes nervously down the dark corridor, gripping a flashlight.

INSERT – JASON’S HAND sliding the antique dagger from its sheath.

Well-formatted descriptions keep the script engaging without distracting from the story.

Writing Strong Shot Descriptions

Good shot descriptions instantly create vivid visuals for the reader. Here are tips for impactful descriptions:

Focus on What Matters

Only include essential visual details that enhance the story rather than listing every minor aspect. For example:

MEDIUM ON MARIA stewing with rage, clutching the crumpled eviction notice.

We immediately grasp Maria’s emotional state and the context. Extraneous details like the color of her shirt or exact decor of the room would dilute this.

Be Concise Yet Vivid

Use crisp, punchy language and active verbs. Every word should add impact. For example:

LOW ANGLE on the machete PLUNGING down in slow motion!

Much more vivid than merely writing “The machete comes down.”

Avoid Directing Shots

Don’t dictate framing or style – simply describe subject placement and action. For example:

MEDIUM ON BENJAMIN crossing the busy intersection, dodging FAST CARS and TRUCKS barreling by dangerously close.

The director can then decide how to best portray the frenetic action described.

Now let’s examine when to use certain shot types for optimal effect.

When to Use Different Shot Types

Wide Establishing Shots

Open new scenes or locations with wide establishing shots. For example:


WIDE SHOT of the sprawling estate atop a hill, GOTHIC and LOOMING under pouring rain.

This instantly sets an ominous mood and mystery.

Use establishing shots again if characters move to a new setting within a scene. For example:


WIDE SHOT of the GILDED ballroom, guests in masks waltzing under the glittering chandelier.

Medium Shots

Use medium shots for important dialogue exchanges so characters’ faces and emotions are seen. Mediums are also effective for action involving some movement or conflict:

MEDIUM ON BENJAMIN stuffing supplies frantically into his backpack as blue and red POLICE LIGHTS flash outside the window, sirens BLARING.

This captures the tense mood and action without being too close up and shakey.

Close Up Shots

Use close-ups sparingly to highlight intimately emotional or pivotal story moments. For example:

CLOSE UP on Olivia’s face streaming with tears as she pulls the trigger.

The camera zooms in tight to capture her anguish in this moment.

Use close up inserts to showcase important objects or actions in detail:

INSERT – The bomb timer rapidly clicking down to zero!

This punctuates the tension and urgency.

POV Shots

Use POV shots to portray specific characters’ perspectives to increase immersion. For example:

JASON’S POV – Looking up from the dark pit, the opening is just a tiny speck of light far above.

This places the audience in Jason’s dire predicament rather than just observing it.

Tracking Shots

Use tracking shots to follow moving subjects, like characters traversing through spaces:

TRACKING SHOT behind Maria as she weaves between massive dinosaur skeletons at the Museum of Natural History.

This helps immerse the audience in Maria’s journey through the locale.

High and Low Angles

Use high angles to make subjects seem small, powerless, or vulnerable. For example:

HIGH ANGLE on Katie helplessly staring up at the towering mountain she must climb.

Conversely, use low angles to emphasize something as daunting, powerful or dominant. For example:

LOW ANGLE on the alien ship looming over the city, blotting out the sun.

Mix It Up

Vary shot types to keep the script engaging but don’t force it. Let the story flow naturally. For example, follow a wide establishing shot with some close ups and medium dialogue shots.

Use inserts of important objects or actions peppered between the main shots. This builds proper pacing and variety.

Top Mistakes to Avoid

Here are common shot description pitfalls that can undermine otherwise strong scripts:


Don’t overload descriptions with superfluous details about setting, lighting, costumes, etc. Only include visuals that actually advance the story. For example:


MEDIUM ON MARK wearing jeans and a green jacket speaking intently into his phone. Trees wave in the breeze behind him.

The excess details about his outfit and the trees distract rather than add value.


Some writers make descriptions too sparse and vague. For example:

Jenny looks around nervously as she walks.

Expanding this would better set the mood and scene:

MEDIUM ON JENNY eyes darting anxiously under the shadowy bridge as she clutchs her coat tighter walking home alone at night.

Improper Formatting

Remember to use ALL CAPS and present tense style. For example:

Josie ran across the field yelling happily.

Instead should be:

JOSIE running across the field yelling happily.

Directing vs. Describing

Don’t dictate how the director should shoot each scene. Simply describe key visual details. For example:

ZOOM IN for a tight CLOSE UP as the door creaks open to build suspense.

Instead, just describe the important action:

CLOSE UP on the door CREAKING open, moonlight spilling across the floor.

The director can interpret how to best build suspense.

Strong shot descriptions transport readers into your world while improper ones can detract from the story. Master the techniques in this guide to make your script leap off the page.

Just remember to serve the story – never force shots that don’t organically fit the narrative. Paint cinematic visuals through crisp descriptions to allow your screenplay to thrive on the page, and eventually on screens worldwide.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you put a shot in a screenplay?

To put a shot in a screenplay, write a scene heading then describe the shot in all capital letters starting with the type of shot (CLOSE UP, WIDE SHOT, etc.), subject, and visual details. Maintain present tense and active voice. For example:

WIDE SHOT of the vast desert canyon under the blazing sun.

Should I include shots in my screenplay?

Yes, shot descriptions are a crucial part of any screenplay to translate the story visually. Use shot descriptions like wide, medium, close-up, POV, etc. to create compelling visuals. But avoid dictating how the director should frame each shot. Simply describe important visual details.

How do you write a montage of shots in a script?

To write a montage, indicate MONTAGE in all capital letters on its own line. Then list each shot description on separate lines showing the story progression. For example:


  • WIDE SHOT of the city skyline at dawn.
  • CLOSE UP on the alarm clock buzzing.
  • JOHN brushing his teeth frantically.

How do you write a continuous shot in a screenplay?

For a continuous shot, write CONTINUOUS at the scene heading followed by the time span and any description. Then unfold the action via description and dialogue with no shot breaks. For example:


JOHN sprints out of the building as alarms sound. He hurtles down alleyways, vaults fences. No matter how far he runs, the shadowy FIGURE follows right behind.

How to do a pov shot in a screenplay?

Format a POV shot starting with the subject’s name in all caps followed by “‘S POV” then describe what they see:

JENNY’S POV – The dark abandoned warehouse looms large. A shadowy hand reaches out toward us.

This transports the reader into experiencing Jenny’s perspective.

What does a shooting script look like?

A shooting script includes full scene descriptions, action lines, character names in all caps, and any shot descriptions from the final version before production. It will also have revisions from the director like adjusted dialogue, locations, props, etc.

What is the #1 rule when writing a screenplay?

Show, don’t tell. Don’t just describe events – write scenes bringing the action alive. Reveal backstory and information visually through dramatic scenes.

How hard is it to write a screenplay?

Screenwriting requires practice and skill like any craft. Understand 3-act structure, characterization, plot, visual storytelling, formatting, etc. It will seem daunting at first but keep studying scripts and write constantly to improve.

Do I need to copyright my screenplay?

Yes, it’s recommended to register your screenplay with the U.S. Copyright Office or a trusted third party service for legal protection before sending it out.

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