What is an establishing shot?

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What is an establishing shot in film?

Essentially, an establishing shot is a shot that sets something up for your viewers. It is a way to introduce people, places, and things that will be important to the upcoming scene. It gives context for the scene that is about to unfold. An establishing shot could show the exterior of the building that the scene takes place in, or the first shot of a character that establishes who they are and how the audience should be feeling about them. Not only do establishing shots give the viewer a sense of place, they set the tone and mood for the upcoming scene.

Often, establishing shots are wide shots, especially when they’re being used towards the beginning of the film. Sometimes, they are aerial shots that give the viewer a birds eye view of the location. They can also be used to demonstrate the passage of time; for example, the same location could be filmed at different times of the day or different seasons to indicate that time has passed.

Establishing shots can also be used to establish a concept. For example, rather than an establishing shot of the outside of a high school, a filmmaker might choose to use an establishing shot of the inside of a classroom where teenagers are taking a test. Not only does this tell the viewer that the scene is taking place at a school, it also gives context to what specifically will be taking place during the upcoming scene.

Next time you’re watching a movie, pay attention to the establishing shots. Make a mental note of when they happen and what information they give you. If you’re a filmmaker, make sure you don’t forget to get establishing shots when you’re shooting your next film.

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi


Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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