Shot composition in comics (Establishing shot)

In the last article, “How to use character model sheets”, I discussed the various ways you can use a model sheet and why it will benefit you long term. In the next couple of articles, I will break down shot composition so you can start thinking of ways to tell your story from one panel to the next. These articles are more geared towards people who have never created a comic before, but there hopefully is enough here to keep the veterans interested as well.

Many years before I became a comic artist, I had a film/video production background. A lot of what I’ll teach today stems from that background, and it applies to your comic just as much as if you were shooting a film short for school. In essence, all a comic is is singular frames extracted from a moving picture. Your job is to pick the right frame to convey the story for each panel. Depending on whether you are making a webcomic or a 22 page traditional paperback comic, you will find that many of these techniques will apply to both, and you don’t have to use them all at one time.


You can’t set the scene without telling the reader where that scene takes place. An establishing shot is very important and anchors that part of the story to give you a frame of reference. That’s all fine, but what is it exactly in terms of visuals? Generally speaking, it’s usually a wide shot that shows you the area surrounding the characters, and it gives you just enough information to know what is going on. If your comic was all close up shots of the characters faces, readers would have no idea where they are and it will prevent them from truly absorbing the story and atmosphere.

Here is a crudely drawn example of an establishing shot…

Establishing shot with shot composition in comics by Todd Tevlin

In the very first panel you know what is happening. Two armed men are standing off in some wild west shoot out in the center of town. Should establishing shots be the first image for every scene? No! You could easily swap frames #1 and #2 and it will tell the story just as well. It really depends on the story flow and how quickly you want to reveal things. Sometimes the mood you’re going for will dictate how the shot composition for each panel will be. Take this next example using the same characters…

Establishing shot in shot Composition in comics by Todd Tevlin

Did you see that ending coming? Probably not. You thought the story was a continuation of the above, but I turned it around on you to prove that you could have a dramatic build up to the panel that reveals the establishing shot. If I had made the first panel the establishing shot, like I had in the previous example, it would have lost its comedic punch with the characters and the ice cream.

Next week we will discuss various shots like wide shot, medium shot, close up, and extreme close up. Stay tuned!

Creative Commons License
Shot composition in comics (establishing shot) by Todd Tevlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Show some love and share this please!