Shot composition in comics (Wide,Medium,Close Up shots)

In the last article, “Shot Composition (Establishing shot)”, we discuss the importance of setting the scene so readers know where it’s taking place. In this article, I will discuss wide, medium, and closeup shots and how they could be used. This guide is more geared towards people just starting out creating their comic, but hopefully there’s something here for the comic veterans as well.

The definitions of wide, medium, and close up shots will vary from one person to the next. There is a huge range of possibilities for each of these shots, but it doesn’t mean any one person is wrong in their opinion of them. It’s like the strike zone in baseball, it’s always moving depending on who the umpire is.

Charlie Chaplin was the first person who realized the importance of these three types of shots. He was a master on how to make people laugh. One thing he discovered during the silent movie era was that the wider the shot was, the more people laughed. They laughed more watching a wide shot of a person slipping on a wet floor and flailing around than they did for the same thing happening in a close up shot. His discoveries are still used in films today.

It makes sense if you think about it, look at the movies we see now. If there’s a fight scene, usually it’s all very close shots to make you feel disoriented and uncomfortable because you are too close to the action. It adds tension. The only time you see a wide angle fight scene is Jackie Chan, who is, you guessed it, doing it for the comedy aspects and not the action.


Wide shots generally as a rule are used as establishing shots, but they are also effective tools for setting the mood of the scene. The mood I speak of doesn’t have to be comedy either. If there are people in the frame, a basic wide shot is characterized by seeing them from head to toe. As far as mood goes, very wide shots can imply isolation of a character, or extreme wide shots could make the character feel incredibly insignificant to their surroundings. Wide shots can be used for serious things just as much as comedic things.

Shot Composition In Comics - Wide,Medium,Closeup Shots
Here are other examples…

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In my two comics, FRIK and HOLES IN IT, I primarily flip back and forth between wide shots and medium shots. Every once in a while I’ll throw in a close up or a very wide shot depending on what the story calls for at the time. As a rule, there’s two types of medium shots. Again, if people are in your frame, a medium shot is characterized by being shot from the waist up. A medium close up is from mid-chest up. Note that a medium close up is also called a “Head and Shoulders” shot in video/film terminology.

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Remember that the closer the subject is to you in the panel, the more tension there is. Seeing Wolverine rage up is a lot more effective if he fills the frame than if he were a tiny spec in the background of the panel. You will notice this in my FRIK comic, because when Frik’s about to lose it, his face is filling a lot more of the panel, and even sometimes I’ll use multiple panels to zoom in a little tighter with each panel.

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So, not only do you have to worry about scripting panel to panel, you also need to figure out the best way to frame each panel as well. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. If you are unsure about the process, you can always draw the same panel with each type of shot to see which one works the best. Just remember that on a sliding scale from “extreme wide shot” to “extreme close up”, the more you move towards the close up side, the more tension there is in the shot.

Next week I’ll tackle other shots, like the over the shoulder shot and using angles effectively. Stay tuned!

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Shot composition in comics (Wide,Medium,Close Up shots) by Todd Tevlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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