Coverage: Get the Shots You Need

by Tom Barrance

When you film something, you need to get enough different shots to show everything you need to show. Getting all the shots you need for the edit is called coverage. If you don’t have coverage your scene may not make sense, or it may be impossible to edit smoothly.

Whatever you do, film every shot for at least ten seconds. If you’re filming an action, begin recording a few seconds before the action starts, and keep on filming for a few seconds after it ends.

Shoot more than you think you need. If you think you need three shots, get five. If you think you need five shots, get seven.

Ways of getting coverage

Following some simple patterns or rules can help you get coverage, even in situations where you can’t plan your shots in advance.

Move in


Start with an extreme long shot or wide shot to set the scene. Introduce people with long shots and mid shots. Then use closeups to show their expressions.

Make sure you use different camera positions around, above or below the subject as well. If you shoot everything from the same position the camera will appear to ‘jump’ forwards or backwards. There’s more about this, and other continuity rules, here.

Start with closeups

You could go the other way round. Start with a close up, or a series of closeups. Then cut to mid and long shots to show the bigger picture. This is a good way to add anticipation, and maybe mystery, to a scene.

Three shots

Film the person, the thing, then the person and the thing.

The five shot rule

Five shots
This rule was devised to help TV journalists who were starting to shoot their own stories. You’ll see it all the time on TV news. (Actually, it was invented to help the editors who were finding it impossible to cut together what the journalists were giving them.)

You don’t have to edit it together in this order, but this should give you enough material to work with.

These are the shots you need:

  • hands
  • face
  • hands and face
  • over the shoulder or point of view shot
  • a creative shot

The creative shot could be an important detail, an unusual angle, or a shallow focus shot.

Other ways to get coverage

Shoot B-roll

Shoot plenty of details, or shots of another part of the scene. You can add these as cutaways to cover edits that don’t match well. Use a variety of camera angles: birdseye shots and low angle shots as well as eye level.

Film a master shot

A master shot is usually a wide or long shot of the entire action from start to finish. You can cut back to it whenever your other shots don’t cut together properly.

If you only have one camera, you’ll need to repeat the scene to film the master shot. If you have two cameras, you can set one up on a tripod and leave it running throughout the scene for the master shot.