The Close-up


A standard close-up. In both fiction and documentary, close-ups of faces dominate.

Most of the shots on television and in movies are people's heads. Not full bodies—just heads-and-shoulders. Why is this? Partly, it's because humans are conditioned to look at faces. That’s where we get cues about the other person’s attitude and feelings. So effective communication requires seeing faces.

In television, this varies with the type of show. Soap operas show faces a bit more, action dramas a bit less, but the principle remains. Even in a sport like American football, where player’s heads are covered by bulky helmets, TV producers desperately work to show viewers the faces of the players and coaches whenever possible.

This fixation on showing faces can reach a point of absurdity. For example, when TV crime dramas depict a SWAT team breaking in a house, the extras and low-paid actors wear protective helmets. The stars never wear helmets, even though they usually lead the charge. Curious.