Quick Guide to Cinematic Images Part 4: Inserts vs Detail Shots

CarIn a previous post I talked about depth of field, I referred to insert shots and what I call detail shots. So what is the difference between the two? In short there isn’t anything technically different. The name change is more of a psychological trigger. This concept is something I personally developed and perhaps it’ll work for some. One thing I know for sure is that it’s not a concept that’ll work for everyone.

Classic insert shot in Dark City
Classic insert shot in Dark City

1) Inserts

Inserts are very common. They’re used to convey information. I define inserts as extreme close ups of something dictated by the story. When an extreme close up happens that is either done by the action of the character or is essential to the story I classify them as insert shots. Here is an example from one of my favorite movies; Dark City. Notice the character looks down and then we cut to an insert.

In short, inserts are story and or action based.

The water well drives home the atmosphere in this shot in Kill Bill. This is classified as a detail shot in my book.
The water well drives home the atmosphere in this shot in Kill Bill. This is classified as a detail shot in my book.

2) Detail Shots

Detail shots take on the same form as inserts. They’re extreme close ups of something. Where they differ is what dictates them. Detail shots aren’t dictated by the story but more so by the geography of the set. Detail shots are just visually pleasing shots that showcase the beauty of the area the characters are in. These shots are great for establishing or further driving home what type of world the characters are in. In this example of Kill Bill we see a little water well in the foreground.

This shot will be classified as a detail shot in my book. It shows the world in a visually pleasing way.

Shot from my slider cinematography video. Using the leaves in the foreground to show the move and drive home the atmosphere.
Shot from my slider cinematography video. Using the leaves in the foreground to show the move and drive home the atmosphere.

Therefore as you can see, this concept is more of a psychological trigger. Inserts may be essential to directing the story while detail shots may be essential to the photography or cinematography. Inserts are story driven, while detail shots are geography driven. Why do I make these distinctions? Simply because inserts are usually written into my shot list, but detail shots are quick ways for me to find effective shots on set. Detail shots are amazing and if you can I suggest writing them into your shot list if it helps the story. However, sometimes you don’t get a chance to see the location and having the concept of detail shots in mind can help you create powerful images on the spot.

Is this concept helpful to you? Do you have your own concept that are psychological triggers?

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