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In this review of M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, it says:

And once again he uses camera tricks—like distorting wide angles for medium shots—to create a weird, slightly off-kilter world.

What does that mean, technically? I would appreciate an example image or two (preferably but not necessarily from that film).

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A medium shot refers to a shot taken from a "medium-distance", although not a quantifiable one. In film, they are usually used to capture at least half of a person's body within a frame, or even a small group of people. The camera isn't too far to capture the entire setting (long shot) or too close to a person's face (close-up). Here's an example:

enter image description here

A wide angle lens is self-explanatory: it squeezes an indefinite amount of the surrounding into a limited frame. Here's an example (note how it's similar to a rotational panorama):

enter image description here

And with the two combined, you get something like this:

enter image description here

The wide angle is "distorting". The medium-shot brings the focus onto the situation - the surrounding settings with the character in the center. Together, they can highlight a dazed character in a "weird, slightly off-kilter world", just as Shyamalan intended in Signs.

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    What makes a medium shot is not the distance of camera to subject, it is a matter of what is included in the frame. This is a function of camera to subject proximity and lens angle - for example, a telephoto lens can make an extreme close up shot from the same distance that a wide angle lens make a distorted wide shot. – Mr. Kennedy Jul 30 '17 at 18:25
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    @Mr. Kennedy I definitely agree with you on that one. Wikipedia's definition had me confused, so I decided to add what you said. Thanks a lot mate. – Rapid Readers Jul 30 '17 at 20:04
  • glad that was a useful comment. The terminology is often working at odds with what is being talked about and even if you are familiar with photography, discerning lens types and shooting styles is one mode of terms while shooting and usually another while watching. After you edit and clarify your answer, I can change my downvote to an upvote. – Mr. Kennedy Jul 30 '17 at 20:32
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It might be clearer to read the quote like so:

And once again he uses camera tricks - like the distorting effect that wide angle lenses have on medium shots - to create a weird, slightly off-kilter world.

The effect they are describing is the result of decisions made regarding:

  1. a camera lenses angle, and
  2. the proximity of the camera to the subject.

Lens angle change from a fixed position:

enter image description here

Wide angle lenses are often used for close-ups or "detail" shots with little mid- and background in the shot. Given the close proximity of camera and subject, the resulting "detail" or "extreme close-up" image does not appear distorted.

Here's an example of how lens angle affects the image in a medium shot:

enter image description here

...were this camera instead close enough for a detail of the subjects nose, the distortion would not be as apparent.

Using such a wide angle lens for a medium shot (head/shoulder to head to toe) or a "wide" (or "long") shot where the mid- and background is in frame makes the whole shot look distorted. The "wider" the lens angle, the "deeper" or more "fisheye" the image; the narrower or "longer" the lens angle, the "flatter" the image.

To keep the perspective from looking distorted, the proximity of the camera to the subject needs to be altered, e.g.

enter image description here

Combining simultaneous shifts in the two, i.e. a change in camera proximity to subject while shifting between a wide angle lens and long lens, results in the "dolly zoom" effect. This dolly zoom shot from "Jaws" clearly demonstrates the differences of image distortion when altering camera proximity to subject and lens angle:

  • This answer is a bit confused. Reminds me of Eric Morecambe playing the piano - it has all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order ;-) "Wide angle lenses are often used for close ups" - no, they're not, it's the opposite. The bay & teddy images give useful information, the others lack explanation as to what they are illustrating. – disassociated Jul 30 '17 at 6:51
  • @Tetsujin Are you a professional photographer? If you are then you should know that short of using a macro lens, wide angle lenses of the non-fish-eye variety are often used for closeups, i.e. "detail" shots. – Mr. Kennedy Jul 30 '17 at 6:56

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