In film, television, and still photography a close-up tightly frames a person or an object. Close-ups are one of the standard shots used regularly with medium shots and long shots. Close-ups display the most detail, but they do not include the broader scene. Moving in to a close-up or away from a close-up is a common type of zooming.
Close-ups are used in many ways, for many reasons. Close-ups are often used as cutaways from a more distant shot to show detail, such as characters' emotions, or some intricate activity with their hands. Close cuts to characters' faces are used far more often in television than in movies; they are especially common in soap operas. For a director to deliberately avoid close-ups may create in the audience an emotional distance from the subject matter.
Close-ups are used for distinguishing main characters. Major characters are often given a close-up when they are introduced as a way of indicating their importance. Leading characters will have multiple close-ups. There is a long-standing stereotype of insecure actors desiring a close-up at every opportunity and counting the number of close-ups they received. An example of this stereotype occurs when the character Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, announces "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up" as she is taken into police custody in the film's finale.
Close-up shots do not show the subject in the broad context of its surroundings. If overused close-ups may leave viewers uncertain as to what they are seeing. Close-ups are rarely done with wide angle lenses, because perspective causes objects in the center of the picture to be unnaturally enlarged.
There are various degrees of close-up depending on how tight (zoomed in) the shot is. The terminology varies between countries and even different companies, but in general these are:
The earliest filmmakers — such as Thomas Edison, Auguste and Louis Lumière and Georges Méliès — tended not to use close-ups and preferred to frame their subjects in long shots. Film historians disagree as to which filmmaker first used a close-up, but D.W. Griffith used the shot extensively at an early date. For example, one of Griffith's short films, The Lonedale Operator (1911), makes significant use of a close-up of a wrench that a character pretends is a gun.
In pragmatic terms, early film and especially early television had low resolution compared to HDTV and modern film stock formats. With low resolution, a close-up may be necessary, not as a stylistic effect, but for the audience to discern important scene details.
Close-ups may be more expensive than other shots due to the extra lighting and make-up needed. (See quote from director Richardson in Lost in Space which describes excessive close-ups as being a major cost factor.)