Establishing Shot

“Are we there yet?” A tourist hauls his pride and joy – an Airstream trailer – with the promise of summer fun ahead.
This scene greets visitors when they enter the layout room, and immediately tells them where they are.

In movie and television production, an Establishing Shot conveys the context for a scene. It gives the audience important information about where and when the subsequent action and/or dialogue is taking place.

For example, if a film is set in Paris, it’s a good bet that the Eiffel Tower will be featured on the skyline – even if the subsequent story does not take place in the 7th Arrondissement. For the same reason, a movie set in Toronto almost always features the CN Tower in its establishing shot. Other clues within the shot – such as the vintage of the vehicles – can help convey era, while clothing styles and weather can help convey season.

Today, Port Rowan has a large town water tank in the area where the rail yard used to be. But as far as I know, in the 1950s it did not have a signature tower of any sort – certainly nothing that first-time visitors to the town would immediately recognize as being uniquely Port Rowan.


Since I’m modelling the branchline to Port Rowan set in the summer in the 1950s, how do I help convey that information to first-time visitors to my layout?

The above photo is my Establishing Shot.

This scene is located at the very end of the Port Rowan peninsula, which is the first thing one sees as one enters the layout. I have no idea if there were billboards in Port Rowan to advertise Long Point. But I don’t care either – because I’m pleased that in much less than a square foot of layout real estate, I’ve managed to convey a wealth of information, including:

  • We’re close to a place called Long Point.
  • Long Point is on Lake Erie.
  • Long Point is a summer destination, with cottages, beaches and campgrounds.
  • It’s the 1950s: The vehicles tell us so.
  • It’s summer, because the driver of the grey car has his windows down and he’s pulling a camper.

Note that the scene does not, specifically, convey that we’re in Port Rowan – only that we’re close to Long Point and Lake Erie. As the visitor moves further into the layout – about three feet to the left, to be precise – they will encounter the railway’s impressive station, complete with “Port Rowan” signs. The Establishing Shot doesn’t have to tell the whole story: Subsequent shots can fill in more of the details even as the action and dialogue commence.


I built the billboard from a laser kit I picked up from my friend Barry Silverthorn, who used to manufacture and market 1:64 structures and details under the Grand River Models brand. It’s not obvious in this photo, but I enhanced the kit with nut-bolt-washer hardware on the frame and support legs.

For the sign, I found a suitable vintage image online – it’s actually from the 1940s if I recall. I added my own text in PhotoShop. I then asked Barry about the size of his billboard so I could adjust the image – and Barry not only resized it for me, but he also took my text and did a much better job of laying it out on the image. (Thanks, Barry!)

This little scene (created in June, 2015) plays an important role in telling layout visitors where they are – and when.

Published by Trevor

Lifelong model railway enthusiast and amateur shepherd, training a border collie to work sheep. Professional writer and editor, with some podcasting and Internet TV presenting work thrown in for good measure.

2 thoughts on “Establishing Shot

  1. Trevor,
    Thanks for the whole explanation and a wonderful idea. Something I’d never have thought of.
    One thing I’did notice was that it may be summer but the sky certainly looks pretty threatening ! 😁
    Don MacDougall

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Don:
      Since the photographer is looking towards Lake Erie and it’s summertime, a thunderstorm is probably brewing out there. Let’s hope our camper gets to the site and set up before it hits…
      Cheers!

      Like

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