The Complete Guide to Camera Angles
Every phone has a camera these days, and the best ones often come with near-professional quality lenses equipped. This, combined with an active resale market for professional-grade cameras and camera lenses, makes it easier than ever for those who want to get into photography or film to do so.
All the same, as many a professional artist will tell you, better tools don’t necessarily mean a better artist. While they won’t hold you back, they can’t give you the skill you need. So today, let’s take a crash course in something professionals spend years learning- camera angles!
By the time you’re through reading this guide, you’ll have a better understanding of the camera shots and techniques used by the pros in creating works of art.
If you’re looking for the closest camera angles to true neutral, this should be your go-to. An eye-level shot keeps your camera lens (what a shock) at eye-level with the subject of the shot. Depending on the closeness of the shot, this could create a level of either intimacy or impartiality with the subject.
You’ll most often see and use eye-level shots during basic dialogue or interviews, something that doesn’t require much emotional focus. The audience can then follow the action without getting manipulated by camera tricks.
One of the most common camera angles you’ll see, whether you’re filming a horror movie or a domestic thriller, is the low-angle shot. As one might expect, a low-angle shot looks up at the subject, making it so that the performer is looking down at the camera. This can illustrate off-kilter power dynamics like an angry mother or a massive monster storming through the streets of Tokyo.
High-Angle and Overhead Shots
High-angle and overhead camera shots both get positioned somewhere above the subject of the shot, but get used for different effects. A high-angle shot makes the subject feel much smaller, which can convey feelings of vulnerability and insecurity. Meanwhile, an overhead shot tends to stick at a direct 90 degrees above the character, which makes it seem like a divine or aerial viewpoint.
From a photography standpoint, shooting a human subject from slightly above them tends to minimize the appearance of a double chin, making it a preferred choice of selfie angle.
Have you ever wanted to make your audience feel distinctly uncomfortable, but without understanding why? The Dutch-angle shot will prove your best friend in this endeavor, especially when paired with zooming in. This shot makes the horizontal lines of the subject point off at an odd angle, which makes the subject feel off-kilter.
This can create feelings of disorientation and subtle terror in the viewer, as well as imply instability in the dynamics of the scene.
Hip-level camera shots can sometimes be called “cowboy shots” in the industry. This naming convention came from their common use in cowboy and action movies to showcase a man with a gun pulled from its holster at hip level. This type of shot works whether someone’s pulling a gun or a wallet from their hip, but sees use most often with weapons drawn.
It’s also an effective way to have a seated person in the foreground and a standing person elsewhere in the shot.
A knee shot places the camera at the level of the performer’s feet. These camera angles tend to work best when you want to focus on a character’s feet in motion, whether they’re running or creeping towards their destination. Due to the low placement of the camera, this may necessitate additional equipment that you don’t currently have.
If you’ve ever played a first-person shooter or any game with a first-person perspective, you know all about this type of shot framing. Point-of-view shots place you in the character’s eyes, meaning that you see things as they do. This can create a sense of immediacy and urgency, as it removes the fourth wall between the audience and the protagonist, placing the viewer in their shoes.
Over-the-shoulder shots are an exercise in advanced perspective techniques as, depending on who or what else is in the shot, they can ramp up tension or establish gorgeous vistas. In these shots, the camera angles over a character’s shoulder while still keeping them in the foreground. This way, their reactions and emotions take center stage.
Speaking of perspective techniques, let’s take a moment to talk about forced perspective. What if you have two actors that are around the same height, but one character is supposed to be much, much taller than the other? Such was the difficulty faced by Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings films. By employing forced perspective through clever camera angles, he was able to make the actors for the hobbits look much smaller than their costars.
Panning, Tilting, and Zooming In
Of course, we can’t discuss camera angles without discussing the ways in which a camera may move throughout a shot. Some of the most common camera moves include, but are not limited to:
- Panning, which moves the camera side-to-side
- Tilting, which moves the camera up and down
- Zooming, which pulls the camera closer to the subject either through the camera lens or physical approach
- Tracking, where the camera follows a subject
These movement techniques can add a sense of dynamism to your film-making, and grant you novel perspectives on your photos.
Want to Learn More About Camera Angles and Film Techniques?
We covered a lot of information today about different camera angles and techniques you can use to improve your photography and filmmaking. If you’d like to learn more ways to level up your camera skills, then check out our blog for more helpful and educational content like this!