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What is camera angle?
Camera angle is basically determined by the height and direction at which a video camera is positioned away from the subject when shooting a film. There are a bunch of camera movement terms that are sometimes used alongside camera angle and sometimes interchangeably. These include camera position and height, shot angle, shot framing, shot size, and field of view.
Let’s briefly define some of these other terms, as they are vital in being able to utilize camera shot angles optimally:
- Shot size
Shot size refers to how subjects and backgrounds are captured in a frame. It is also called field of view (1), the extent of visibility that each frame offers. In this category, we have types like long/wide shot, close-up shot, extreme long shots, extreme close-ups, and everything in between; medium shots and three-quarter shots.
- Shot framing
Shot framing specifies the subjects or objects captured in a single frame. This is pretty straightforward as it includes options like single shot, double shot, three-shot, and point-of-view (POV) shots.
- Camera position
The camera position works in tandem with camera height. The camera height is the same as the shot angle. However, camera position differs because it dictates the side from which a shot is taken. This can be horizontal or vertical.
Due to the immense possibilities that come with creative work, such as filmmaking, there are numerous classifications when it comes to the types of camera angles. But, even then, there are general styles and poses that we can acknowledge in filmmaking.
That categorization of camera shot angles isn’t set in stone is a great indication that beginner filmmakers and professionals alike get to explore their creativity when working on a project. On the contrary, many amateur filmmakers don’t pay enough attention to shot angles, and by extension, they don’t explore their creativity well.
Now, we’re pushing to change the narrative. Before discussing the different camera angles, we’ll first help you understand why shot angles are important to any filming project.
Also read: Best Camera for Filmmaking on a Budget
Why is camera angle important?
In filmmaking, what makes a story come alive to an audience has a lot to do with how the story is visually presented. Camera height and shot angles are all about presenting the image in the best possible way to evoke the desired response from viewers.
Let’s break down the reasons why camera angle is important:
- Brings the message together
Camera angles are great for emphasizing the message of the characters in a film. For example, when a character is delivering a stern speech that’s key to the plot of the movie, a close shot would be appropriate here to help the audience feel the impact of what’s being said.
The same goes for every other emotion depicted among characters and within the storyline. Imagine for such a stern scene, the camera zooms out and shows more of the background, then the viewer’s attention would likely be divided, and the messages make less impact.
- Directs attention
This sort of buttresses that last point, camera height and shot angle, can be used to tell the audience where to pay attention. When it comes to clues and hints that shape the story being told, filmmakers have to be more deliberate to use a camera angle that points the audience’s attention in the right direction.
- Add perspective
How a story is perceived is ultimately determined by how it is shown or presented, and yes, the camera angle plays a key role here. As a producer or video editor, how the shot angles are positioned within a scene determines how the viewer perceives the overall story.
Filmmakers and video editors often use various camera angles to add perspective and color to time-lapse videos, usually a 3600 shot from multiple camera heights. You can learn more on how to make a time-lapse video from our complete guide.
- Easier editing
Much like the plot writer, producer, and videographer determine the way shots are taken when filming, it’s the film editor that eventually fuses the piece. It’s the work of the director and videographers to take as many shots from various angles and heights as possible. Then the editor, alongside the director, determines which frames are used and how they are arranged. All of these are very important to shape how a story is told in a film and the emotions it would evoke from the audience.
The different camera angle types and how they work in filmmaking
Like most other practices in the modern film industry, Filmmaking has more to do with creativity than conforming to specific orders. So, the first thing to learn about the camera angles is that they have to be combined with other factors like shot size and camera position to achieve a definite result. In specific moments, different shot angles can also be combined.
Also noteworthy is that for camera angles to work, the filmmaker has to have a story they are trying to communicate in mind. This would be the guide in choosing the best shot angles and combinations to best capture the subjects and characters in frame (2).
That said, here are the different camera angles to spice up your filmmaking and get you to the pro level:
- Eye/Normal level shot
The eye-level or normal-level shot is one that places the camera directly in front of the character or frame subject. This creates the feeling that the subject is having a face-to-face conversation with the audience through the screen.
This shot angle allows viewers to relate directly with the characters. And since the focus is often on the character’s face, it allows the audience to get carried along in conversations and the emotions or reactions of characters. Eye-level shots work best as close-up shots; medium and extreme close-ups included.
- Shoulder level shot
One of the most common camera angles in movies is the shoulder-level shot. It is great for detailing character body language and reactions when filming a dialogue. A lot of filmmakers classify this camera angle to be the same as eye-level. But there’s a slight difference.
Shoulder-level camera angle best comes in less close-up shot sizes, usually the medium close-up. This also works for other shot sizes like wide shots. Movie editors especially love to have multiple shoulder-level shots as it allows more freedom of creativity. Learn more on how to make a movie on our complete guide.
- Over the shoulder (OTS) shot
Often complimenting the shoulder-level shot is an over-the-shoulder shot. This gives the audience a view of a conversation between two characters from the perspective of one of them. You can get an OTS shot by placing the video camera beside one character’s shoulder towards the other.
OTS shots are best as CU and medium shots. They are great for presenting emotions in dialogues. And also to help the audience pay more attention to the conversation. An OTS shot can also be used to emphasize height difference when the eye level of the character doesn’t capture the focus character from the head.
When filming an OTS shot, always remember to keep the 1800 rule. This means to draw an imaginary straight line between the two characters and stick to moving through one side of the line alone without crossing over. This helps to keep each character on their side of the screen, and not confuse the audience.
- Cowboy shot
The cowboy shot, also called the hip-level shot, is a type of camera angle where the subject is captured from the thigh or hip region to the top. This camera height allows the filmmaker to focus on details lying at the groin area of characters. Something like a gun holster, which especially applies to cowboy movies, hence the name of this camera angle. This shot type is best delivered in a medium shot size.
- Knee level shot
The knee-level shot is another iconic shot angle that can create a dramatic scene in films. Recall the scene where Neo (Keanu Reeves) dodged a bullet in the Matrix (1999) movie. This shot angle type can also be used as an OTS shot by filming from the knee level of a standing character across to another seated character. Knee-level shots are also great for previewing the scene background or other details that are closer to ground level.
- Low angle shot
Low angle is a common camera movement term both in filmmaking and in photography. This camera shot angle is largely used to make the subject appear larger than they are in real life. Generally, any shot below the subject’s eye-line, with the camera tilted to look up, qualifies as a low angle shot. In addition, low-angle shots are used to communicate power imbalance among characters from the dominant or more powerful side.
In essence, low angle shots can come in mild tilt or extreme tilt versions. For example, a cowboy angle or knee-level shot, with the camera directed towards the subject’s top, is a mild low-angle. But when the camera is placed very close to the ground and tilted upwards, this makes the regular low angle. Extreme low-angle shots are featured when the subject is on a level higher than the ground level where the camera is placed.
- High angle
Opposite to the low angle is the high angle. Characters can be portrayed as inferior, vulnerable, or dwarfed by an opponent with a low angle. Usually, high-angle shots are taken from a plane/level higher than where the subject is placed. This could also be subtle or extreme in camera height and angle of tilt.
- Ground-level/Worm’s-eye angle shot
A worm’s-eye-view or ground level shot is a variation of the low-angle shot. However, the camera is not tilted up towards the subject’s eye level this time around. Instead, the camera films the details in the camera’s field of view on the ground. This shot type can be used to track character movement in a scene. For example, worm-eye viewing can be used when a character emerges from a vehicle and approaches a new scene. Other times, ground-level shots are used to gradually set the scene and location or to focus on minute details on the floor.
- Dutch angle
Another iconic camera angle type is the dutch angle. In a dutch angle shot, the camera is skewed horizontally to the side, which forms a tilt of the frame background but still captures the subject in proper position. The tilted frame presents a disorientation of character, and can be used to infer terror or magnify tension within the storyline. The dutch angle works perfectly with all shot sizes, and is a common feature in creative projects like music videos. You can check our detailed piece to learn more on how to make a music video.
- Bird’s-eye-view or God-eye angle
Finally, we seal off our list of camera shot angles in film with an extreme variation of the high angle, the bird’s-eye-view or god-eye angle, also called an aerial shot. These are taken at a very high camera height and don’t focus on any subjects but on a wide coverage. The bird’s-eye-view is often used as an establishing shot to show the location of a scene or to establish the scale of a large landscape.
The eye-level shot/normal-level shot remains the most natural and most used camera angle as it focuses on the subjects and their activity. This is closely followed by shoulder-level shot angle which comes to the fore the most in dialogues.
The appropriate number of camera angles in a scene depends on the story being told. Using just one shot angle can make a scene come off as flat, while too many angles can end up confusing the audience. Ideally, a scene should just pick two or three shot angles for a scene and alternate between them. It could be a bit more for scenes with more characters involved.
Going through the different camera angles in film, we can all agree that camera height and positioning plays an important role in bringing the creative work of a filmmaker together. When exploring camera shot angles, creativity remains the priority. You must be ready to combine multiple types of shot angles to tell a well-rounded story that the audience gets.
How do you navigate the different types of camera angles as a filmmaker? Also, what is your favorite camera angle creativity from a movie? We’d love to hear about these and more.
- Ryan Koo. (January 16, 2011). Clarifying Field of View, Depth of Field, and Crop Factors. NoFilmSchool – Cinematography, and Cameras. Retrieved from https://nofilmschool.com/2011/01/clarifying-field-view-depth-field-crop
- StudioBinder. (June 29, 2020). Ultimate Guide to Camera Angles: Every Camera Shot Explained [Shot List, Ep. 3]. Retrieved from YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLfZL9PZI9k