When it comes to applying VFX to filmmaking, no technique is more important than camera angles. There are a wide variety of different camera angles in film that are essential for different scenarios, and if you want to take VFX seriously, you’re going to need to become familiar with them.
Camera Angles Guide for Filmmakers
If you’re currently not aware of the most important cinematography camera angles out there, don’t panic – we’re here to help. After reading this article, you will learn all of the best camera angles, shot styles, and camera movements from industry professionals. We’ll also be providing you with a couple of real examples of camera angles in movies. Read on to find out more!
Shots, angles, and camera movement
Everything within filmmaking is connected – concepts such as camera angles and movement, depth of field, shot framing, and VFX are all intertwined in a very intricate fashion. It’s essential that you are aware of how all these concepts come together to make for a flawless filmmaking process.
If an inappropriate camera angle is chosen, how are you supposed to apply VFX to it? If you’ve created your VFX game plan without considering the depth of field or the shot frame, this is a serious rookie error.
Most amateur filmmakers are aware of basic types of shots such as close-up, medium shot and long shot which simply define how close a camera shot is to its subject. However, camera angles and shot framing are frequently much more complex than this - it involves coordinating the visual field across a series of frames in order to present a point of view from a camera.
This will require camera movement, careful consideration of the depth of field (the distance between the farthest and closest objects in a shot), and much more. The subject area is vast and complex, but we’re here to clear the air. Read on to find out the intricate details of the nine most frequently used types of camera angles.
9 types of camera angles in film
Let’s get started investigating the details of each of the nine most powerful types of camera angle. We’ll be taking a look at how the camera angle should be framed, in addition to other relevant details such as camera types and lenses required for the setup.
High angle shots are camera angles that focus on the subject downwards from a higher perspective. The camera will generally be pointed a few degrees downwards from a birds-eye-view, allowing the viewer to see the subject in full as opposed to simply the top. It’s a very effective camera angle when it comes to storytelling, representing superiority, vulnerability, or presenting an atmosphere of fear.
Contrary to the high angle shot, a low angle shot frames a subject from below, as opposed to above. The lowness of the angle can vary, but it should always be framed below the eye line. Whilst it's a very different shot from high-angle shots, the two can be used symbiotically to represent relationships and power dynamics between subjects.
For example, a low-angle shot focussing on a perpetrator or villain can show the character to have power, and when this is paired with a high angle shot on the vulnerable victim, a clear power dynamic is presented.
The Dutch Angle, also known as the Dutch Tilt Shot, is when the camera is tilted to either the left or the right. Whilst this may seem contrary to what you have learned about stable framing and instead an example of bad camera angles, the wonky angle is a fantastic device for portraying confusion and disorientation.
It's also a very versatile technique as it can be applied to any other camera angle (such as a low or high shot), acting as emphasis for any other atmospheric portrayal.
This third step is most important to a visual effects producer. Post-production is where visual effects are applied to the shots filmed during production when color grading takes place, and when soundtracks and SFX are applied. Once this step is complete, the VFX production should be ready for release.
An over-the-shoulder angle (often abbreviated to OTS) is when a camera is framed slightly behind an actor that is appearing off-screen, showing their shoulder in the frame of the rest of the scene.
It's an excellent way to present conversation and interaction between two cameras, presenting the shot from the perspective of the receiving character whose shoulder is showing. Whilst the shot can be used to orient viewers within any form of on-screen communication, it is frequently used in positive relationships such as portraying an understanding or connection.
One of the most common close-up camera angles that you will find yourself using is an eye-level shot. This is one of the most basic camera angles, focussing on framing the subject at eye level and presenting a character from a neutral perspective. It presents yet another symbiotic addition to both low and high-level shots, as the trinity can be combined to portray inferiority, superiority, and neutrality in character relationships.
Whilst it’s a simple angle, it can be difficult to frame in a cinematic way. Many filmmakers choose the shoulder-height camera position to combat this obstacle.
A hip level shot, also known as The Cowboy Shot, is when your camera position is presented from waist height. There are a wide variety of uses for this angle - one very effective way to use it is to collectively frame subjects despite them appearing at different heights. For example, it's great at capturing scenes where one subject is standing whilst the other is sitting or lying down.
However, the shot angle originally got the name of The Cowboy Shot as it is very effective at capturing hip-level action, such as a gun being drawn from a holster or somebody reaching into their pocket.
Even lower than the waist level shot is the knee level shot, where the camera is framed to be at knee height of your subject. It's not too different from a standard low-level shot, presenting a less intense alternative. It's still very effective at emphasizing the superiority or power of a character, but it's best saved for more subtle implications (such as when power dynamics may not yet be explicit).
However, if the power dynamic between two subjects is clear, then low and high level shots would be more appropriate. It’s one of the more unusual camera angles in movies these days, but when used appropriately it can be highly effective.
Whilst low-level shots frame a subject in full from a low angle to present superiority or power, ground-level shots instead present a flat frame from ground level. This generally results in only the legs of a subject being in frame, presenting an excellent example of storyboard camera angles by portraying movement towards a climax without revealing the identity of the subject.
Filmmakers commonly use this technique early in a movie before characters are revealed, portraying mystery and inducing thought and suspicion into the viewer’s mind.
Bird's-Eye View | Overhead
The last camera angle we wanted to discuss on this list is the Bird's Eye View, otherwise known as an Overhead Shot. As the name suggests, this is a very high-level shot and is distinguished from traditional high-level shots by being limited to an exclusive angle of exactly 90 degrees.
It can have a wide variety of applications depending on its height, with very high overhead shots providing a 'bigger picture' perspective on the chaos and confusion of a scene, whilst lower uses can imply divinity, beauty, or simple neutrality. These shots used to be achieved through helicopter cameras, but these days they tend to be put into action through drone cameras.
How to maximize the impact of the angle shots
As we have seen, using different types of shots can be highly effective at capturing particular moments, relationships, and storytelling devices. In order to get the most out of these angles, you will need to carefully consider what you want the viewer to be feeling at a particular moment.
For example, if you wanted to provoke fear and vulnerability in a shot, a high-angle shot would be a great place to start. However, if you are trying to present understanding and sincerity between a dialogue, an eye-level shot would be more appropriate. A prime example of this would be the profound dialogues between Harry and Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001).
Whilst some of these tricks are considered industry standards in the filmmaking industry, you should never limit yourself to them. Get creative with your applications, and if it makes sense in your mind, then it will likely provoke the emotion you are going for.
For example, if you are trying to imply a fear of heights or foreshadowing of danger, consider framing it from a high or overhead angle. One of FRENDER’s favorite examples of this is the classic overhead shot of Rose looking down into the depths of the ocean in Titanic (1997).
There is no right or wrong answer – it ultimately comes down to the relationship between the viewers’ emotions, the camera angle’s implications, and what you are trying to portray.
Overall, understanding camera angles is going to be an essential skill when providing VFX services for a filmmaker. You will need to learn how to read camera angles to figure out the best way to apply your visual effects, and you may even need to suggest alternative camera angles to a filmmaker on behalf of your VFX company in order to achieve the results they need.
Study these camera angles, learn how to read them, and figure out the best ways to apply VFX to them. It’s going to be an invaluable skill that will show professionalism and dedication, making you stand out amongst the crowd of other VFX artists.