Using different camera angles is an effective way to bring a different tone to your storytelling. Depending on where you position your camera and how you shoot your subjects, you can make your audience feel entirely differently about them and your story. Getting to grips with your camera angles is an absolute must.
Broadly speaking, camera angles can be ‘high’, ‘low’ or eye-level, but these can be divided further. Depending on how high or low you go, or if you choose to shoot an eye-level shot from straight-on, behind, or somewhere in between, they each give a different feeling to your videos. In this post, we’ll go over some of the essential camera angles every creator needs to know and see their impact. We’ll see examples from famous films and clips from Artlist that you can use in your video to create the desired effect.
Bird’s-eye view or aerial shot
Let’s start high up above. To achieve a bird’s-eye view or an aerial shot, you will need a drone or even a helicopter. Aerial footage can be used as establishing shots, but it can also be quite abstract and disorienting, so you need to think carefully about how best to use it. When you shoot from high above, it makes everything moving at ground level seem a bit slower. This could be great for something contemplative or give your audience a moment of pause, but maybe not so good for a frantic high-speed chase.
Overhead shots come somewhere between bird’s-eye view and high-angle shots. You will look down directly onto your subject, but be slightly closer than in a bird’s-eye view. They are a standard when it comes to making food videos, or in fact, any kind of demonstration video, giving clear sight of what’s going on, but are important in a storytelling situation, too.
There’s a surprising versatility to overhead shots. First, they can give your audience a sense of being all-seeing or even all-knowing. While they might be intrusive, they can also be intimate, like in the ice scene from Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
They also convey movement very well, and that’s why legendary director Busby Berkley incorporated plenty of overhead shots in his choreographed scenes.
A high-angle shot is the classic establishing shot, but you can put them to work in more ways than just that. When you want to give your audience the feeling that they are in control and that the subject is somehow inferior or disempowered, shoot from higher up. It will make your subject appear smaller than she or he really is.
You can see an excellent example for this in the Coen Brothers’ film Fargo (which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary), where the extremely high-angle shot enhances the effect of insignificance and loneliness of the film’s tragic hero:
Remember: a high-angle shot can come just above someone’s head, from the corner or a room, out of a window or at the top of a building. There’s a lot of variation in ‘high’, and that can bring a lot of variation to your filmmaking.
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Eye-level shots are one of the staple camera angles in filmmaking. They are neutral and allow your audience to form their own conclusions about the subject. You aren’t being suggestive; everything is on the level. Obviously, this is important if you’re filming an interview or documentary, but it’s also a handy storytelling technique because ambiguity is valuable.
Check out the powerful emotional ambiguity in the ending scene of Christopher Nolan’s Inception:
When you shoot at eye level, you will want to think not just about the camera angle going up and down but also about the camera angle moving around your subject too. Will you shoot straight on, looking her or him in the eye? That’s very intimate. It works well for emotional scenes or important appeals and is very effective combined with a shallow depth of field. You probably wouldn’t want an interview subject looking directly into the camera, but instead at the interviewer.
In this date scene from Whiplash, you can see the effect of each camera placement. It starts with a side view shot that gives us the observational feel and then goes to the over-the-shoulder to give a sense of connection. When the conversation starts to get a bit confrontational, it switches to close-up shots of each of the characters, breaking the tension by going back to shooting them from the side.
When you shoot from below–whether it’s from just below the chin or from knee-level–you instantly empower your subject over the audience. And you make them appear larger than they actually are.
In this scene from Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, watch how the low-angle shot gives the rebelling Django power.
By subtly combining low and high-angle shots in the same scene, you can give your audience visual cues about who is in control and who is being dominated.
In this clip from The Black Panther, you can see how combining low-angle and high-angle shots can show the changing power relationship between the characters.
A worm’s-eye view is also known as a ground-level shot. Imagine that you are a worm, looking up at the world. These shots really emphasize the size of anything going upwards, whether it’s a flower or a skyscraper and have a very strong immersive effect. If you want to intensify the immersive effect, then have a look at a wide-angle lens.
In this scene from Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, the worm’s-eye view shot of Brad Pitt and Eli Roth gives the Jewish guerilla soldiers superiority over the nazis.
Dutch angle (or Dutch tilt)
A Dutch angle, or Dutch tilt, is when you deliberately skew the horizon in a scene. When done properly, it produces a sense of confusion or disorientation in the audience. But, you do need to be deliberate with this. If it’s at an angle of just a few degrees, it might feel like a mistake and be plain irritating rather than evocative. Be bold here!
Watch how this Dutch angle-heavy scene from Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys really conveys the wacky atmosphere of the asylum and delivers the sense of disorientation.
If you’re a little hesitant about trying too many different angles, or being too extravagant, shooting B-roll is the perfect opportunity to experiment with your camera angles. You might not use what you’ve shot, but then again, you might. And you will definitely get a feel for what different camera angles bring to your filmmaking.
If you want to take your use of camera angles a step further, consider how they will combine with different cinematic lenses. We’ve already looked at the immersive effect of the worm’s-eye view with the wide-angle lens, but think about how a fish-eye lens could change things; or when you should use a telephoto.
Finally, remember that camera angles in filmmaking are an important tool, but it’s easy to overuse them. Too many different angles or quick changes can be disorienting for the audience or remind them that they are watching a film and not get them fully immersed in the experience. Go gently.