The awareness and ability to choose different camera angles and shot sizes is one of the most important skills in any filmmaker’s toolbox.
As one of the key elements of film language, knowledge of camera angles and shot sizes offers up powerful storytelling tools used in filmmaking and photography.
Good use of the different camera angles and shots helps to convey emotion, perspective, and plot elements to the audience. By choosing effective camera angles, filmmakers can influence the viewer’s understanding and immerse them more deeply in the story.
The Different Camera Angles
Take a look at how some of the most popular camera angles can be used to tell a story on screen.
These Wide shots or aerial views often start off a new sequence to set the scene and provide viewers with vital information about the setting, the environment, or the world in which the story takes place. This helps the audience understand where the story is taking place, as well as information about our characters and the world they inhabit.
High Angle vs. Low Angle
Using a high angle shot or a low angle shot can indicate status, as well as share a distinct point of view with the audience (such as in the case of a CCTV style shot, or a show we know is originating from within the story).
A high angle can make a character or subject appear small, weak, or vulnerable, while a low angle can make them seem dominant, powerful, or menacing. These angles can influence how the audience perceives the characters and their relationships.
Over the Shoulder Shot
This shot places the camera behind one character’s shoulder, showing what they see and experience. It can create empathy, intimacy, or tension, depending on the context. It can also help to indicate relationships between two characters and add interesting framing opportunities as well.
Dutch Angle/Canted Angle Shot
A camera angle that is unbalanced on its x axis, a Dutch angle, can evoke unease, disorientation, or instability, which is often used in suspenseful or chaotic scenes to heighten the emotional impact. These were used a lot in early horror films and are still popular in films where the filmmaker wants to create a sense of the world being unfamiliar to our own.
Point of View (POV)
POV shots allow the audience to see the world through a character’s eyes, immersing them in the character’s perspective and emotions.
Wide shots capture a larger area, making characters seem smaller in the frame, and making it possible to show background, setting, context, as well as a character’s body. Wide shots are helpful when capturing action, or movement, or if you need to show a number of characters together in the frame. They help us to observe the setting and relationships between characters, as well as body language.
Close ups focus on specific details, such as facial expressions, or emotions. These shots can be used to emphasise a character’s emotions and reactions – they bring us closer to the experience for the character and help us to understand their feelings and motivations. Close ups can also be helpful for showing a character speaking, we’re much less likely to miss important dialogue if it’s shot in a close up.
Moving the camera alongside a character or subject can create a sense of energy on the screen. Tracking shots are great for capturing action sequences, where they help the viewer to feel that they are part of the adventure. They can also be effective shots to show or highlight a character’s journey.
You can find more details on tracking shots and other kinds of camera movements in our project guide, Shots in Motion.
Choosing Your Camera Angles
All camera angles offer unique strengths and weaknesses for telling a story. A tracking shot can be incredibly impactful, but it isn’t the most helpful for capturing detail. A Wide Shot can show plenty of scenery, but it isn’t going to help us care about a character in any level of depth.
Part of the filmmaker’s job is to effectively align their choice of camera angles with the story’s narrative, themes, and emotions, and to combine the best choice of camera angles in a sequence. By choosing the most appropriate camera angles at the right moments, filmmakers can tell the story in the most powerful, engaging and dynamic ways.