More important that what camera or what lens or what settings you are using is deciding where the camera should go. Choosing a camera angle will have the largest impact on your film and will be the extra piece that guides your audience’s emotions and connection with what is happening on screen.
Considering the story beats of your film and using that to inform your camera placement and angles will make all the difference. Coming from wolfcrow is a set of 10 tips that can help you think through the process of finding a camera angle that works for your film and story.
1. Who’s Point of View is It?
Related is who are we supposed to be identifying with on the screen. That person should be getting the majority of the shots. It gives a subtle push for the audience to connect more with one person over the other. If you do want to have two characters on the same level then you should balance out the shots between them to be even.
2. How Many People Should Be in the Shot?
Deciding whether to focus on one person (usually the one speaking) or to include a second person or group can have significantly different reactions. Showing the other people allows the audience to see the reaction and then then feel that reaction themselves. Adding a second person, even just a shoulder, can make a shot seem confrontational as well.
3. What is the Right Shot Size?
This is always going to be a tough one, but leaning on an old piece of Hitchcock advice that “the most important thing should be the biggest” is a good place to start. Close-ups have an impact for a reason. If you need to show more body language than a wider shot is necessary. There’s also consideration for viewing size, as nowadays more close-ups works better with small mobile screens while using close-ups sparingly is more powerful in a theater.
4. How High or Low is the Camera?
A relatively straightforward one is the height of the camera. Shooting from above makes the subject appear smaller and weaker while shooting from below makes them look larger and more powerful. There are also some ways to break this, but it works well for a reason.
5. Follow the Eye or Point of Focus
The audience obviously looks closely at the point in focus in the shot. If you keep the point of focus the same through a cut then it keeps the audience locked on and engaged for a more seamless transition.
On the other hand, if you move the point continuously through multiple takes then the audience will become more distracted or confused (in a good way). Using this to align with the action or goal of the scene can emphasize the story.
6. Feel Something
I like calling this one trusting your gut. Referencing director Emir Kusturica: “Every Time you look through the viewfinder of the camera at the shot, your heart should race faster.”
Essentially, if you are bored or just not feeling anything from the shot they there is something missing.
7. Every Shot Should Provide New Information
No matter what the story is, if you don’t keep feeding the audience new information you won’t advance the story at all. And a story that isn’t moving forward gets boring very quickly. If you are showing new information and there is a connection from one shot to the next you should have a decent story to follow.
8. Follow the 180-Degree Rule
Now we have a fairly basic filmmaking rule you should know: the 180-degree rule. Basically, you always want to keep the camera on one side of an imaginary line through the scene. Otherwise, your audience might lose itself in the location. You can also break it for creative effect to disorient the audience.
9. What is the Physical Relationship Between the Characters?
If two characters are close they should appear close and if they are distant they should be farther apart. Pretty simple idea. The trick is using cameras and lenses to emphasis or create the effect. Wide-angle lenses do a good job of providing space while the compression of telephoto lenses can bring things closer together.
10. Where is the Actor Looking?
The closer the actor looks towards the camera the more powerful the shot becomes because it makes it a more direct connection with the audience. However, if you want to make the subject feel more distance from the audience have them looking way away. The most powerful is to have your actor look at the camera and then adjust to be slightly off. Don’t overuse this trick though as it then will just make all the characters seem to be equals.
Do you have any of your own tips to share?
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