Emotion is one of the main goals of a photographer in what is projected in their work. Just like musicians and artists, we, as photographers, want not only for our work to be viewed, but also to be felt; we want people to have an experience when they see our photos. Each scene in a movie is captured by different camera angles, whether it’s close ups, over the shoulder, shooting from high up, shooting up to a subject – each angle can be used to project a subconscious feeling or emotion into your viewer. While watching a movie most people have no idea what the camera angles and the placement of the subject in the frame translates to subconsciously in their mind, and how those play a part in bringing the story together. If I am teaching an intensive photography workshop at a church to help kick start their team, one thing I tell the team is to go watch a movie that you have already seen (so you don’t get caught up in the storyline) and just watch it to see what camera angles they use for each scene. It’s the same in photography. Each frame you shoot works differently to convey part of the story because camera placement tells a story on its own. You are giving a visual voice to the story you are trying to convey. The way you frame a shot tells your audience subconsciously whether you are whispering or YELLING at them, whether they should feel calm or scared, and they don’t even know it’s happening.
Let’s dive in.
1. Subjective Camera Angles put the audience into what the scene and subject feel like, as if they were a part of the experience. This angle lends itself to allow for a specific emotional reaction in first person point of view.
2. Objective Camera Angles allow you to be distant and just observe the experience in third person point of view.
After choosing whether you want your viewer to be a part of the story or an observer of the story, next decide on the emotion you want to portray in your work. Sadness, happiness, shock, love, excitement, anticipation, or just a sense of calm and relaxation. You can send secret signals to the brain with a variety of camera angles that will help add to the experience of the viewer.
3. High Camera Angles (Camera looking down on the subject) can make a subject look physically smaller, a taller person look shorter, make your subject feel weak, or appear vulnerable. You are looking down on them. You feel above it all. It shows the POV (Point of View) of an adult looking down at a child, or someone in authority over another. Very high angles, like from the top of a building or from a plane, can make the viewer feel like they are weightless. They feel free, distant, and like an observer.
4. Low Camera Angles (Camera looking up on the subject) can make a subject appear more powerful, bigger than life, more confident, in charge, and like a leader. Just look at how Peter Jackson used camera angles in “The Lord of the Rings” to show not only the character of Gandalf as a physically larger character, but he also used this angle to show him as the leader that he was to the Hobbits.
5. Eye Level Angles (Camera looking straight onto the subject at the same level) gives the impression that you and your subject are equals. It’s a neutral angle, and sometimes can cause your viewer to feel boredom, disapproval, or sadness.
6. Tilted Angles tend to lend themselves more to feelings of instability, nervousness, and confusion in a person’s brain due to the non-stable linear lines. Take the movie, “Inception,” a 2010 sci-fi thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio, where his character is thrown into a dream state. Watch the virtual lines constantly moving and tilting to give the viewer the same confusion that the character would be feeling in that state. The camera angles in Marvel’s “Dr. Strange” produce this same feeling, wanting the viewer to feel like they are in an alternate reality.
Camera placement tells a story on its own. To know the inner dialog each angle possesses will help you to create and enhance the story. Which story are you wanting to tell?
Above all else, remember to project The Story, and don’t stop shooting!