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Four Cinematography Hacks: Change The Angle, Change The MoodWednesday, June 20, 2018


When we're watching a movie, we see the world of the film through the lens of the camera. It's easy to get drawn in to that world and not notice that the camera lens manipulates us into not just seeing what the director wants us to, but also feeling how she wants us to.

There are dozens and dozens of techniques that can set the mood of a film using just the camera. Some of these techniques require equipment like dolleys and jibs. However, there are a few that can be pulled off just by simply raising or lowering the camera angle.

Here are some quick hacks you can use to change the mood of the film by changing the camera angle.

1. Eye Level Shot
This is the most common shot you'll see in many films because it's what feels the most natural to the viewer. The camera is set up to be at eye level with the actor, so they can look directly into the lens without having to look up or down. This is a very neutral shot, like what you'd see in a romantic comedy or a news cast. For most films, this would be the primary shot you'd use in dialogue scenes when you're not trying to convey one particular emotion.


An eye-level shot from Inception (2010)

2. Low Angle Shot
To make someone look powerful, use a low angle shot. By placing the camera below your actor's eye level, you can make them seem slightly larger than life, or even domineering. This is useful if you want a very subtle way that one character has control over another. The low angle shot can also be used to show a sense of terror or dread, which is why you'll often see it used in horror films. Low angle shots range from almost imperceptible (lowering the camera to just below eye level of the actor) to more extreme--placing the camera on the ground and angled slightly up, or even laying on the ground and shooting directly up, like this famous shot from The Shining.

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 The Joker seems powerful in this low angle shot from The Dark Knight (2008)  Example of shooting up from an extremely low angle shot in this famous example from The Shining (1980)


3. High Angle Shot
Like low angles show power, high angles show vulnerability or meekness. Placing the camera higher than eye level and shooting slightly down at the actor makes them look smaller and weaker than we would normally see them. You'll often see low angle and high angle shots paired up to show the relationship between two characters on camera--the person shot from the lower angle will seem more powerful and the person shot from the high angle will seem weaker.

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A slightly high angle shows the character's vulnerability in this shot from Psycho (1969) James Bond looks weaker due to this high angle shot in Quantum of Solace (2008)

4. Dutch Angle
A Dutch angle, or canted angle, puts the camera on a tilt. This technique was used heavily by the German Expressionist movement in film. Because this is an angle that the human eye isn't used to seeing naturally, it's often used to show that something is off-kilter in the world of the film. Create a Dutch angle shot by rotating your camera slightly horizontally--the more extreme the angle, the more askew and uneasy we feel psychologically.

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Something is definitely off-kilter in this Dutch angle shot from Twelve Monkeys (1995) There's a sense of uneasiness created in this Dutch angle shot from Jaws (1975)


Like these cinematography hacks? You may want to check out these three lighting setups that can help you up your cinematography game.

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