One of the first things to learn about when it comes to filmmaking, are knowing the different types of shots and angles. Using shots and angles correctly will help tell your story smoothly. Choosing the types is your choice, just make sure that it flows well.
For example: two people are both standing up talking to each other. One character is taller and the other is smaller. It would be wise to go with a sequence of a low angle for the taller person, and a higher angle for the smaller person, and continue to switch whenever one is talking. Having the camera at eye level with each actor would make it seem as if both actors were the same height, which they are clearly not. But if the actors were both sitting down across from each other, then it would make more sense to go with the eye-line matching shots.
One last thing. When I say the proportions of each shot (Example: from head to toe), I don’t mean exactly from head to toe. Give your subject in the frame some space above their heads, also known as “head room” and space below their toes, also known as “toe room”.
Here’s a breakdown of the different types of shots:
- Extreme Long Shot (ELS) – taken from a great distance. It’s almost always an exterior shot. It is used when showing locale is important. With a camera, the camera is placed a great distance away from where the actors are standing in the scene.
- Long Shot (LS) – Speaking in theater terms, a long shot is approximately the corresponding distance between the audience and the stage. It includes actors and enough of the set. It should show the entirety of the subject, from head to toe.
- Medium Shot (MS) – A highly functional shot. Taken from between the knee or waist up (typically the waist up). It may show action, dialogue scenes (two-shot, three-shot, over-the-shoulder shot.)
- Medium Close-Up (MCU) – Between a Medium shot and a close-up. From the chest to the top of the head.
- Close-Up (CU) – A close up shot of the actor. From the bottom of the chin to the top of the head, or any variations of the actors face without backing up the camera and without showing anything else from the actors face.
- Extreme Close-Up (ECU) – Variation of the close-up. Shows an eye, ear, a raised eyebrow, etc. Concentrates on a very small object or portion of an object. Highlights something of extreme importance.
- Deep Focus Shot (DFS) – Usually a long shot. Shows various focal planes, and all are in sharp focus. A wide angle lens would be used to accomplish deep focus. It allows the audience to take in multiple points of action within a single scene or frame. Orson Welles was well-known for his use of Deep Focus. (In fact, if you google “deep focus shot”, most of the pictures are from Orson Welles film Citizen Kane)
- Angles are different from shots. Angles are determined by where the camera is placed, not the subject that is in the frame. There are five basic angles used in filmmaking:
- Bird’s Eye Angle – directly overhead. “Eye of God” shot may imply this POV (point of view). To get a Bird’s Eye, you can use a crane or helicopter depending on distance. It causes the subject to appear weak, vulnerable, insignificant, or even undistinguishable or abstract.
- Eye-Level Angle – Just a straight on look at the subject. It gives the audience the feeling of equality with or sympathy for the characters. Allows the audience to identify with characters, even those they typically would not for moral or other reasons.
- High Angle – Places camera looking down on the subject. Gives the audience a sense of power or places them in POV of the powerful character. Causes subject to appear vulnerable, weak, or powerless. It may convey a characters own low sense of self.
- Low Angle – Positions the camera looking up at the subject. Gives the audience a sense of vulnerability or places them in the POV of a weak, submissive character. The subject appears appears powerful, in control, dominant, or even frightening. Conveys a character’s high self esteem. It can also be used to make short leading men look taller.
- Oblique Angle- Also known as a Dutch Angle, Dutch Tilt, tilt, or canted angles. Employs a lateral tilt of the camera. May be used for a POV shot to suggest disorientation. Suggests impending violence. It captures a sense of psychological imbalance, tension, impending movement, transition, or anxiety.
These shots and angles don’t have strict meanings behind them. These shots can mean something completely different when used in a different context with your story.
All in all, just think about the psychology behind how you use your camera. It will definitely help improve your skills as a filmmaker.