The manipulative power of camera angles
The word “medium” (singular of the word “media”) means “in the middle of.” Life in the Digital Age means adjusting to the media filters that sit in the middle of and in between us and our experience of the real world. Our senses are the first filter we need to account for; our eyes and ears are fairly limited input devices that can only perceive certain things. A camera further restricts our abilities to experience life as it is and adds a twist: by deliberately shooting things at particular angles, a photographer or videographer can influence how viewers think and feel about the things, events and people being captured or recorded.
First some basics. The following two handouts provide a great visual orientation to the world of camera angles:
- Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work. This provides an orientation to camera angles in comic book genre. It appears here with Joel Johnson’s permission.
- Camera shots, angles and Movement. This handout shoots the same doll from all the major camera angles. I don’t know the origin of this one. Let me know if you do.
The next section explains how the angles in these handouts can be used to persuade and convey meaning.
Camera angle persuasion
Here is a short list of camera angles and descriptions of the biases implicit in their use. They apply to the technology and techniques of photography as well as video recording – basically, anything with a lens:
- Shot from above. Shooting from above looking down on a subject tends to diminish the stature of the subject. It can have the effect of belittling the subject and/or making viewers sympathize with or think less of it.
- Shot from beneath. Shooting something from beneath looking up at, say, the chin of a human subject, tends to make the subject seem larger than life. It can have the effect of making something seem superior, overly important or menacing.
- Shot straight on. You’d think this is the only honest camera angle, and in some ways it is more honest than others. But we all know the effect of holding a still shot of a subject face-on and not moving. We tend not to look at people this way because it makes us and them feel uncomfortable. When the camera shoots a subject dead on without wavering for more than a few seconds it tends to make us, the viewer, squirm. We are left with our discomfort, which is easily projected on to the subject.
- Moving the camera. Short, jerky coverage of a subject often makes the subject seem strange, untrustworthy or confused because it implies that the subject is trying to dodge coverage.
- The bias of the moving subject. Standard fare in media literacy courses are stories about news coverage that favors scuffles over quiet discussion, regardless of how unrepresentative the video bite is. If there is a peaceful demonstration that has 15 seconds of scuffle, the video lens and the television medium favor the movement of the scuffle. That is, we, the viewer, are much more apt to stay interested if there is such movement.
Bottom line: how we hold, position and move a camera can in large part determine how we think and feel about what we see. Camera angles are the adjectives and adverbs of video grammar.
Common Video Shooting Shooting Mistakes
Robert Scoble and Beth Kanter created this excellent short video about how to shoot effective video by demonstrating four common errors many of us make as videographers and how to fix them: Common Video Shooting Mistakes
The 4 common video shooting mistakes and how to fix them are as follows:
- Don’t center the eyes- use the rule of thirds. Make sure that the eyes are not centered in your video frame. Instead, they should be about a third the way down from the top of the frame.
- Don’t shoot in backlight. Make sure that the light is behind you, not behind your subject, when shootint video. If you don’t then your subject will appear dark.
- Find a quiet spot. Avoid ambient noise. Your camera will “hear” all of it and include it in your video.
- Don’t shoot close to the subject. I know this sounds like something Capt. Obvious would say, but shooting too far away makes viewers squint. It also introduces ambient noise.