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Describing Camera Angles and MovementWhen describing camera positions, or choosing them yourself, youhave to think about three important factors • The FRAMING or the LENGTH • The ANGLE • If there is any MOVEMENT involvedWhen describing camera positions (or shots), different terms areused to indicate the amount of subject matter contained within aframe, how far away the camera is from the subject, and theperspective of the viewer. Each different shot has a different purposeand effect. A change between two different shots is called a CUT.1 . Extreme long shotCan be taken from as much as aquarter of a mile away, and isgenerally used as a scene-setting,establishing shot. It normally showsan EXTERIOR, eg the outside of abuilding, or a landscape, and isoften used to show scenes ofthrilling action eg in a war film ordisaster movie.2. Long Shot The most difficult to precisely categorise, but generally one which shows the image as approximately "life" size ie corresponding to the real distance between the audience and the screen in a cinema (the figure of a man would appear as six feet tall). This category includes the FULL SHOT showing the entire human body, with the head near the top of the frame and the feet near the bottom.3. Medium ShotContains a figure from the knees/waist up and is normally used fordialogue scenes, or to show some detail of action. Variations on thisinclude the TWO SHOT (containing two figures from the waist up)and the THREE SHOT (contains 3 figures...). NB. Any more thanthree figures and the shot tends to become a long shot. Another
variation in this category is the OVER-THE-SHOULDER-SHOT, whichpositions the camera behind one figure, revealing the other figure,and part of the first figures back, head and shoulder.4. Close-Up This shows very little background, and concentrates on either a face, or a detail of mise en scene. This shot magnifies the object (think of how big it looks on a cinema screen) and shows the importance of things, be it words written on paper, or the expression on someones face. The close-up takes us into the mind of a character. In reality, we only let people that we really trust get THAT close to our face - mothers, children and lovers, usually - so a close up of a face is a very intimate shot. A film-makermay use this to make us feel extra comfortable or extremelyuncomfortable about a character.5. Extreme Close-UpAs its name suggests, an extreme version ofthe close up, generally magnifying beyondwhat the human eye would experience inreality. An extreme close-up of a face, forinstance, would show only the mouth oreyes.CAMERA ANGLESThe relationship between the camera and the object being photographed (ie theANGLE) gives emotional information to an audience, and guides their judgmentabout the character or object in shot. The more extreme the angle (ie the furtheraway it is from eye left), the more symbolic and heavily-loaded the shot.1. The Birds-Eye viewThis shows a scene from directly overhead, a very unnatural and strange angle.Familiar objects viewed from this angle might seem totally unrecognisable at first(umbrellas in a crowd, dancers legs). This shot does, however, put the audiencein a godlike position, looking down on the action. People can be made to lookinsignificant, ant-like, part of a wider scheme of things. Hitchcock (and hisadmirers, like Brian de Palma) is fond of this style of shot.2. High Angle
Not so extreme as a birds eye view. The camera is elevated above the actionusing a crane to give a general overview. High angles make the objectphotographed seem smaller, and less significant (or scary). The object orcharacter often gets swallowed up by their setting - they become part of a widerpicture.3. Eye LevelA fairly neutral shot; the camera is positioned as though it is a human actuallyobserving a scene, so that eg actors heads are on a level with the focus. Thecamera will be placed approximately five to six feet from the ground.4. Low AngleThese increase height (useful for short actors like Tom Cruise) and give a senseof speeded motion. Low angles help give a sense of confusion to a viewer, ofpowerlessness within the action of a scene. The background of a low angle shotwill tend to be just sky or ceiling, the lack of detail about the setting adding to thedisorientation of the viewer. The added height of the object may make it inspirefear and insecurity in the viewer, who is psychologically dominated by the figureon the screen.5. Oblique/Canted AngleSometimes the camera is tilted (ie is not placed horizontal to floor level), tosuggest imbalance, transition and instability (any Michael Bay movie ). Thistechnique is used to suggest POINT-OF-View shots (ie when the camera becomesthe eyes of one particular character,seeing what they see - a hand held camerais often used for this).Further ReadingDaniel Chandlers excellent page on The Grammar of Film & Television
CAMERA MOVEMENTA director may choose to move action along by telling the story as aseries of cuts, going from one shot to another, or they may decide tomove the camera with the action. Moving the camera often takes agreat deal of time, and makes the action seem slower, as it takesseveral second for a moving camera shot to be effective, when thesame information may be placed on screen in a series of fast cuts.Not only must the style of movement be chosen, but the method ofactually moving the camera must be selected too. There are sevenbasic methods:1. PansA movement which scans a scene horizontally. The camera is placedon a tripod, which operates as a stationary axis point as the camerais turned, often to follow a moving object which is kept in the middleof the frame.2. TiltsA movement which scans a scene vertically, otherwise similar to apan.3. Dolly ShotsSometimes called TRUCKING or TRACKING shots. The camera isplaced on a moving vehicle and moves alongside the action,generally following a moving figure or object. Complicated dollyshots will involve a track being laid on set for the camera to follow,hence the name. The camera might be mounted on a car, a plane, oreven a shopping trolley (good method for independent film-makerslooking to save a few dollars). A dolly shot may be a good way ofportraying movement, the journey of a character for instance, or formoving from a long shot to a close-up, gradually focusing theaudience on a particular object or character.4. Hand-held shotsThe hand-held camera (despite its name, a heavy, awkward piece ofmachinery which is attached to its operator by a harness) wasinvented in the 1 950s to allow the camera operator to move in andout of scenes with greater speed. It gives a jerky, ragged effect,totally at odds with the organised smoothness of a dolly shot, and isfavoured by filmmakers looking for a gritty realism (eg Scorsese),which involves the viewer very closely with a scene. Much favouredby the makers of NYPD Blue.5. Crane Shots
Basically, dolly-shots-in-the-air. A crane is a useful way of moving acamera - it can move up, down, left, right, swooping in on action ormoving diagonally out of it.6. Zoom LensesThe zoom lens means that the camera need not be moved (andsaves a lot of time and trouble). The zoom lens can zip a camera inor out of a scene very quickly. The drawbacks include the fact thatwhile a dolly shot involves a steady movement similar to thefocusing change in the human eye, the zoom lens tends to be jerky(unless used very slowly) and to distort an image, making objectsappear closer together than they really are. Zoom lenses are alsodrastically over-used by many directors (including those holdingpalmcorders), who try to give the impression of movement andexcitement in a scene where it does not exist.7. The Aerial ShotAn exciting variation of a crane shot, usually taken from a helicopter.This is often used at the beginning of a film, in order to establishsetting and movement. A helicopter is like a particularly flexible sortof crane - it can go anywhere, keep up with anything, move in andout of a scene, and convey real drama and exhilaration.Further ReadingDaniel Chandlers excellent page on The Grammar of Film &Television