How we use our camera (whether in a digital environment or in the real world) is important, each shot either conveys emotion or creates some information for your audience. The camera is the only way of letting the audience into our world and making sure they see, feel, and understand everything we are wanting them to. Here’s just a few things to remember when planning your shots. These are more guidelines and of course there are exceptions to the rules but these things bewilder me and make me dizzy, so i try not to think of them.
Wide shots - Wide shots answer the first question of where are we? And if not the first shot, is usually close the front. The first couple minutes of Wall E are all wide shots giving us the full context of the story.
Closer wide - A wee bit closer than ultra wide shots. we just need to see the characters and what they’re doing. not the big picture. If it’s too wide we can’t see who it is. to close and we can’t see where they are.
Medium shot - It’s a little more intimate but not too intimate. It’s a work horse of a shot. Usually full body.
Close up - Getting even more intimate. The close up tells us the important stuff we need to understand for furthering the story. if your viewer needs to see something you will force them to see it clearly for they can’t be trusted.
Extreme close up - Good for really important information or emotional impact on faces. This could mean its more intimate or it could be so tight that it can feel a bit detached.
Camera angles can make us feel emotions. Emotions are nice.
Eye-level shots imply little conflict as that’s the same height as we see the world day-to-day.
Low level shots help say there is a lot of conflict and gives you a feeling of intimidation.
Looking down on your subject can diminish them and give you a feeling of confidence.
Birds eye view takes us out of the scene and detaches us from the world we are in.
The way a camera moves will help give us even more emotion in our scene. We all know this even if you havn’t thought about it. It’s the difference between watching a fight scene with smooth sweeping shots around the fighters and one with shaky handheld shots. The first will be more epic and dreamy where the as second will feel more edgy and stressful. No matter what the camera should move in relation to something, either a character or an object. It needs a reason to move in other words. Otherwise it can be a distraction.
Moving down lets you sink into the scene/story becoming a part of this world.
Moving up to reveal the bigger picture and help put your character into context.
Moving in can create a feeling of change or emphasize something particularly important.
Zooming changes the audiences perception of the character. Zooming in can be more meditative, more focused on the what’s happening inside your character. Zooming out takes you out of this intimacy and puts them in context. Or it can show their isolation, real or felt within.
Hand held can create great tension, a subtle level of anxiety.
Pan shots and Dolly shots are usually motivated by the subject to follow them. or can be used to transfer focus from one subject to another.
This scene from Barry Lyndon is just great. Kinda has it all and the camera takes on the emotional journey with the characters.
Other things to think about
Don’t cut from same frame size to same frame size too often.
Use same lenses and distances in angles and reverse angles.
Don’t jump the axis line. 180 degree rule.
Cutting on motion can help.
Use your shot for what it has been shot for.
“If it’s a good movie, the sound could go off and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on.” - Alfred Hitchcock