Camera Angles and Framing
When thinking about your storyboard or shot list for either a corporate, commercial or feature project you need to remember that every single shot should support the tone and mood of your piece. There are many different ways you can use your camera to help tell your story whether it’s through distance, angle, movements or frame composition.
Getting your intended message across depends on every detail of your project. Each creative choice you make should be motivated by your intended message.
Outside of these tools there are also basic rules every filmmaker should follow while creating a shot list or story board. One of the most important rules being the 180 degree rule which definitely deserves it’s own post. For now, we’ll touch on just a few basic camera choices you can use to enhance mood and emotion. Your will be beautiful while also supporting the overall objective of the project at a higher level.
It’s important to not only vary your shot size i.e CU, M, MCU etc. but to also think about the effects of using different angles. Try moving away from eye-level to create different moods, you should choose each angle for a reason because in film the choice is always deliberate.
If you want to give your subject or product some importance you can try shooting from below with the camera facing upwards. This makes your subject appear bigger and gives the subtle feeling of courage or strength. Crouch down below the subject, hold the camera above your head, climb stairs or use a tall tripod or ladder. Also, low angles can give your subjects a sinister look if exaggerated a bit, this works well to designate her/him as an antagonist or villain.
On the other hand, you can step up on a chair or ladder for a high angle shot. This can lend totally different character traits and make the subject seem vulnerable or weak.
If movement makes sense, you may need a Steadicam or a slider to limit the inherent shakiness, unless you’re working on a project in which the unsettling feeling that handheld movement gives makes sense, like The Blair Witch Project for example. If you’re interested in this handheld approach and you’d like to learn more about it I’d suggest looking into the filmmaking movement Dogme 95 in which the style is completely hand held and without tools or special effects.
Here we’ll talk about more traditional camera movements. Sometimes, a bit of a slow camera movement can add more to a locked scene. The best way to get this effect is to use a slider while following the action or movement.
If you have the ability to move in and drop down on a subject with a crane shot, for example, the viewer will feel like they’re entering the character’s space or mind frame. If you start close and then pull away, the viewer will get a feeling of how vulnerable the character is or how large the obstacle he/she is facing is. This is also a great way to reveal an unexpected surrounding.
A quick push-in will have a shocking effect, whereas a slow dolly-in creates tension and brings the viewer in closer to the character’s inner state. You can also dolly or tilt to reveal a change of facial expression mid-shot or to introduce a product.
You can also convey mood and emotion to the audience through the distance you place between the subject and the camera. Close-ups (CUs) are mainly used to show a character express emotion or communicate because they allow viewers to form a close attachment to the subject. You can also use wide shots to establish space. A wide shot is commonly used in the beginning of a scene or video to establish location.
You can also use changes in distance, mid-shot, to tell the audience something about your characters and/or their relationships. A long shot can establish a context or sense of place in the same way a wide shot can. Repeated use of long shots in a scene tends to stress setting over character.
The most commonly used is the medium shot (MS). It creates a balance between character and setting and usually emphasizes a character’s upper-body, arms, and head. The medium shot is a general, all-purpose shot.
Frame Composition and Background
We run into background choices a lot in corporate video production and sometimes this choice can make or break your production. Most filmmakers choose to go with a subtly colored background to reduce distractions, in this case, and while that approach has some merit, with some thought and effort, your backgrounds can be used as a tool.
Your background should give the viewer information about your subject or product.
Even the tiniest of clues, which may not say much to the viewer at first, can help to beef up your characters and the viewers’ understanding of them as you continue to tell your story.
You can also use symmetry in your framing, or the lack thereof, to clue the viewer in on the mood or context of the scene. Many filmmakers adhere to the basic rule of thirds, which suggests splitting the frame into three vertical and three horizontal sections and then placing subjects or other important elements at the intersections.
The bottom line is, you need to make informed decisions when it comes to the camerawork on your film or video projects and, in order to do that, you need to have a firm understanding of the effects that different compositions, distances, angles, movements, etc., will have on your audience.
These details can be overlooked and effect the quality of your project and if used incorrectly, they can detract from the message you’re trying to convey.