Getting Started: A New Perspective

Use creative camera angles to improve your videos.

Making video is about perspective–your perspective. Video lets you share
your unique point-of-view with your audience. Through the camcorder, you
invite the audience to see what you see. You control the interpretation
of what appears on the screen. Where you place the camcorder is an important
factor in determining your audience’s perspective.

Most beginning videographers set the camera on a tripod or on their shoulder,
shooting everything from an eye-level perspective. That’s understandable;
most of us walk around the world looking at things from our own eye-level.
But a constant eye-level perspective in a video can be downright boring
for viewers.

A variety of camera angles not only gives your audience a whole new way
of seeing the subject, it makes your video more exciting to watch. Sometimes,
finding a new perspective is as simple as climbing up on something, getting
down on the ground, tilting or positioning the camera to alter the point-of-view.
Let your audience see your subject from a new, unique perspective.

The 3-D Subject

Videographers often shoot as though their subjects were on a stage and the
camera was the audience passively taking in whatever is happening. While
this is a perfectly acceptable way to document a scene, it’s not a very
interesting or unique perspective. Worse yet, it makes everything appear
flat.

The key to creating a fresh, unique perspective for your audience is to
look at your subject as a three-dimensional object (which it is), inhabiting
a three-dimensional space (which it does). Before you shoot, walk all the
way around your subject. Investigate it from every possible angle.

Don’t be afraid to find a perspective that may seem unusual; it might reveal
aspects of your subject that you and your audience would never otherwise
notice.

Although a television screen is a flat, two-dimensional object, your subject
isn’t. By shooting from a variety of sides and angles, you can present a
depth of dimension and give your audience a more realistic experience.

Sky-High Angles

One way of seeing something from another perspective is to get above
it. While it may seem awkward at first, high angles can be used to great
advantage in any shooting situation. What would an outdoor wedding look
like if shot from a high angle? A band playing a lonely ballad? Even a contentious
city council meeting?

If smallness or isolation is an interpretation you want to convey, a high
angle would be a good choice. Used in conjunction with a wide-angle lens
setting, a high angle gives the viewer a birds-eye perspective on the scene.
If you want your audience to feel omniscient or superior, go high and wide.
A high angle often makes a subject appear smaller or less significant than
it would at eye-level because the perspective is foreshortened.

The higher your angle, the smaller your subject will appear. In the extreme
form, a high angle becomes a crane shot, towering over a street scene. But
even slightly high angles can be powerful. Try raising your tripod barely
above an interview subject and see the results.

The best way to shoot a stable high angle is to position your camera and
tripod on top of a sturdy table. If there is no table around, you can fully
extend your tripod legs, raise the pedestal to its limit and stand on a
chair.

You can use a stepladder to get above your subjects or for a really high
perspective, shoot from the roof of a building or through a skylight.

Get Down

The opposite of a high angle is a low angle in which a subject is shot
from below. Low angles are frequently used to make a subject seem larger
and more important. Scary monsters are often shot from low angles, as are
tall buildings and powerful people.

Low angles can be very slight or very extreme. Positioning the camera barely
below a subject is a subtle way to make your audience think the subject
is more impressive or ominous. An extremely low angle can make a pole vaulter
appear to fly through the air or a small tree seem to reach to the clouds.

Some videographers use special tripods to shoot low angles, but you can
get low by simply using your standard tripod without extending the legs.
For an even lower shot, try sitting or lying on the floor, holding the camera
and tilting the viewfinder toward you. Put a sandbag or other object under
the camera to lift and stabilize the front end. If you need to get really
low, get creative. Professionals have been known to dig holes in the ground
to get underneath a subject.

Next time you shoot, bend your knees. Get on the ground. Look at your subject
from below and see how low angles alter the look and feel of your footage.

A Tilted Approach

Once you’ve tried teetering on a ladder or bellying down to the pavement,
you’ll be ready to try a new approach to camera work. Prepare to forget
everything you’ve learned about keeping the camera level. Think about how,
in life, you’ve turned your head sideways to get a better look at something.
It works for your camcorder too: turn your camcorder sideways or upside-down
for a canted angle.

Imagine a level, sideline shot of a football player running up a
field for a touchdown. Now imagine that the camera is tilted, so it appears
as though the runner is battling an uphill climb to victory. With a simple
change in angle, an effortless dash to the goal line becomes a dynamic and
challenging struggle. Use an artsy tilt of the camera for a wedding, a birthday
party or even a simple interview to add energy to a scene.

Canted angles work best when they are severe. A slight tilt looks more like
a mistake than a purposeful perspective. They can be used in conjunction
with high or low angles for an even more dramatic view. Try a canted angle
with a close-up for a unique and exciting interview or with a wide shot
to convey the hustle and bustle of a downtown city sidewalk.

Next time you shoot, loosen the tilt and pan locks on your tripod and adjust
the camera at an angle. You can also accomplish this without a tripod by
simply tilting the camera on your shoulder. Be selective about using canted
angles; they can make viewers queasy if used too often or with too many
changes in screen direction.

Get a New Outlook

Beginning videographers often shoot from the point-of-view (POV) of
an omniscient camera operator. This is similar to the point-of-view of a
literary narrator in which the storyteller is never seen or heard, but knows
(and tells) everything that’s happening. In video, the omniscient point-of-view
can be useful, but it can also produce a distanced and often boring perspective
on a subject.

To change perspective dramatically, put your audience in the middle of the
scene. Let your camera become the eyes of the people you’re shooting; see
the world as they do, move through the world as they would.

If you are shooting a child’s birthday party, get down to the child’s level
and admire the glowing birthday cake through his or her eyes. Shooting a
wedding? Don’t focus on the bride and groom in the receiving line, but let
the camera be their eyes and greet the guests. If you are making a how-to
video on home construction, climb the ladder as though you are the contractor
going up on the roof.

To avoid confusing your viewers, insert some establishing shots before your
POV scenes. For example, use a long shot of the contractor climbing the
ladder before cutting to his point of view.

To shoot from a subject’s point-of-view, you can ask him to step aside and
take his place for a crucial shot, or you can simply shoot the scene as
it happens from over his shoulder. (A stepladder might be helpful to ensure
the shoulder stays out of the frame). An over-the-shoulder shot is most
useful in situations in which it would be imprudent ask the subject to move,
such as weddings or meetings.

How you shoot your video reveals your perspective on a subject. It is the
greatest influence affecting your audience’s interpretation of a scene.
But no matter which angles and techniques you choose to use, you can be
certain that a unique, innovative vantage point will make your videos more
enjoyable to watch and will invite your audience into the world as it exists
in your perspective.

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