We often don't take the time to lay flat on the ground, or gaze up under tables, but there's a completely different world to be seen from low angle shots. Using low angles effectively in your story can be a challenge, but these tips for going low can help get your brain working toward even more creative uses. In no particular order, here are some ways to use your camera with very little clearance above a solid surface.
1. Emotional Composition – Keep the camera low, but point it upwards and you'll create the feeling that the audience is small and the subject is gigantic. This will be emphasized when the subject takes up the majority of the frame, so the distance between camera and subject will play a big role in this shot. Belittlement is the key here, so if you need a bully in your scene, shooting low with your subject down towards the bottom of the frame can further accentuate the height of the monstrous subject. Basketball players, skyscrapers, mountains and stacked items are all easy subjects here.
2. Stability – Your camera's center of gravity is the focus of camera stabilizers across the board. It may take a physicist to explain, but it should be pretty clear that anything having a low center of gravity is going to be much harder to move. Like a well-engineered structure, give your camera a good foundation and get your camera low. Many cameras have a handle on top and will help make this happen. Getting flexible can have positive health effects, but it can sure make it easier to squat for an awesome shot. Work on smoothly bending your knees and ankles so that your body becomes a shock absorber for the camera. Low and steady wins many a race.
3. Animal/Object Perspective – If you're like me one of my early videos included a talking hat in an otherwise real world … OK, so that's probably not many of you, but if you want inanimate objects like LEGOs, dolls, My Little Pony, Hot Wheels, and other toys to have a perspective in your video, go with their point of view using low angles because life-size toys are rare. A simple pan from the eye level of a doll can demonstrate a character discovering a new world outside the toybox. The three "Toy Story" movies are good research subjects to get ideas of a toy's low angle point of view.
4. No More Eyes in the Skies – There are plenty of reasons to see the underside of obstacles. If you've got doorframes that are warped and pesky coffee tables that do nothing but stub, then you might have very good reasons to frame for low shots. Consider a dropped fork viewed from beneath a chair (isn't that how carefully planned escapes always start?) Letting your audience see a parent's shoes from beneath the passenger side door can put a thrill on a delinquent's situation. If you're still looking for intensity, consider races: how often do you see low angle shots of cars' tires or runners' heels before the start? Placing the viewer beneath a runner's heels or at the tailpipe can help sell the speed of a race, but it's all in giving viewers the experience of watching something that would otherwise be impossible to see.
5. Objects Have More Impact – A sure way to show depth of field is to have objects in the foreground or closer to the camera than the focal point. The focus is going to be paramount when it comes to shattering impacts, so lining up your camera with a solid surface is a great place to start. Glass, now that's a nice example; but anything that shatters on impact can be a great subject for impacting. A slow-motion shot that is even with the impact surface can play directly into emotional feelings. Getting low to a surfaces like counters or roads can pretty well guarantee that you have a good reference for you viewers that what's in focus is exactly important, and the rest can be one big bokeh.
If you want to show something unattractive – like gum under the table – take the camera low, and even shoot undersides of things. Chances are, you didn't clean the bottom of your shoes today and you probably didn't scrape the gum off of the underside of the school desk. Let's just say there are some nasty things on the ground and in low places, when you want that dirty look, know that you can go low.
As long as you do not compromise the safety of your camera, these low angle ideas will give you some creative juice and even turn the task of editing into an easier job. Getting good camera angles will add variety and that always makes editing easier. Low camera angles are fun, can look very professional and don't require a lot of expensive equipment. Go shoot some low shots and enjoy the power that comes from knowing the lowdown!
Jackson Wong is an associate editor for Videomaker.