May 31, 2017
video essay

Watch: How to Master Perspective in Cinema

Get inside your protagonist's head—or don't. Your choice.

There are many different tools that can aid your efforts in visual storytelling as a filmmaker. But before you start thinking about how they can boost the aesthetic value of your project, you have to figure out how your shot composition can be used to reveal aspects of your character's journey.

The first step: decide whether your want your scene filmed in an objective or subjective perspective. What's the difference? In his latest video essay, Travis Lee Ratcliff gives us some examples of effective uses of both strategies.

In cinema, the objective perspective conveys information as if from an omniscient point of view; there is no emotional emphasis on a character’s perspective. Conversely, the subjective perspective grounds the scene in the mental or emotional perspective of a particular character. In other words, the subjective perspective attempts to bring us into the experience of a character, while the objective camera observes the action from a distance, lending a voyeuristic quality.

To be clear, the subjective perspective is not the same thing as the POV shot. That term is reserved for when the camera takes on exactly what a character sees. Ratcliff thinks filmmakers should be wary of overusing the POV shot, as it often comes off as gimmicky and doesn't allow the audience to fully connect with the character if you can't see his or her face. One way you can make this shot effective, however, is by intertwining POV shots with subjective shots.

You can use every cinematic tool at your disposal to illustrate these perspectives—angles, framing, the length of the lens, camera movement, and editing are just a few examples. In addition, playing with transitions from objective to subjective perspective within a single scene will alter the tone of your film. In the end, every filmmaker is tasked with establishing his or her own visual language. That's the beauty of movies.      

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