A low-angle shot can help you break up the visual language, and suddenly redraw the mood and feeling of a scene. But when and how should you use this powerful tool to its maximum efficacy?
The most challenging job as a filmmaker(and maybe the most important one) is to communicate thought and feeling to the audience while only using the camera.
Sure, a great screenplay can carry a lot of the load, but your shot angles and camera movements need to bridge a connection too. So where does the dynamic and unique low angle shot come into play?
Today we're going to tell you with some of the very finest examples.
Let's get LOW.
What's a low angle shot?
Let's go over the low angle shot definition real quick.
It's pretty obviously a shot in which the subject is captured by the cinematographer from below. It requires the camera to be positioned low on the vertical axis, below the eye line.
Why use this angle?
The shot gives the psychological effect of making the subject look strong and powerful... Imposing.
You can also subvert a low camera angle to make a once strong subject look powerless now.
Let's take a look at a few examples in film and television to talk about how they're used by today's best cinematographers and directors to break up the pattern of eye-level angles with a low angle view and tell the emotional story with the camera.
Let's start with one of the greatest TV shows of all time, Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad was constantly using Walter White (as Heisenberg) shot at a low angle. It certified his transition to power. But y favorite running use of the lower angle shot on the show was all the times they used it combined with a POV shot.
These POV shots combined with the low angle photography give us unprecedented access to Walter's lab and his mindset as he's in control of the situation at hand.
You'll notice a few trunk shots in that mix.
Trunk shots have long been a fun way to show the low camera angle. Directors such as Quentin Tarantino set up the power of characters in Pulp Fiction when they open their trunk to get their guns out. The trunk shot has a long Hollywood history of being used to establish confident characters.
The most traditional low camera angle example on this list comes from the most heralded movie ever, Citizen Kane.
Throughout this scene in the movie, and many others, we see Kane from below, sometimes even at an extreme low angle. This is at the height of his power as a nmagnate. He has grand ambitions. The perspective of this camera shot lets us know the world is at his feet.
But what about a low angle shot combined with movement?
Michael Bay has you covered.
The "Michael Bay 360 shot" is a circular camera move done at a lower angle that often happens in conjunction with a plot reveal or with characters grasping the magnitude of their situation for the first time.
There's less power associated with this take on the low angle cinematography. Sure, at times it looks very cool, but there's an uneasy feeling here of people who may be in over their head as well. It usually shows bravery at all costs.
Lastly, let's look at a moderate version from Full Metal Jacket.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZYlXEUo-Lo
In this scene, we are usually at eye-level with our drill sergeant, but as soon as he keys in on Private Joker, we shift to the lower angle shot. We get Joker's POV from there and we get it again very subtly during all the yelling. This lets us feel dominated, along with the cadets, and also adds an uneasy feeling moving forward through boot camp.
What's next? 50+ camera angles and movements!
Have you ever been overwhelmed at the possibility of every camera angle, framing, and shot type available as a filmmaker?
So we provided a cheat sheet with definitions for you! Check them all out, and watch the videos!