The 5 C’s of Cinematography – Camera Angles

This post includes my notes from the chapter on camera angles from The 5 C’s of Cinematography by Joseph Mascelli. My previous notes from the chapter on composition are blogged here. I haven’t read this book since first year and had forgotten a lot of important points through lack of practice. Hopefully we’ll be able to employ this knowledge better in our next animatic!

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Mascelli, J. (1965) The 5 C’s of Cinematography. U.S.A. : Silman-James Press

The 5 C’s of Cinematography

  1. Camera Angles
  2. Continuity
  3. Cutting
  4. Close-ups
  5. Composition

Camera Angles Notes:

Story requirement should dictate the choice of camera angle. Ask yourself two questions when choosing: What is the best viewpoint and how much area should be included?

The scene is the place where action is shot. The shot is one continuous view without cuts, also known as a take. A sequence is a series of scenes or shots.

Consider three types of camera angles – objective, subjective, point-of-view.

The objective camera is when the viewpoint is from the sidelines.

The subjective camera is from a viewpoint within the scene, e.g. from a person within the scene or moving with the camera to take a tour of the scene. This is an effective viewpoint for startling the viewer e.g. in a rollercoaster or falling from a height. The viewer feels like they are in the scene, through the eyes of the characters on screen.

Moving shots are always subjective. A static shot can be made subjective by first showing a close-up of the person whose eyes you will see through, looking off screen.

You don’t generally see from the viewpoint of characters who are interacting as it will result in disruption from characters looking into the camera (your eyes).

Subjective filming should be reserved for when you want to show the mental condition of a character as using this shot too often will rob the audience of seeing the subject’s reactions.

Point-of-view shots are those that position the camera within the scene but not from the viewpoint of a character. It is like standing cheek to cheek with the character so that you see what they see, but you remain objective. Over-the-shoulder shots set up the relationship between the two characters. This objective shot can again become subjective by showing a close-up of a character looking off screen. It is easier to identify with characters on-screen if you see them from the same viewpoint/standing alongside other characters in the scene rather than objectively on the sidelines.

Two don’ts: Don’t show a close-up of a player looking off screen, cut to see what they’re seeing and then pan around to look at themself. Don’t show a player pointing off screen and then have them walk in the same direction that they’re pointing. (why this second one?)

A camera angle is defined as the area and view-point recorded by the lens” and is determined by three factors – subject size, subject angle, camera height.

The size of the subject in relation to the frame determines the type of shotExtreme long shot, long shot, medium shot, close-up.

An extreme long shot depicts a vast area from a great distance and is used to impress the viewer with the huge scope of the setting or event. A panning camera for this shot should be reserved for when something interesting can be revealed with the pan.

The long shot is used to establish the scene, who is involved and where they are. Whenever considerable, narratively significant movement is made by the character it should be re-established in the long shot. Medium long shots can be substitued for long shots on narrower screens.

A medium shot frames characters above the knee or below the waist.

The two-shot is a dramatic medium shot where two characters are framed confronting each other. The two shot can be framed with both characters in profile and equally dominant or it may be more interesting to frame the characters at an angle, with the character closest angled away from the camera. The character angled most towards the camera is most likely compositionally dominant in this situation. The two shot should be brought about in a natural progression of the medium or long shot. The characters should not be filmed toe-to-toe unless in a dramatic confrontation.

There are varying degrees of close-ups (discussed in a later chapter).

Terms: A pan shot is when the camera rotates on its vertical axis. A dolly, crane or boom shot is when the entire camera is moved with its mount. A follow or tracking shot is when the camera moves along with the character. A low shot is where the camera is angled upward and a high shot is where the camera is high and angled downwards. Also consider reverse shots, cut-in shots, cut-away shots and reaction shots.

The subject angle should be chosen for the best degree of modeling. Avoid flat images by showing at least two sides of the subject e.g. film heads at three-quarter angles and film streets so that they converge into the distance. Achieve depth with “lighting, camera and player movement, overlapping subject matter, linear and aerial perspective, use of short focal length lenses”. The camera angle is the greatest tool for achieving depth.

Camera height influences audience involvement e.g. viewing the subject at eye-level or above or below. A level camera results in vertical lines not converging and therefore not distorting. Importance is stressed when choosing the camera height for close-ups. The objective camera height should be on eye-level with the close-up subject, unless you are simulating the p.o.v. height difference of characters e.g. sitting and standing. Subjective close-ups should always be at the subject’s eye-level.

Level shots are employed dramatically in shots where a vehicle is rushing towards the camera.

High angle shots are useful for showing the layout of the setting or making the audience feel superior to a character. The subject always dictates the angle.

Low angle shots are useful for creating awe and excitement for the subject, and also for creating more forced perspective.

Angle-plus-angle is where the camera is angled to the subject but also tilted upwards or downwards. It creates the greatest degree of modeling a subject in 3D and also the greatest convergence of perspective.

Use dutch-angles with discretion for impressions of violence or instability.

Plan your combinations of camera angles and consider the pattern of shots, looking at area photographed and viewpoint. In progressive shots, the area and/or angle is progressively greater or smaller. Progressive/regressive shots require a definite change in the image size and angle or it will be jarring. In contrasting shots, pairs of shots are opposite in area photographed and/or angle. Contrasting shots also require a definite change. In repititious shots, the area and/or angles in a series of shots are the same.

Think “how much area should be included in this shot and where should the camera be positioned to view the action?” Only subjects of importance to the story should be included in the shot and for only as long as it’s point story point requires. Approach the shots in a scene creatively. Progressive shots are a standard way for telling the story but may become a lazy go-to, so look for dramatic opportunities with contrasting or repititious shots.

When filming continuous action, be sure to change the camera angle, lens, or both between cuts so as to avoid jarringly similar images. Be definite with change unless you are purposefully trying to pop into a distant subject e.g. a person in a crowd. Think of the lens focal length which is best suited for the shot e.g wide-angle lens for a distant shot, normal lens for a medium shot and a semi-telephoto or telephoto lens for a close-up.

Consider the individual story requirements of each shot but also consider everything as part of a sequence.

Consider the esthetic, technical, psychological, dramatic, editorial, natural and physical factors that will occur when choosing how to shoot the scene.

 

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