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The Five Basic Camera Angles

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 6/2/2011

Learn about the five basic camera angles that make up the most digital video productions.

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    Digital Video Principles

    A rule says that you must do something a certain way and a principle indicates that is has commonly be done that way, so the conception we have of something includes those principles. There are many principles in digital video and motion film production, and most of these come from the technical aesthetics that have been used to developed the artistic craft. This does not indicate that you must use these digital video principles in your production, but they are common fall backs to help you complete your production vision.

    Camera position is a central part of digital video production and there are principles for camera angles that are seamless to most viewers. These camera angles are used commonly to help convey different perspectives, and since they have a tradition most audience members will be able to recognize them and understand what is being communicated to them. Here are the five basic camera angles used in digital video and film production and what they are used for.

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    1. Bird's Eye

    You can look at these five basic angles as really being different positions in the height of the camera perspective. The first is the far above view, commonly called the "bird's eye" view.

    The bird's eye view comes from right above the events that are taking place, often times very far ahead. The amount of distance you can have in the bird's eye view is often dictated by your equipment and budget. In large scale film production the bird's eye view is usually done with a crane, but you may want to get on top of a building or large structure to achieve this. The bird's eye view is not a common view point in real life so this is specifically thematic, and will even be strange in appearance at times. Do not over use the bird's eye view as it often draws attention to itself and you have to have a clear reason to employ it.

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    2. High Angle

    The next angle, which is the high angle, is often good enough and the right alternative to the bird's eye angle. The same principles are at play in the high angle shot as with the bird's eye angle, except it is not quite as far above and the camera may be tilted downward from a standing position instead of being pointed straight down.

    You will have to get onto a structure to look down on the subject, or pedestal up on a large stand. A crane is also used for more extreme high angle shots when working in the film studio system. This shot will make the subject look shorter, diminish their power, and will bring down the speed of action. If you want to make a subject look somewhat powerless you may employ the high angle shot, but if you want to convey this without making the audience consciously away or it then you may want to just employ a very slight high angle.

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    3. Eye Line

    A very straight camera angle is going to be the straight eye level shots. These do not raise or lower the camera at all, instead looks at all subjects and objects straight. This in and of itself is going to be relative to the size and location of both your subjects and objects, so you will have to adjust it accordingly. The idea of the eye level camera angle is to not add to or diminish anyone's importance or position, and instead allow the story space to indicate these things. It is best to use the eye level camera angle when the story space also indicates their neutrality.

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    4. Low Angle

    The low angle works the same way as the high angle, but in reverse. Here you simply lower the camera and then tilt up at the subject or objects. Providing a low angle will do the exact reverse of everything that appears in a high angle. The action will increase pace, characters will have more power, the actor more height, and the background environment often takes less importance.

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    5. Oblique Angle

    The last one of the standard camera angles in digital video and film production is called the oblique angle. This oblique angle uses a tilt for the camera laterally. This will end up tilting the actually line of action in the camera, making it look less straight. The oblique angle is an artistic choice that is not used to show clear action. Often it is used in alternative shots and to indicate certain points of view.