Mastering camera angles is fundamental to creating dynamic, compelling photographs. They are the secret sauce that adds depth, perspective, and intrigue to your shots. If you want your basic camera shots to shine, then use different angles.
This guide will walk you through the importance of different camera shots and how they can dramatically impact the look and feel of your photographs. Many photographers will tell their students that in order to elevate their photography game, they’ll need to harness the power of camera angles.
Understanding Camera Angles
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of different types of camera shots, it’s essential to understand what they are and why they matter. In photography, a camera angle refers to the position from which you take a photo. It is determined by the placement of the camera in relation to your subject. It can be high, low, or at eye level.
The Importance of Angles in Photography
Angles play a crucial role in photography as they can change the perspective and mood of an image. They allow you to control what the viewer sees and how they perceive it. By choosing the right camera angle, you can add depth, drama, and interest to your photos. It also allows you to convey a particular message or tell a story through your images.
Types of Camera Shots and Angles
Camera angles, in their broadest sense, are the very fabric that weaves the narrative of every photograph. They command the gaze of the viewer, subtly guiding them through the story told by the image. It is through mastering these different angle shots that a photographer can truly bring a photograph to life.
1. Bird’s-Eye View
The Bird’s-Eye View is one of the unique types of camera angle that offers an overhead vantage point. As the name suggests, this angle mimics the perspective one would have if looking down from a high altitude. It is also called the overhead shot. It’s unique because it provides a comprehensive view of the scene below, capturing all the elements in a single aerial shot.
This camera angle is particularly powerful in landscape, architecture, and aerial photography genres. An overhead shot can capture the scale of a landscape, the grandeur of architectural structures, or the intricate patterns of an urban cityscape.
Mastering this camera angle requires creativity and precision. The use of drones has made achieving this aerial shot angle easier, but the art lies in framing and timing the shot perfectly.
One of the most famous bird’s eye view photographs is by Jeffrey Milstein. Milstein is known for capturing stunning aerial views of cities using high-resolution camera equipment from the open door of a helicopter. His series on New York from the air offers a unique perspective on this bustling metropolis, transforming its familiar skyline into a captivating abstract landscape.
2. High Angle
The high angle shot refers to shots where the photographer captures the subject as the camera points down. Unlike the aerial shot view, this doesn’t necessarily mean a very high vantage point but rather a perspective that’s higher than the eye level of the subject. The high-angle shot is instrumental in manipulating the perception of power and dominance in a photograph.
Unpacking the concept, high angle photography often minimizes the subject, making them appear smaller, weaker, or less significant. It emphasizes the context around the subject, capturing the environment and giving viewers a broader perspective of the scene.
High angles can drastically transform the perception of the subject. This angle can make subjects appear vulnerable or insignificant, adding a layer of story or emotion to the photograph.
How to Master It
Mastering high angle photography involves playing with the vertical space available. Experiment with different heights and observe how it changes the subject’s portrayal. An inspiring example is the work of George Steinmetz. Known for his aerial photography, Steinmetz’s photographs offer a stunning high-angle perspective, giving viewers a unique view.
3. Low Angle
The low angle shot, as the name suggests, involves capturing subjects from a viewpoint lower than the eye level of the subject, looking upward. These types of shots are particularly effective for evoking feelings of power, dominance, and grandeur. It can make ordinary objects seem monumental and give the subjects a sense of significance, even when they are mundane or unremarkable in reality.
The magic of a low-angle camera shot lies in its ability to manipulate perception. By placing the camera at a lower viewpoint, subjects are made to appear taller, larger, and more imposing than they truly are.
A low-angle shot proves highly effective in genres such as architecture, landscape, and portrait photography, where it adds depth, dimension, and a sense of grandeur.
Where to Start?
For beginners, it’s helpful to start with wide-angle lenses, as they exaggerate perspective and heighten the effect of the low angle. A notable example is the work of photographer Robert Capa, renowned for his images from the D-Day landing.
4. Bug’s-Eye View
The Bug’s-Eye View is a specialized type of low-angle shot, where the camera is placed at ground level or even below, aiming upwards. This angle not only gives an interesting perspective but also offers a sense of intimacy with the subject. It’s like seeing the world through the eyes of tiny creatures, hence the name.
Bug’s-Eye View photography literally takes you to the ground level, transforming ordinary scenes into a vista of textures and patterns. It’s about capturing the world from an entirely different perspective, one that is closer to the earth and more in tune with the minutiae of nature.
Use this angle when you want to accentuate the size and prominence of your subject, especially in nature and macro photography. It can transform an ordinary flower into a towering tree or a small insect into a majestic creature.
Using This Angle
Mastering the Bug’s-Eye View requires patience and creativity. Start by placing your camera on the ground and tilt it upwards. Use a wide-angle lens for an exaggerated perspective and try different shooting positions to find unique viewpoints. For inspiration, explore the work of macro photographers who frequently use this angle to capture stunning images of small-scale life.
5. Dutch Angle
The Dutch angle, also known as Dutch tilt, canted angle, or oblique angle, is a type of camera shot where the camera is intentionally tilted to one side. This technique creates a visually disorienting effect, presenting the scene in a skewed manner that suggests tension, instability, or unease. It’s a powerful tool that can dramatically change the mood and perception of a scene, injecting a sense of suspense or unease. The Dutch angle is often employed in filmmaking and photography genres such as film noir, horror, and psychological thrillers. It can also be a creative way to add an unexpected twist to your compositions, giving them an edgy, dynamic feel.
The Dutch angle shot is not about capturing the world as we see it but as we feel it. It’s a visual representation of psychological uneasiness or tension within the scene.
In genres like horror or thriller, a subtle Dutch angle can signify something off-kilter, setting the viewer on edge without them even knowing why.
Using this Angle
Play around with the Dutch angle in your shots. Sometimes, even a small tilt can bring a whole new perspective to a mundane scene. Check out Garry Winogrand, known for his Dutch Angle street photography.
6. Close Up Shot
A close-up shot is a type of camera shot that predominantly focuses on a subject’s face or a particular detail, eliminating unnecessary background elements. This intimate shot allows photographers to bring their audience into a closer, more personal relationship with the subject.
The close-up shot is particularly effective in highlighting emotions, reactions, or minute details that might go unnoticed in wider shots. It is generally considered an eye-level camera angle.
At its most basic definition, a close-up shot magnifies the subject, revealing intricate details and fostering a more profound connection. It’s the visual equivalent of whispering a secret; it draws viewers in and invites them to contemplate, empathize, and understand.
Close-up shots are versatile tools employed across various genres, from portraits and still lifes to macro and street photography. They can transform ordinary subjects into extraordinary narratives, prompting viewers to see the world from a different, more intimate perspective.
How to Use It
To perfect your close-up shot, consider the lighting, focus on details, and experiment with depth of field. It’s also important to ensure your subject feels comfortable and at ease, especially when shooting portraits. For inspiration, explore the works of Robert Mapplethorpe, renowned for his striking close-up shots.
The Extreme Close Up
The extreme close up is all about detail, offering a magnified view of the subject that highlights intricate details often missed by the naked eye. It’s the perfect angle for showcasing the textures and patterns, bringing the viewer into an intimate dialogue with the subject.
- Macro Photography: Extreme close up reveals the stunning complexity of the smallest creatures and objects, from the iridescent scales of a butterfly’s wing to the dewdrops on a spider’s web.
- Product Photography: This technique showcases the product’s quality and details, making it an essential tool for marketing and e-commerce.
- Food Photography: Extreme close up captures the vibrant colors, textures, and layers of food, making each dish appear mouth-wateringly tempting.
Mastering extreme close-up camera angles involves a steady hand, precision, and a keen eye for detail. Add macro lenses to your kit to achieve the desired level of detail. For inspiration, check out the work of Andrew Zuckerman, renowned for his strikingly detailed images.
7. Long Shot
A long angle shot, often referred to as a wide angle or long shot, encapsulates a vast perspective in a single frame. This type of wide shot is typically used to capture expansive subjects such as landscapes and cityscapes. It’s a powerful tool for photographers aiming to convey a sense of grandeur, scale, or context.
Understanding the long shot is about appreciating the expansive perspective it provides. It’s often used to capture broad scenes in their entirety, allowing the viewer to soak in the setting, the context, and the atmosphere in one sweeping view.
Long angle shots significantly enhance landscapes and cityscapes by capturing a wide, panoramic perspective. They can illustrate the grandeur of towering skyscrapers or the sprawling beauty of a rugged landscape, providing a sense of scale difficult to achieve with other types of shots.
The Extreme Long Angle Shot
An extreme long shot, or extreme wide shot, takes the concept of the long angle shot even further. This angle is often used to provide an even broader view of the background or setting. Use this angle in landscape or architectural photography, where the intent is to capture not just a specific subject but the vast surroundings that give it context. The subject in an extreme long angle shot is typically small or even indistinguishable, allowing the scenery to take precedence.
8. Medium Shot
The medium shot, sitting comfortably between close-up and long camera angles, offers the perfect balance. It allows the capture of intimate details without losing the broader context. This angle typically frames the subject from the waist up, providing enough detail for the viewer to understand the subject’s emotions and actions while still offering a glimpse of the surrounding environment. The medium shot is the jack-of-all-trades in the world of photography, providing a tool for many situations.
The essence of the medium shot lies in its balance. It’s the photographic equivalent of a tightrope walk – offering just enough detail to keep the subject engaging without missing out on the context that gives the image its narrative power.
The versatility of medium shots in various genres makes it great for social and nature scenes. Here are some sub-genres that benefit from this angle:
- Portraiture: It helps to capture the subject’s expression and a portion of the scene.
- Journalism: Great for interviews, offering a balance between the subject and the environment.
- Wildlife: Captures animals in their natural habitat, providing context.
To master medium shots, it’s important to understand composition rules like the rule of thirds. Pay attention to the background, as it can tell a story about your subject. Consider how famous photographer Steve McCurry uses the medium shot to capture his iconic images.
9. Point of View Shot
The Point of View (POV) shot provides a unique camera angle that places the viewer directly in the shoes of the subject. It offers an immersive experience, allowing the observer to see the world from the subject’s vantage point. This form of photography is effective in creating a sense of empathy and understanding, as it shares the subjective experience of the subject, whether it’s a person, an animal, or an inanimate object, such as a camera flying through the air.
POV camera angles are paramount in immersive storytelling, offering a first-hand perspective of the narrative. It brings the viewer closer to the action, making them an active participant rather than a passive observer. When used effectively, it can drastically enhance the emotional resonance of a photograph.
The POV shot is particularly beneficial when the photographer’s goal is to create a strong emotional connection. It’s used to show the world from a specific perspective, helping the viewer understand the emotions and experiences of the subject. This shot is key in genres like action photography, wildlife, and even in some styles of portraiture.
Mastering this Style
Mastering the POV shot requires understanding the balance between the subject’s perspective and the overall composition. The use of wide-angle lenses can help to create a sense of depth and immersion. Consider how renowned photographers like Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut, and an avid nature photographer, use the POV shot to provide immersive experiences of space and wildlife.
10. Cowboy Angle
The Cowboy shot, also known as the American camera shot, originated in the classic Western films of the 1950s. It’s a unique type of medium shot where the subject is framed from roughly mid-thighs up. This choice of framing allows for the full display of the subject’s body language and actions, particularly those associated with the cowboy culture, such as drawing a gun from a holster.
Historically, cowboy shots, designed to depict the rugged life of cowboys, were used extensively in Western cinema. This camera shot, capturing the subject from mid-thighs, allowed the audience to see the cowboy’s gun belt, amplifying the drama and anticipation in dueling scenes.
In modern times, the cowboy shot has found its place in fashion and portrait photography, lending an edgy, dramatic effect. By focusing on the subject’s posture and attire, it adds a unique dimension to portraits, making them more dynamic and engaging.
Where to Start
To perfect the cowboy shot, the photographer needs to frame the subject from the mid-thighs up, ensuring their posture and body language are clear. The background should ideally be simple to keep the focus on the subject. Iconic photographers like Annie Leibovitz have used this technique to capture compelling portraits of famous personalities, offering a rich source of inspiration.
11. Hip Level Shot
The hip level shot, often associated with street and candid photography, is a unique camera shot that captures the subject from hip level. This perspective lends a raw, unfiltered essence to the images, offering viewers a glimpse into the world through the photographer’s eyes. It’s the angle of spontaneity, capturing life as it happens without the subject’s awareness of being photographed. This unobtrusive style of photography brings forth the genuine emotions, expressions, and scenarios that make each photo unique.
The hip shot is all about capturing life in its purest form. By shooting from the hip level, photographers can document moments and reactions as they occur naturally, without the subject being conscious of the lens.
In street and candid photography, the hip level shot emerges as an invaluable technique. Its spontaneity allows photographers to capture raw, unposed moments, imbuing the images with an air of authenticity and immediacy.
Mastering the hip shot requires practice and patience. Begin by adjusting your camera settings to ensure quick focus and wide depth of field. Position your camera at your hip level and aim to capture the world around you.
Remember, the key is to shoot these camera angles without drawing attention to yourself. Use inspirations such as Mark Cohen to help you get better images.
12. Knee Level Shot
The knee angle shot is a dynamic camera shot that’s achieved by positioning the camera at knee level. This perspective gives a dramatic and larger-than-life feel to the subject. This angle is used to portray power, superiority, or intimidation, making it a favorite in hero shots and villain introductions in films. It’s also a popular choice among photographers looking to bring a unique perspective to everyday scenes. Seeing the world from this angle is all about challenging the way we traditionally view objects and people.
A knee level shot is all about capturing the energy and motion in your frame. The lower vantage point offers a sense of height and scale, adding intensity and drama to dynamic scenes. This perspective is great for creating a sense of action and adventure in your shots.
In sports and pet photography, a knee angle shot can capture the thrill of the moment with dramatic flair. It provides a unique perspective, encapsulating the dynamism of swift movements and the excitement of the game or playful actions of pets.
Starting Out With This Angle
Achieving great knee angle photos requires an understanding of your subject. It’s about getting down to the level of your subject and capturing them in their element. Take a look at the work of Josef Koudelka. Known for his dramatic compositions, Koudelka’s images are perfect examples of the knee angle shot’s potential when used creatively.
13. Tracking Shot
The Tracking Shot, more commonly known as the Dolly Shot, is a powerful technique in the photographic world. The name “Dolly Shot” originates from the use of a dolly—a wheeled cart or similar apparatus—on which the camera is mounted. This equipment allows the camera to move smoothly along with the subject, creating a sense of motion and dynamism in the image.
A well-executed tracking shot can tell a story within a single frame, following the subject as it moves through its environment. This technique is particularly effective in capturing action, movement, or changing scenery, be it a bustling city street, a runner in motion, or a car speeding down a highway.
Unlike a zoom angle, which changes the focal length to bring the subject closer or further away, a tracking shot physically moves the camera. This movement can create depth and three-dimensionality in the image, providing a more immersive experience for viewers. It’s as if they’re moving along with the subject—engaging in the scene rather than just observing it.
Careful control over focus, exposure, and shutter speed is essential in capturing sharp and impactful tracking shots. It may take time and patience, but the results can be incredibly rewarding, adding a dynamic layer to your photographic storytelling.
Just like the other types of shots, don’t shy away from experimenting with tracking shots. Remember, photography is about capturing the world from your unique perspective, and the tracking shot is another tool in your arsenal to achieve just that.
14. Shoulder Level Shot
The shoulder-level camera shot angle is a classic camera angle that is achieved by positioning the camera at the subject’s shoulder level. The shoulder shot delivers a sense of realism and relatability, making the viewer feel as though they are part of the scene. It is commonly used in portrait and documentary photography, as well as in films, especially in dialogues, where the camera shifts between the shoulder-level views of the characters involved.
These shots create a sense of immediacy and connection to your photography. It offers a neutral viewpoint, neither looking down nor up at the subject, thus avoiding any power dynamics implied by high or low angles. This perspective sets a balanced stage for the subject to tell their story, making the viewer feel involved and engaged.
In portrait and street photography, a shoulder shot maintains a real, unexaggerated perspective. It provides a personal and honest representation of your subject, making it ideal for capturing candid moments in their natural context.
Mastering the shoulder level shot needs an understanding of your subject and the story you want to tell with your image. A key tip would be to keep the camera at the same height as your subject, maintaining an eye-level perspective. Take inspiration from the works of Vivian Maier, a renowned street photographer known for her striking shoulder level shots, capturing the essence of everyday life in mid-20th century America.
15. Zoom Shot
The zoom angle, achieved by changing the focal length of the lens, brings the subject closer or further away in the frame without the camera itself moving. This method is a versatile tool in photography that can create a range of effects, from an intense close-up to a wide panoramic view, all from the same camera position.
The beauty of this shot lies in its ability to focus on the details. By zooming in, photographers can capture the intricate details of a subject, highlighting features that might otherwise go unnoticed. This is especially effective in wildlife, macro, or portraiture photography, where the subject’s details are central to the image’s impact.
In contrast, zooming out can broaden the viewer’s perspective, providing a context to the subject within its environment. This is often used in landscape and architectural photography, where the surroundings play a major role in the composition of the image.
To master this angle, photographers need to understand the dynamics of focal length and depth of field. The changes in these aspects while zooming can dramatically alter the mood and storytelling of the photograph. Be careful though, a slight camera movement can make it hard to track your subject.
Different camera angles wield transformative power in the realm of photography. They open new vistas of creativity, breathing life into ordinary scenes and subjects. While an angle might appear better suited for one genre, don’t hesitate to experiment. You might be surprised when you step out of your comfort zone and explore the impact of diverse angles. You might just stumble upon a breathtaking perspective in the most unlikely of genres.