When you’re watching movies, have you ever thought about your point of view? Camera work can put new meaning and life into the viewer’s experience, even subconsciously. By learning more about camera work, you can better identify them while you’re watching, and hopefully it gives you more insight into the director’s goals and the plot itself.
Close-ups focus very closely on someone’s face, highlighting their emotions or how they react to their surroundings, it’s almost a contained portrayal of reactions to an uncontrollable environment. The decreased emphasis on the surroundings reflects a choice to focus more upon the character’s thoughts, allowing audiences to engage in a more personal viewing experience.
A medium shot will usually include the torso of the on-screen character, as well as some of the surroundings. Equal emphasis is placed on the environment and the actor, allowing the characters more freedom to interact with the objects and characters nearby. It allows more actors to fit in frame, increasing interaction and shattering the illusion of solitude and containment found in close-ups. Common examples might be of someone writing at a desk or answering a call, as Elio does below.
Wide shots show a lot of the surrounding environment without much emphasis on the characters. They are useful for MCU-style action scenes to show everything going on, landscapes, and “big picture ideas.” Director Baz Luhrmann (famous for using lots of cuts and original, sweeping camera work) uses sweeping wide shots of the Buchanan property. Extremely wealthy, Tom Buchanan’s property easily shows off its size and grandeur through these wide-shots, helping Luhrmann establish a sense of awe in the viewers for the sophisticated East Egg residents. Typically, they make the characters feel very small, helping directors establish a loss of control or insecurity (if that’s what they’re going for).
POV/Over the Shoulder Shots
POV shots are typically from the perspective of a certain character looking out onto the world. Usually this is done so that the viewer can immerse themselves and become the character, leaving more room for interpretation and analysis of the film’s surroundings, a great technique to use in mystery and horror movies. From the second photo, you can see that Chris and Missy are sitting across from each other, and when Missy hypnotizes Chris, it switches to a POV shot (the first picture) from her perspective.
The combination close-up/POV leaves the audience feeling a little insecure and completely focused on Chris’ reaction. We’re immersed in Missy’s perspective, leaving her in control of Chris (the subject of the close-up), which is exactly what is happening in the plot. This is a good example of how the director can use specific camera shots to purposely manipulate how the viewers feel.
High- and low-angle shots approach the subject at a vertical angle, either from a higher vantage point (high-angle shot) or a lower vantage point (low-angle shot). This is typically used to create imbalances of power, as seen in the examples below. In this scene, Suzy is in Mr. Harvey’s hidden underground bunker, where he plans to murder her. Clearly, Mr. Harvey is a powerful, adult man who is creating an unsafe environment for Suzy – he’s clearly a menacing, powerful figure and the movie wants us to feel as small and vulnerable as Suzy does. Because of this, it uses a low-angle shot when filming Mr. Harvey and a high-angle shot when filming Suzy. These are also close-up shots, creating a sense of isolation and claustrophobia that squeezes the space between the characters and adding to the uneasy tension.
Eye Level Shot
If you want a more objective shot devoid of the imbalance that an angled shot produces, try an eye level shot! It leaves more room for thought from the viewer and can often create a direct connection between the character and the audience. For example, in Come and See, the director frequently uses eye level close-up shots where the character is staring directly into the camera and the viewer. Because Elem Klimov, the director, wanted to potray the horrors of war, he uses these direct shots to call upon the audience to face the death, destruction, and psychological trauma. Klimov’s camerawork is unique because of its frequent use of eye level closeups where the character stares directly into the camera, almost breaking the fourth wall, helping produce the chilling, deeply personal feel of the movie. These direct shots and eye contact call on us to recognize war and prevent another massacre from happening again.