- Apr 6, 2021
- BY: Mackenzie Scott
Power Dynamics in Film: The Impact of a Low Angle Shot
Camera operators follow a set course when shooting each scene — adhering to both the shot list and shooting script.
And as one scene leads into the next, every detail within the frame is accounted for.
From the camera angles to the set design, filmmakers make creative and practical decisions to ensure that the story delivers the right on-screen effect.
But this “right” effect, as you well know, manifests differently from one creator to another.
For you, achieving the right effect might mean using a dolly to capture a low angle tracking shot of a character’s movements. For another filmmaker, it might mean framing the same scene with a series of extreme close-ups.
Neither approach would be wrong, but even still, the on-screen effect would be noticeably different if you were to view both versions side-by-side.
Though creating a shot list is a subjective process, it’s true that some techniques have proven to be effective at enhancing a certain type of mood time-and-time again. The Dutch angle is a classic example of this.
This angle has been adopted by filmmakers who want to build the tension and unease in a scene by tilting the camera’s x-axis. It can signal that something about the scene is off kilter and worthy of skepticism.
Because the Dutch angle is as effective as it is distinctive, you run the risk of overusing the technique in your project.
A low angle shot — while sometimes paired with the Dutch angle — gives you the versatility to be as subtle or as overt as needed when capturing the shot.
Maybe you position the camera right below the eye line for an understated effect. Or maybe you go for a more dramatic angle to include more details in the frame.
Whatever the case may be, this article highlights common uses for low angle shots in film and provides even more context through a few specific examples.
And if you’re working against deadlines and need a specific type of low angle shot, we’re also sharing a resource that can simplify the process on your end.
It's All About Perspective: The Low Angle Shot
By definition, a low angle shot is any shot that is captured below eye line level.
With strategic camera placement and situational context, this technique has been used to emphasize the heroism of a character(s) or — on the opposite end of the spectrum — their vulnerability.
As the filmmaker, you control every aspect of what the audience sees. And viewers rely on the camera shots and angles that you use to understand and emotionally connect with the events unfolding on-screen.
Low angle shots, whether subtle or obvious, can reveal a lot about your motives as a filmmaker.
If you’re filming a dialogue scene between two characters, you might establish a disproportionate power dynamic by framing one character with a low angle shot and the other with an eye level shot.
In doing so, you achieve an effect similar to the one in this scene.
This scene from “Mission Impossible” (1996) combines and alternates between Dutch angle and low angle shots to emphasize the growing tension between the two characters. This feeling is heightened even more because of the suspenseful music in the background.
The character framed by a low angle shot comes across as foreboding and powerful while the other character is seen at a clear disadvantage, as seen in this particular example.
Depending on what is happening on-screen, however, this shot can achieve a much different effect. To provide more context on the low angle shot’s impact in film, we’re highlighting specific and practical uses for the shot in the next section.
The Low Angle Shot in Famous Films
"Citizen Kane" (1941)
Low angle shots are commonly and strategically used alongside other types of camera shots — say, close-up or extreme wide shots.
What’s less common, however, is for an entire scene to be filmed through a low angle perspective.
As director, producer, and principal actor in “Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles used low angle shots as a key storytelling tool. In fact, the scene above is composed entirely of this type of camera shot.
This technique allows the audience to take in the full scope of the room. The camera tracks the movement of the two characters as they distance themselves from one another, come together, and eventually part ways.
The low angle viewpoint effectively keeps the audience at a distance. And the floor-to-ceiling visibility achieved with this shot is an impressive feat from a production standpoint as well.
This video details how removable floorboards were built into the set to allow for these low angle shots and the mic setup was rigged above the canvas ceiling.
"The Silence of the Lambs" (1991)
The scene above alternates between low angle shots and high angle shots.
From a practical sense, these dual angles allow the audience to see Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) through Catherine Martin’s (Brooke Smith) perspective, and vice versa. It also calls attention to the physical advantage that Buffalo Bill has over Catherine.
From a thematic sense, the low angle shots position Buffalo Bill in full control over this situation. Not only do the high angle shots emphasize Catherine’s desperation and complete lack of control, this perspective gives the low angle shots even more on-screen power.
Finding and Licensing Low Angle Shots
Once you enter post-production, there’s rarely enough time or resources to go back and capture more new footage.
Even when you spend weeks finalizing a shot list and shooting script, you might realize too late that a shot that you don’t have would strengthen the final project overall.
Whether you’re in a bind during post-production or finalizing the shot list in pre-production, Soundstripe offers a solution to this problem.
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