Camera angles and blocking and staging the actors
In addition to the coverage angles listed in the previous section there are many additional aspects of camera angles that influence an audience's understanding of what they are watching. Proper blocking and staging of the actors is required for the cinematographer to be able to capture effective images. The following are some of the most common techniques you can use.
- In countries where people read from left to right, the audience will generally scan an image from left to right. If you place a character at the left of the frame, that character will be seen first and will seem to be more important.
- Because "tall" usually equates with "powerful" a character that is visually higher in the frame will seem stronger than a character that is low in the frame.
- The eye is drawn to brightness, therefore if one actor is more brightly lit than others in an image the audience's eye will be drawn to that actor and s/he will seem more important.
- In a multi-actor image the actor facing more toward the camera will seem more dominating.
See how the face of the man on the left draws your eye and dominates this image where we have taken advantage of all of the factors of character placement and lighting within the camera frame.
Angling upward from a low position makes an actor seem taller and more powerful as in the next image. In any scene the most powerful character should be placed in the highest position in the frame, and the weaker characters lower in the frame. In a courtroom scene the judge sits on the highest bench. The powerful, evil villain should be higher in the frame than the hero to emphasize the challenge facing the hero to overcome the villain.
Shooting the actor from a high angle makes them look weak and vulnerable. We also shot from farther away to make the actor look smaller and we placed the image lower in the frame to accentuate the appearance of weakness and loneliness. Compare this image to the previous image.
As a general rule, unless you are trying to make a special point, you should have the camera at about shoulder height of the actors in your scene. If the actors are sitting then bring the camera down to the height of their shoulders as they are sitting.
You need to carefully consider the background of a shot to be sure the angle you are shooting the background is the most interesting and appropriate and not distracting. It is almost never good to shoot the flat surface of a background such as a building. The following frame has everything wrong with it. The actors are too far apart and too much in profile. The building is shot face on and a light pole seems to be growing out of the woman's head.
This shot uses a perspective angle looking down a tree lined walk to give depth and interest to this image.
Always shoot what is in the background from an angle to give depth and a sense of dynamics to your images.
Hollywood Camera Work is a master course in film blocking and staging. If you've never heard of blocking and staging that may explain why you find your attempts at filmmaking look amateurish next to what you see on the screen at the multiplex. Along with bad sound, lighting, and acting, poor placement of the actors and camera are the biggest mistakes for beginning filmmakers. It's the difference between films that look like bad home movies and films that tell an exciting, emotional story.
Per Holmes, the creator of the Hollywood Camera Work DVDs, was a both a successful music producer and music video director. He was puzzled that there wasn't a comprehensive reference on blocking and staging techniques and spent five years creating one of his own. Luckily he decided to share his work and Hollywood Camera Work is the result of that effort. (Note that the educational discount previously offered from this site is no longer available. Check with the publisher to find out about product availability.)
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