The Psychology of Camera Angles

The Power of Perspective

Photography isn’t all about who has the latest, most expensive camera. It’s each person’s unique eye that makes the medium so captivating. Photographs go beyond beauty – in the hands of a talented image-maker, a photograph can evoke thought and emotion. However, feelings aren’t dictated by subject matter alone. The most successful photographers carefully consider how a technique can strengthen the narrative that they’re trying to build. One of the most effective ways to do so is to be cognizant of your camera angles.

What exactly does the term “camera angle” refer to? In short, the term describes the location of your camera’s lens in relation to its subject. Camera angles directly impact the aesthetic and composition of an image. However, they also hold significant psychological leverage over a viewer. In the following segments, we’ll go over some of the most common camera angles and how you can use them to strengthen your shots.

7 Powerful Camera Angles Explained

  1. Bird’s Eye View / High Camera Angles
  2. Shooting from Below / Low Camera Angles
  3. Looking Straight On / Point-of-View
  4. Working from the Side
  5. Wide Angles Views
  6. Close Ups Shots
  7. Tilted Angles

1. Bird’s Eye View / High Camera Angles

Just as the name implies, shooting from a bird’s eye view forces viewers to “look down” on a subject. Because of this, dramatically high angles can convey a sense of freedom or omnipotence. From high up, it’s possible to capture an expansive area in a small field of view, which makes the world itself seem quite small.

Shooting from a high vantage point can sometimes provide a dramatically different view of a subject. At times, the subject may even appear to be abstracted, bringing textures, colors, and patterns to the forefront of our attention.

birds eye view camera angles
The bird’s eye view camera angle

Shooting with a high camera angle can emphasize or distort the features of a human and animal subject. Bodies often appear smaller, while the eyes and top of the head are magnified. As a result, subjects come across as demure, submissive, or weak in comparison to the viewer.

high camera angles
High Camera Angle

2. Shooting from Below / Low Camera Angles

Conversely, a low camera angle can give subjects a powerful, imposing presence within a photograph. When looking from the ground up, a person can seem “larger than life”. As a result, shooting from a low angle can make a viewer feel vulnerable by forcing them to look up.

minimalist photography
Shooting form Below: Point your cameras upwards from a lower elevation.

People aren’t the only things that look big from a low angle. Just about any object can be endowed with a sense of importance with the right perspective. Often times, photographers utilize low camera angles to emphasize the heights of trees or buildings.

low camera angles
Low Camera Angles work perfectly for architecture photography

There are several technical reasons that prompt photographers to shoot from a low angle as well.  For instance, a portrait photographer might shoot at a very slight angle to make their subject look more “natural” by counteracting any squat appearance that might result from lens distortion. A photographer in a busy environment might shoot upwards to isolate an object from the surrounding hustle and bustle.

3. Looking Straight On / Point-of-View

Shooting from straight on is a very matter-of-fact way of approaching a photograph. Something about looking at a subject face-to-face/eye-to-eye feels very honest. Rather than being a fly on a wall, the viewer experiences the world from the photographer’s perspective.

Even a non-sentient subject, such as a road, can feel as though it’s pointed directly towards you. In the photographer’s shoes, you must interact with the composition head-on.

point of view camera angles
The straight view

When photographing a person straight on, the subject can seem almost confrontational at times.  When they aren’t looking into the camera’s lens, it can imply that something is happening just beyond the frame, perhaps right over the photographer’s shoulder. Even if your subject isn’t looking directly into the lens, this perspective gives viewers the undeniable feeling that they are a part of the scene.

full body portrait
Full body portrait – shooting at eye level.

4. Working from the Side

Placing a subject to the side turns viewers into voyeurs. As mentioned above, shooting from eye level makes it seem as though we are in the photograph itself. However, when the subject is faced away from the camera entirely, it’s easy to feel more like an unseen observer than an active presence. The further the distance between the camera and subject, the more the effect is intensified.

side camera angles
Side camera angles

A side profile has a few subtle psychological implications. Viewers are forced to ask themselves whether they’re being undetected or intentionally ignored. When the eyes meet the camera’s gaze (but the body is faced away), the subject may come off as being shy or off guard.

5. Wide Angles Views

Any wide image is going to provide the “bigger picture” of a scene and create a sense of distance for viewers. These camera angles put us in the position of an audience member.  There are a few different wide angle shots that photographers and cinematographers may take advantage of.

Extreme long shots are easy to get lost inside of, as they’ll capture incredibly expansive landscapes. Often times, films will use extreme long shots for opening, establishing scenes. These frames will make viewers feel small, and may even be awe-inspiring.

extreme long shot camera angles
Extreme long shot camera angles.

Straight long shots, on the other hand, will hone in on a more specific scene. Viewers will still feel like observers. However, they’ll get a closer look at where the action is happening. Rather than the cityscapes and mountain ranges of an extreme long shot, a straight long shot may stick to a street or a singular room.

long shot camera angles
Long shot camera angle.

Staging camera angles are a special type of long shot, where subjects are present throughout the scene. As the name implies, it’s helpful when composing these images to imagine viewing a stage. Different “players” act independently, but a unified setting brings everything together.

staging camera angles
Staging camera angles

6. Close Ups Shots

Close-up, macro shots are all about the most essential elements of a photograph. Rather than showing off a grand scene, these shots focus on details like texture, color, and line. They’re intimate, inherently bringing us closer to the subject at hand. When working with living subjects, they offer viewers a chance to connect. Just by concentrating on a small piece, it’s possible to find a window to a subject’s personality or “essence”.

close up camera angles
Close up camera angle

Even inanimate objects can seem more “alive” when seen up close. The perspective amplifies every motion and feature. Macro photography can engulf a viewer in the same way a wide-angle view can. Often times, the identity of what you’re looking at becomes unclear, making it an excellent choice for abstract photographers. The subject itself no longer becomes the priority of the photograph.

Get Close up: macro photography detail shot.
Get Close up: macro photography detail shot.

7. Tilted Angles

Also known as a Dutch angle, tilts were once commonplace among avant-garde artists. They’re fewer and farther between these days but can still have a dynamic effect on a photograph. We are used to experiencing the world on the ground level. A slight tilt throws everything off balance and causes tension for viewers. Depending on which way an angle is facing, tilts can feel smooth and natural or as if they’re resisting gravity altogether.

dutch angle camera angles
The dutch camera angle.

Tilts can be difficult to pull off. Extreme tilts often seem absurd and over the top. Subtle tilts, on the other hand, run the risk of being misattributed to a technical mistake. However, when the right balance is found, a tilt can conjure powerful emotions. Depending on the subject matter at hand, this angle can convey danger or confusion and imply something ominous. On the other hand, a tilt can be quirky and humorous when paired with a whimsical subject matter.

There’s a time and a place for every perspective. When composing an image, it’s important to consider what you would like to communicate with your audience. Photography doesn’t have to be a straightforward, no-nonsense representation of a subject. In just one image, it’s possible to tell a nuanced story. Using camera angles to your advantage only strengthens the narrative.

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