When you’re inside a movie or TV show most of the world is built around the character’s POV. But what about when the filmmaker takes you out of the world with an aerial shot and reminds you that you’re a viewer and not a participant?

Today we’re going to go over the aerial shot to learn how you can use it in your projects to accentuate details and themes. Plus, we’ll show you how to add it to your shot lists.  

Aerial shot definition

What is aerial shot?

An aerial shot is a shot of a scene is taken from an elevated vantage point than what is framed in the shot. This gives a deeper understanding of what is happening.

  • Other names: Bird’s eye view shot, god’s eye view, overhead shots. 
  • Fun Fact: The first aerial shots were taken from balloons in the early 1800s. The use of drones with video equipment has reinvented the aerial shot.

The Basics

What is an aerial shot?

The aerial shot is a classic camera angle that captures a bird’s eye (or god’s eye) view of the action going on below.

Birds eye shot / God's eye shot.  

It’s easy to pick out an aerial shot when you see one. Aerial shots often recur in certain kinds of genres. Like the crime film.

There are several different kinds of aerial shots.  You can have a bird’s eye shot, god’s eye shot, and overhead shots. We’ll go over all of them below.  

Aerial Shot - Camera Angles - the Godfather overhead shot

The aerial shot in The Godfather (1972)

Aerial shots have come to help directors and cinematographers define the world that the characters inhabit. The shot has become so familiar that it now appears on movie posters.

Everyone loves these shots, but to pull them off you need to plan them. That’s where the shot list comes in handy.   

Aerial Shot - Camera Angles - Signs bird's eye

This poster defines the aerial shot. Signs (2002).

SHOT LISTING YOUR AERIAL SHOTS

How to shot list your aerial shots?

So, you need to use the aerial shot to set up where your film takes place or even what your character is up against. What do you do now? You need to put it in a shot list so your DP can anticipate and prep. Aerial shots take lots of planning.

Introducing Shot List Template and Storyboard Template Builder - Add New Shot

Add your aerial shots and storyboards to your shot list.

Are you shooting your aerial shot with a drone or a crane? Do you need to schedule out a plane ride? Is there movement in the aerial shot, or will it be static?  

You want to capture all these important details in your shot list. With StudioBinder, these details are already listed as options, so you only need to check them. This allows you to create creative combinations that make your movie come to life.

How to Create a Shot List with StudioBinder - Shot List Creator Template - 6

Your signature aerial shot is only a click away.

Collaboration is fast and efficient. Send your shot list to the DP with the click of a button. The best part? We let you start shot listing for free.

This gives you more time to think about the intangibles. For example, what if you want to add an aerial shot that rivals some of the best shots of all time?

THE BEST AERIAL SHOTS IN MOVIES

How do the best aerial shots look?

Aerial shots can be done with a plane, or crane, or drone, or helicopter, but their use varies. The most standard aerial shot is an establishing shot. Which tells us where we’re going.

They can feel arbitrary, and without deeper meaning.

The Room has the aerial shot definition locked down.  

The best aerial shots in movies reveal something about the story or situation. Let’s take a look at the one at the end of this clip from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

This bird’s eye shot was done compositing bird footage over a painting.

As the gas station explodes we get a tongue-and-cheek bird’s eye view shot from above. This shot has two effects.

Aerial Shot - Camera angles - The Birds eye view

Literal Birds’ eye shot from The Birds (1963).

It’s an obvious joke and a play on words. But it also shows the scope of the bird attack epidemic that’s on its way. We get the shot of the gulls circling. A sense of danger coming to the town. This isn’t going to end well for the human population here.  

The bEST MODERN USES OF THE AERIAL SHOT 

How are aerial shots used in modern films? 

Remember when we said crime films love the aerial shot? The proof is in David Fincher’s modern classic, Zodiac.

God’s eye shot of a killer from Zodiac (2007).

In this scene, we follow a taxi being driven by the Zodiac Killer. The juxtaposition between the audio of the radio program he’s listening to and his driving. The car is not swerving, not speeding.

Aerial Shot - Camera Angles - Zodiac gods eye view

Zodiac (2007).

This is a controlled killer on a mission. The audio in this scene is of a radio call-in show. We’re hearing people theorize what’s “driving” the Zodiac Killer while we see him driving.

Another interesting aerial shot comes from Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead.

Zach Snyder burst onto the scene with this god’s eye view.

This sequence has a great duality. We start with Sarah Polley in her car, then transition overhead. It takes us from a personal view, and transfers her gut feeling and gives it scope. 

This intimacy directs our perspective. We follow her car when we go wide and in the air. That way, we still are able to take in the destruction like the shot in The Birds, but this time it’s personal.

We know who is in danger here. And now we know she’s alone.

Aerial Shot - Camera Angles - Dawn of the Dead

We use an aerial shot to show the world fall apart in Dawn of the Dead.

This aerial shot sets up a theme of the movie. If you want to survive, get a group together. But what if you don’t want to go so huge?

Is there a way to do an aerial shot and still find the depth of a character?

This aerial shot sets up a theme of the movie. If you want to survive, get a group together. But what if you don’t want to go so huge?

Is there a way to do an aerial shot and still find the depth of a character?

THE OVERHEAD SHOT

Why use an overhead shot?

The overhead shot usually places the audience in a wide shot just above the action. It helps convey the space to the audience. This shot in The Untouchables shows us all the people who surround Al Capone and how important he must be to the narrative.

The overhead shot definition

What is an overhead shot?

The overhead shot is a high angle shot almost directly (or literally directly) above the subject. It allows the viewer on the action but still maintains character detail.

  • Also known as: The god’s eye shot.
  • Go Deeper: The overhead shot allows us to pass judgement on the subject or make an observation about their place in the world.

This overhead shot from The Untouchables starts the film. 

OVERHEAD SHOT EXAMPLES

Overhead shots in films

In The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson tells the story of a man apart from society. A man yearning to belong.  We can tell that early on by the way he’s framed on this Navy ship.

Aerial Shot - Camera Angles - Dawn of the Dead

Overhead shots in The Master.

Joaquin Phoenix embodies the character like no other. Since the movie winds up being about religion, the overhead shot, or god’s eye, here is poignant. Where does this character fit in across creation? For now, at the beginning of the movie, it’s by himself.

We can tell he’s lonely.

But as we get deeper into the movie he finds a community, even if it is run by a charlatan.

Will god’s eye views favor his character arc?

GOD'S EYE VIEW

What's god's eye view?

Speaking of the god’s eye view, what if you want to curse God? Look no further than Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River for an innovative take on the god’s eye view. In this scene, Sean Penn finds out his daughter was murdered.

Aerial Shot - Camera Angles - Mystic River Eye of God

Why, god’s eye view, why?! Mystic River

We switch to the overhead to show Penn’s physical power and to also show his wave of grief. He’s looking to god for the answer of who did this. The rest of the movie will be about him trying to figure it out.

This god’s eye shot haunts the movie.

How about something lighter, like everlasting love and heartbreak?

1. Overhead shot in ​Eternal Sunshine

This overhead shot is from Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In it, Gondry uses the couple on the ice to show the fracture in their world. For now, the cracks run around them. But we know they will soon run through them.

We can see the bliss for now but also sense the impending doom of the breakup.

Aerial Shot - Camera angles - Overhead Shot Eternal Sunshine

Settling for each other and an overhead shot. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

The overhead shot becomes a theme of Eternal Sunshine. This one is a medium shot

Aerial Shot - Camera Angles - Eternal Sunshine overhead shot

Overhead shot on Jim Carrey.

2. Overhead shots in Taxi Driver

The overhead shot has even become a subtle signature of Martin Scorsese. In the video below you can see him using the god’s eye technique to give us a new perspective on the numerous worlds his characters inhabit.

A Scorsese guide on how to film an overhead shot.

Perhaps the most haunting comes at the end of Taxi Driver.

Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle stares up and mocks us. We, positioned overhead, in a god’s eye view, looking down and judging his actions. Is he the hero or villain in this movie?  

Scorsese invites us to make our own choice with this aerial shot.

Aerial Shot - Camera Angles - Taxi Driver gods eye

Now that’s how to film​​​​ an overhead shot. Taxi Driver

 

UP NEXT

Creative uses of the Wide Shot

Now that you’re on top of the world with the aerial shot let’s see if you can master the other 50+ camera angles we have for you to try.

Want to try something utilizing more scope? How about conquering the wide angle shot? We have interesting, unexpected ways for you to apply the wide shot in your next project.

Let's get creative and make something special!

Up Next: Creative Uses of the Wide Shot →
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Create robust and customizable shot lists. Upload images to make storyboards and slideshows. 

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