It can be hard to decide where to place the camera when you’re framing a shot. You’re responsible for creating a mood. Send the wrong one, and you lose everyone. Today we’re going to go over the low angle shot and how it’ll help you add subtlety to your shot list.
Low angle shot definition
In cinematography, a low-angle shot, is a shot from a camera angle positioned anywhere below the eye line, pointing upward. It can even be below the character’s feet.
Effects: The low angle shot purpose is to make the subject look strong and powerful.
Why use a low angle shot?
Everyone asks “What is a low angle shot” and “What is the low angle shot purpose?” The low angle shot is used by directors to convey strength and power from the subject.Take this low angle shot of the Biker from Raising Arizona. He's hellbent on catching his man, and will stop at nothing to bring the Arizona baby back.
Here’s a more nuanced use of a low angle shot from the Wachowski’s Matrix series. We can tell that these Agents are in control here. We haven’t met them yet, but the low angle shot shows that they are in charge.
In this scene, we couple the low angle shot with a camera dolly to show the frenetic pace at which the Agents move. It sets the tone for who these characters become over the next three movies as well.
All of it is done with a camera angle, and a camera move the first time we meet them. The lighting and camera movement also set the tone for the entire film.
When you’re shot listing the low angle shot you have to keep all this in mind.
Low angle shot example in the Matrix.
Shot listing your low angle shots
So, you need to use the low angle shot to set up the stakes in your own film? What do you do now? You need to put it in a shot list so your DP can anticipate and prep. Low angle shots take lots of planning.
Add your low angle shots and storyboards to your shot list.
Are you combining your low angle with a camera move, or will it be static? You can track with someone on a dolly, or let a Steadicam give you more maneuverability.
You want to capture all these crucial 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.
Your signature low angle 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 a deeper level of story meaning to your low angle shot?
Low angle shot examples
There are many different ways you can use a low angle shot to accentuate your film. Let’s break down a few so you can see how master filmmakers put them into action.
This low angle shot from Pulp Fiction certifies these guys as expert hit men. We’re in their trunk. We see them loading up on weapons. Even the dialogue is accentuated by the angle. These guys hold all the power, and they wish they had shotguns, which would make them even more powerful.
Tarantino loves the low angle shot. They pop up in a lot of his work to help the audience understand the subject’s relation to the world.
Sometimes it’s about setting up two characters as hitmen, other times it’s about the Allies getting revenge on a Nazi.
The low angle shot appears in all his work.
The low angle shot helps him easily slip context into every scene. When you exhibit that kind of control over the audience, you can truly do anything within the story. And you can use it with any camera angle.
What about using a low angle shot to intimidate us?
Intimidating low angle shots
James Cameron uses the low angle shot in the first Terminator, immediately after the T-800 appears. If we weren’t intimidated by Arnold’s rippling muscles already, the low angle shot makes his movement terrifying.
This low angle shot builds suspense.
As we mentioned above, The low angle shot can show how powerful a subject is compared to whoever is looking at them. This works exceptionally well in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Slashing down at a low angle. Psycho (1960).
This low angle shot provides cover for the film’s big reveal, and assures us that nothing can stop this maniacal killer. If you’re in the shower, you’re powerless to her advances.
How about a more subtle use of the angle?
Low angles in No Country For Old Men
The Coen Brothers use slightly low angle shots throughout the entirety of No Country For Old Men. They actually built an entire character, and his power dynamic, around them.
Anton has all the power. We are at a low angle shot in his presence. No Country For Old Men (2007).
Every time we see Anton Chigurh it’s from a slight or obvious low angle shot. This guy is an unrelenting killer. Much like the Terminator, he’s going to keep coming no matter what. It’s part of his code.
Anton Chigurh, low angle shot, moving like The Terminator.
The Coens use this as a theme in their movie. As Chigurh hunts, kills, and terrorizes the midwest we’re always viewing him from below. He’s almost always in power in these scenes.
At the end of the film, Chigurh finally meets his match with Carla Jean. Chigurh has built his entire person on intimidating people. On the low angle shot. Carla has lost the love of her life and her mother. She has nothing else left to lose. Rock, meet hard place.
This is a low angle shot standoff.
In this scene, Carla Jean has all the low angle shots and looks down on Chigurh. She eventually sits, and we stay eye level angle shot for the rest of the scene. No more low angle shot. These two are now equals. Two people who only believe in life and death.
An entire movie’s worth of low angle shots comes down to one scene.
Chigurh only regains the power when he kills her and leaves. Yes, she’s definitely dead. That’s what the wiping of the shoes means. What a wonderful director’s touch.
Up Next: How to use the medium shot
Now that you know how to use a low angle shot it’s time to figure out how you want to frame the character. If you’re trying to accentuate the emotions behind the low angle shot, we suggest pairing it with a medium shot. See how you can mix and match them for the perfect fit!
We can’t wait to see what you do next!
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