How to Use High-Angle Shots in Your Films

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Photo Source: “Stranger Things” Courtesy of Netflix

Whether portraying a character as small and weak or depicting a god-like bird’s-eye view, the high-angle shot is commonly used by filmmakers to create mood, tension, and emotion. 


What is a high-angle shot?

High-angle shot from 'Uncharted'“Uncharted” Courtesy Sony Pictures 

A high-angle shot is a technique in which the camera is elevated and pointed down toward the subject from above. After raising the camera using their hands, a tripod, a crane, or a drone, the filmmaker points the camera downward toward the shot subject. The subject is often juxtaposed next to other objects or with actor blocking to accentuate the angle. 

Why use a high-angle shot? Some examples

High-angle shot from 'Nope'“Nope” Courtesy Universal Pictures

The high view camera angle affords great flexibility for filmmakers, who can use it in a close-up, medium, or wide shot. The shot can create a visceral sense of danger, indicate that a character is weak, highlight details, or show size and scope. 

Emphasize danger and tension

By showing characters in relation to the space around them, a high camera angle can engender a sense of tension and danger. This is especially useful when emphasizing great heights. 

For example, in “Vertigo,” Alfred Hitchcock uses the high-angle to depict people hanging off buildings, looking down stairwells, and in other generally treacherous situations. The high-angle shot accentuates this danger by making the audience (fittingly) feel a sense of vertigo.

Often, the high-angle shot takes the place of the POV of a looming threat. When you angle down on your characters—as in this shot from "Jurassic World"—the audience feels the immensity of the danger they're in. 

High-angle shot from 'Jurassic World'"Jurassic World" Courtesy Universal Pictures

Show weakness and vulnerability

High-angle shots can make their subject seem vulnerable or helpless. When Andy escapes prison in “The Shawshank Redemption,” for example, the high-angle shot is used to imply how exposed he feels out in the world—and also, how free.

High-angle shot from 'The Shawshank Redemption' "The Shawshank Redemption" Courtesy Columbia Pictures

Illustrate character dynamics

Because it comes from above, the high-angle shot lends a sense of "power" over the subject. If a scene wants to convey that one character has more authority, control, or dominance over another, a high-angle does the trick. 

High-angle shot from 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness'"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

Convey size and scope

When high-angle shots are truly high, they can show a panoramic view of a subject’s location. For example, this shot from "Kingdom of Heaven" gives a sense of how staggeringly large the army in the background is compared to the single character in the foreground. 

High-angle shot from 'Kingdom of Heaven'"Kingdom of Heaven" Courtesy 20th Century Fox 

How to shoot an effective high-angle shot

High-angle shot from 'Spider-Man'“Spider-Man” Courtesy Sony Pictures

The following steps can help you shoot a high-angle shot for your own film project.

  1. Make a shot list: Spend time making a shot list of the other shots you’re using in the scene. Talk with the director, cinematographer, and editor to make sure everyone thinks the high-angle shot will fit and be helpful in the final cut. 
  2. Get up high: In order to execute a high-angle shot, you need a tripod, apple box, or any other item to (safely) get a little bit of lift under the camera. 
  3. Be creative: If you’re using a hand-held or on a Steadicam, you’ll need to use creative staging tactics such as asking actors to sit or lie down to effectively film from above. 
  4. Point the camera down: Point the camera down, using a higher angle than the subject, and shoot away.
  5. Experiment: Be sure to experiment with your high-angle shot: Test out the same shot as close, medium, and wide shots. Try different levels of elevation. Experiment with angle height and severity—for example, a gentler angle may take away some of the urgency, while an eyeline shot creates a sense of character perspective. Think about what your story needs and how these shots fit together in the whole. The sky’s the limit with this technique. Do extensive run-throughs and spend time perfecting the look.

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