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The Importance of Choosing the Right Angle

When it comes to creating a photographic image — whether in photography or in film — the location of a camera is of crucial importance. Choosing an angle has subtle psychological implications: it influences how we perceive the individual, the world or the circumstance. When we consider the mood, the feel or the purpose of an image — whether it captures a real or a fictional image — then where the camera is mounted, it becomes important to communicate those elements to the viewer.

A crucial feature of the photographs is that their interpretive accuracy can be determined by a variety of influences, including the viewer’s own interpretation. The picture creator will deliberately arrange certain elements — the decoration, perspective or design, the lighting — and it can be read in a variety of different ways by a number of different people. This is part of the communicative cycle of visual art: the artist creates an image, crafts it, and lets people communicate from their own point of view.

As Langford notes in the 7th edition of his ‘Advanced Photography’ book:

None of us is wholly objective in interpreting photographs — everyone is influenced by their own background. Experience so far of life (and pictures) may make you approach every photograph as a work of art … or some form of political statement … or a factual record for measurement and research

What I’m trying to get at is how images — like shots in a video, for example — could be read and linked to the surrounding content. That an series of images will try to portray an overall theme. Advertisements tend to be relatively straightforward in making the product seem appealing or appropriate. Abstract pictures are more complicated, more open to interpretation, more able to be crafted for any eye that looks at them. Some photos, such as the Chungking Express shot above, can be quite told and find clear meanings in the story in which it is put and the characters the audience has been following; we can relate, more specifically, to certain aspects in which it reacts to their emotional lives or to others.

A stand-alone picture may have more common meanings, but if it is part of the larger presentation, it may be narrower and more congruent.

For several, there is an ideal position to place a camera that seeks the ‘heart’ or ‘energy’ of a situation, a moment, a venue. This is also why persistence is so important to a photographer — it can take a lot of time to analyze and find out where to better aim. Cinema shots, preferably, will reflect the tension and the emotional mood of the scene, whether playful or unpleasant or full of danger. Defining a moment, getting a sense of the world at that point, is one of the great challenges of photographic art.

Low angles often elicit a sense of superiority or a feeling of control, depending on the structure they represent. High angles can elicit a sense of fear or a sensation of being overwhelmed. Landscapes also take advantage of long shots, giving the viewer as much sense of place as possible. A lot of picture creation provides, easily, a feeling of something.

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As landscape photographer Glenn Randall states:

Clearly, creating an evocative landscape photograph is not as easy as it first appears. As we’ve all experienced, capturing what you see is easy — just put the camera to your eye and press the shutter release. Capturing what you feel, however, is harder. Hardest of all is capturing what you feel in such a clear and compelling manner that your image causes the viewer to experience the same emotion you felt when you took the photograph. That’s when photography can become an art.

He makes a distinction between actually capturing and clicking whatever one sees — how most of us really begin when we pick up a camera — and the deliberate method of exploring the sensation or story within the picture. That is why it is important to select angles that better capture the ‘look’ of the subject, whether in still images or moving ones. When is it meant to be a big, cavernous angle, or a near, intimate one? These are the questions that a graphic artist would ask when working: what needs to be done in a frame or out to tell this specific story?

In good photographs, the various components of photographic art will come together to make it work: perspective, composition, illumination, subject. The most simple premise — where to aim the camera — can also determine how effective the picture is, whether or not the subject is correctly defined, whether a way that drives the viewer is captured: does it, ultimately, capture the narrative of the subject?

There are, of course, no definitive guidelines for how to handle these issues, and a lot of painting in general is trying to find your own voice in the vocabulary of the chosen media. Which ways are right is always a matter of researching the subject thoroughly and learning more intensely about it.

In video, it’s about exploring the scene and how best to illustrate the results or how to express the narrative in a visual, non-verbal way.

Visual language is a very strong medium. The choice of angle is an invaluable element in the interpretation of meanings that can be interpreted inside an image. Choosing the wrong angle may weaken the perceptual associations that the picture hopes to create: too narrow an angle in a celebratory scene — such as a wedding or a party — can make it look crowded, forlorn or lonely; or too wide an angle in a couple’s eyes might make the picture seem too remote or even voyeuristic. For example, each of these options fall down to personal tastes.

The choice of lens combined with the distance of the photographer affects the image of the subject; it exaggerates it, it reshapes it. Some imagers prefer longer lenses, others shorter, others tend to use various types — especially when using zoom lenses. And some of them, of course, choose one: Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu reportedly came to use just a 50 mm lens, claiming that it was the nearest thing the human eye could see, and he undoubtedly gave his films a relatable quality every day.

In the end, the choice of angle will decide many of the subtle psychological consequences of the picture. It can affect the way the analyst of the research feels about the subject. It is the most fundamental and initial part of the image-making cycle, and it has a tremendous influence on the effect of art.


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