How and When to Use a High Angle Shot When Shooting Video

The high angle shot is a type of film shot where the camera is looking down at a subject. It’s an interesting shot that is often used to present a character in a negative light, reveal the size of a location, and even induce a sense of vertigo.

While filmmakers might have expensive gear to help set up a high angle shot, there are several other affordable ways to do it if you’re a YouTuber or TikTok creator. Once you know how to set it up using what you have, learn all about when to use it for maximum impact.

What Is a High Angle Shot?

In a high angle shot, the camera sits above the subject with the lens angled down towards them. A 45-degree angle is a good place to start, but there are no hard rules. In reality, the high angle shot can range from anywhere above the eye level of the subject to a drone shot taken far above a crowd.

How to Take a High Angle Shot

To set up a high angle shot, start by placing the camera in a higher position than the subject with the lens angled down towards them. Depending on how extreme you want the high angle shot to be, you may need something to help elevate the camera.

A large tripod might work for shots that are just above eye level, otherwise, you may need a camera crane to lift it high enough. But for most people, this isn’t realistic, so instead, try using the set to your advantage.

Filming from the top of a staircase or from a second-floor landing can do the trick. Or if you’ve got a ladder lying around then you can use that to your advantage too.

Alternatively, many amateur filmmakers are now using drones in place of helicopters or cranes to get stunning high angle shots of large scenes. Fortunately, there are drones for every budget nowadays if you’re interested in experimenting more with this type of shot.

When to Use a High Angle Shot

Whether you have a film camera, GoPro, or you’re making a movie on your iPhone, there are several key moments where the high angle shot can make your video stand out.

To Present a Character in a Negative Light

When a high angle shot is used on a character it often presents them in a negative light. One way to think about it is that you are literally “looking down” on someone, which suggests that they have a lower status.

Another effect is to make a character seem vulnerable or helpless by physically making them look smaller in the shot. You can further use this to show who in a relationship has power or portray a character as weak or in danger.

In the animated movie Lion King, the high angle shot shows King Mufasa on the edge of the cliff, just moments away from peril. It’s such a dramatic and memorable scene that many of us still remember it to this day, and in no short thanks to the high angle shot.

To Capture a Large Scene

Another way this shot is used is to show an expansive scene that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to capture in the frame. It’s similar to high angle photography, where the aim is to reveal the scale of a location or show the distance someone needs to travel.

As an example, think about some of the most epic battle scenes in film and television history, such as Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. The only way to show the mega size of an army lined up on the battlefield is to use a high angle shot.

While we may not be filming a battle scene any time soon, you can use the same principles to capture a stunning landscape or large crowds. There’s no better example of this than in travelogue videos where you really want your viewer to see the sheer size of a location.

In a less dramatic use of the high angle view, try using it to present a unique perspective in a food video, as seen in a popular cooking show by Kenji Lopez-Alt. Most cooking shows keep the camera still and opt for a top-down shot to squeeze all the ingredients in, but this method shows you everything exactly as the chef sees it.

To Induce Vertigo

Sometimes a high angle shot can induce extreme emotions and reactions in the audience and there’s none more dizzying than vertigo. Looking over the edge of a cliff can really make someone feel like they are right there experiencing it.

Besides seeing this shot in films like Spider-Man and The Matrix, you may see it being used to film extreme sports videos like Parkour and BMX riding. But that’s not all you are limited to, how about mounting a GoPro camera on your helmet and going for a bike ride or diving into a lake?

The main attraction of the high angle shot is to add variety to your video and offer a completely different perspective.

Use a High Angle Shot for Drama and Variety

The high angle shot has long been used in storytelling to make a character seem small, vulnerable, scared, or inferior, while other purposes involve showing large crowds or vast distances.

Other than that, it’s a shot that offers a truly unique perspective, so next time you create a film or a video, try adding this shot to your list for something different.

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