Reading: Subjective and objective character perspective

Techniques can be executed to give the audience something more than information.

We react viscerally to the screen.

The camera functions like the human eye – it sees, and it presents what is put in front of it to the spectator on the other side of the lens.

Why is it that the lens the filmmaker uses, the angle we see the shot from, the rapidity of the edits, affect us in emotionally captivating ways some of the time, but other times leave us disengaged or unactivated?

  • A lot of credit has to be given to what the camera sees – the performances of the actors, the power of the story and script all have an enormous impact on how we are affected.
  • But, nonetheless, how the camera sees plays a decisive role to those materials.
  • A big part of the effectiveness of the way these tools are deployed is the strategic use of objective and subjective perspectives.

This can be a confusing concept to filmmakers when first introduced to it.

  • An objective perspective is the use of cinema’s visual language just to convey information, as if from an outside point-of-view, with very little emotional emphasis of any character’s perspective.
  • A subjective perspective uses the visual language of the scene to convey an emotional impact that grounds the scene in the mental or emotional ‘perspective’ of a particular character.

What does this mean in practice?

All the creative decisions the filmmaker has at their disposal:

  • Angles – the angles you’ve written the scene from
  • Lensing – the millimetre of lenses you use
  • Camera movement – the use or absence of camera movement
  • Editing – how the scene is cut together

Every decision could be screened through the question of whether or not you are injecting a subjective perspective or grounding the scene in an objective point of view.

Whose perspective is it?


The camera begins with a Close Up (CU) on a young woman asleep in bed. It then pans left across the room, revealing another woman sitting smoking a cigarette in a Wide Shot (WS). The camera follows the second character as she stands, walks to the window and opens the curtains. The camera cuts back to the first character in bed as she sits up (CU). Then cuts to the same character looking through a window in the follow scene (CU).


Fig.1 ‘Carol’

The use of the camera, the position, the lenses, the framing all contribute in subtle and not so subtle ways to the emotional vantage point within the scene.

Fig.2 ‘There Will Be Blood’

From an objective perspective, we observe the action from a distance. The camera may remain separate from the headspace of any of the participants in the scene. This tool can be used creatively to create dynamic, impactful storytelling.


Fig.3 ‘A Nos Amours’

Scenes can begin in an objective perspective. A Medium Shot (MS) of two characters, Suzanne and her father. The camera expresses an emotional distance and puts us as the audience in an observational place. Then a beat happens. The camera frames Suzanne in an over-the-shoulder Close Up (CU). Followed by a reverse angle on her father. The scene has radically changed. We experience the emotions of the scene much more vividly and through the perspective of Suzanne.

The subjective perspective is not a POV shot. These are two completely different things.

  • A POV shot shows explicitly what the character sees.
  • What is unique about the POV shot is that while it manages to convey information that is useful and impactful, it is actually quite alienating on its own.
  • Not quite subjective or objective.
  • When we are in a POV shot for a long period time, we find that we have no real insight into the mental or emotional perspective of the character whose eyes we are supposed to be seeing through.
  • The loss of seeing the emotions of the character on screen through the visual language of the camera and the editing somehow distances us from the experience.
  • Seeing through the eyes of a character in a POV shot is alienating. Films that use the POV throughout never manage to provide the audience with the same level of engagement with the characters that traditional cinema has sustained.

The POV shot is useful for conveying emotions. But primarily where it is used in short intervals and juxtaposed with a good objective perspective shot.

For example, in Vertigo, the POV shots function to give you information about what the character would be seeing.

No matter what the scene is, there is a dimension of objective and subjective perspective always at play.

While character perspective is a valid tool and is one way of analysing how the visual choices are working in any given scene, there are always other ways of looking at the same tools and choices that are available to the filmmaker.

Many filmmakers choose to think purely in terms of visually exciting imagery and design their story to facilitate a kind of visual spectacle.

Some filmmakers focus totally on the performances of the actors. The camera work and visual language is there only to facilitate the performance and does little to create perspective on the part of the characters in the scene.

These choices are just as valid as a tool to create emotional perspective.

Each filmmaker in each film establish their own rules for how visual language should work on the audience.

Think of a film as an interior dialect within the larger language of film grammar.

The role of the filmmaker is to determine how those rules will work and how they will interact with the story they are trying to tell.

In an Ozu movie, the visual language will always obey strict rules – the camera will refuse to move, it will remain close to the ground, frames will always seek balance and harmony, a 50mm lens will often be employed. We might call these frames objective and observational. The impact of the moments when Ozu breaks his own rules and moves his camera are all the more intensely felt because of the austerity upon which he has built his cinema on.

If your goal is to reach your audience on an emotional level, you have to think carefully about the tools you have at your disposal and what those tools do beyond creating a frame.

These choices have a psychology to them. And when combined together in unique ways, they have an impact that rises above individual merit.


List of references

Ratcliff, T. 2017 ‘What is character perspective?’ On: Vimeo At: (Accessed on 29 October 2018).

Reading: Widescreen framing

I’ve been experimenting with widescreen format in my project and assignment films.

‘Widescreen cinema creates a different visual impact than 1.37 ratio. The screen becomes a band or strip, emphasizing horizontal compositions’ (Bordwell 2017 p.183).

‘By offering more image area, a widescreen format offers bigger challenges about guiding attention than does  the 1.37 ratio.’ (Bordwell 2017, p.183).

But how do you compose for wide screen?

Bordwell suggests that while it is an obvious format for sweeping spectacles such as westerns, travelogues, musicals and historical epics, it raises questions about its use for ordinary dramatic conversations and more intimate encounters between characters.

One common solution has been to fill the frame with a face. The wide screen format challenges directors to design more screen-filling compositions. ‘They can’t be as compact as the deep-focus compositions of the 1940s, but they can achieve pictorial force’ (Bordwell 2017, p.183).

But wide screen compositions can build up significant depth, even in a confined space.

Director’s multiply points of interest within the frame – requires care with staging and timing actors’   performances.


Gradation of emphasis

In his essay ‘CinemaScope: Before and After’ (1963), Charles Barr offers some interesting ideas about widescreen film. One of which he calls the gradation of emphasis:

‘The advantage of Scope [the 2.35:1 ratio] over even the wide screen of Hatari![shot in 1.85:1] is that it enables complex scenes to be covered even more naturally: detail can be integrated, and therefore perceived, in a still more realistic way. If I had to sum up its implications I would say that it gives a greater range for gradation of emphasis. . . The 1:1.33 screen is too much of an abstraction, compared with the way we normally see things, to admit easily the detail which can only be really effective if it is perceived qua casual detail’ (Quoted in Bordwell 2008).

Bordwell(1985) argues, when using widescreen format ‘the good director will not flaunt the ratio itself…the composition should enhance the narrative situation. As for participatory freedom, the widescreen allows the viewer to notice nuances of character interaction by virtue of the director’s gradation of emphasis’ (p.18).


Key points for me

  • Wide screen format creates a different visual impact than 1.37 ratio.
  • It emphasizes horizontal composition.
  • Can achieve pictorial force.
  • Can contain multiple points of interest within the frame.
  • Enables complex scenes to be covered more naturally – integrating detail in a more realistic way.
  • Contains a greater range of gradation of emphasis – while the 1.37 screen is too abstract compared to the way we normally see things.
  • The widescreen frame offers the viewer an experience in which they can see nuances of character interaction.


List of references

Barr, C. (1963) ‘Cinemascope: Before and After’ Film Quarterly, 16, 4, pp.4-24.

Bordwell, D. (1985) ‘Widescreen Aesthetics and Mise en Scene Criticism’ The Velvet Light Trap Review of Cinema No 21 At: (Accessed on 19 October 2018).

Bordwell, D. (2008) ‘Gradation of emphasis, starring Glenn Ford’ At: (Accessed on 19 October 2018).

Bordwell, D. (2017) Film Art New York: McGraw Hill

Reading: Colour & story

Following on from my earlier research on colour in Part Two, I have discovered an article by Kate Torgovnick May (2017) in which she identifies four ways a filmmaker uses colour to deepen the narrative of their films:

  1. Colour simplifies complex stories
  2. Colour makes the audience feel
  3. Colour shows a character’s journey
  4. Colour communicates a film’s ideas

Colour simplifies complex stories

  • Using different tones can help the viewer follow stories that jump between characters and locations.
  • Different tones can signal different time periods in films with multiple story-lines.

Colour makes the audience feel

In discussing the impact colour can have upon the way in which an audience feels when watching a film, Torgovnick May refers to the work of Danielle Feinberg, a director of photography at Pixar. Some of the key points that I found interesting are:

  • Lighting and colour are the backbone of emotion.
  • Colour can be used to hint at a character’s emotion (e.g. dull and grey to convey depression).
  • For each film, Pixar creates a ‘colour script’ that maps out the colour hues for each scene, so they fit together in the overall story arc. The aim being to make key moments feel appropriately vibrant or sombre.
  • Colour amplifies important moments within a film.

Colour shows a character’s journey

  • Colour can be used to show the evolution of a character. If the story is broken up into distinct parts, a different colour can be used for each part to indicate the way in which the character is changing at key moments within the film (e.g. childhood, teenage years, adult).

Colour communicate’s a film’s ideas

  • Colour reveals a film’s meaning.
  • For example, the repetition of a specific colour is often associated with an idea. When the colour changes, the concept has changed.

I found these I ideas very helpful, because it shows that the use of colour within a film plays a vital role in the filmmaker’s storytelling. It can be manipulated to highlight a character’s emotions, amplify key moments within a film, or reveal the ideas within a film.

I like the idea of using the repetition of a specific colour to communicate a particular idea.

I also like the idea of creating a ‘colour script’ for mapping out the hues for each scene.


Torgovnik May, K. 2017 ‘How color helps a movie tell its story’ In: Ted At: [Accessed on 31 May 2018]

Reading: Over the shoulder or single shot?

Camera angles affect the tone of the film

Filmmaking is a language – every choice you make directly affects how the viewer will interpret your film.

What do camera angles tell your audience?


Conversation scenes

  • the conversation scene is the cornerstone of filmmaking
  • these scenes develop character and communicate crucial plot information
  • conversation scenes are usually predictable – establishes location, closes in on two characters with a mid-shot/reverse shot, moves in closer to medium close up or close up if the scene calls for heightened emotion
  • when shooting the standard conversation scene you have two framing choices: clean shot of one actor in composition; over-the-shoulder shot
  • both types of conversation shot present the same information – but they have different effects on the viewer

Over the Shoulder

  • establishes the eye line and direction in which each character is looking – might not always get this information from a long shot, especially in group conversations
  • the OTS setup establishes who is talking to whom – we meet every person in the conversation, through a series of OTS shots
  • meet each character in the conversation through a series of OTS shots
  • a medium OTS shot can be used to give bits of exposition, character background, plot movement – a moment in time in which viewer does not need to be any closer than they are
  • as conversation becomes more personal – camera slowly closes in while still maintaining OTS shot composition
  • when conversation becomes heightened or darker – camera closes in further – pushes past second character to single shot composition – a ‘character moment’ – camera moves viewer into appropriate proximity of the character to feel that


  • place the camera behind the second camera and include their shoulder and head in frame
  • there are some rules – you don’t have to follow them, but they do help you get the best shot
  • first rule – the eye line of the actor in the shot should be level with the camera – if camera angle is too high or too low, it ruins viewer’s engagement
  • second – avoid an angle that reveals the nose of the actor whose back is to us – a nose is distracting and a visual signifier that the camera may be too far away


Single Framing

  • a single frame of one character in a conversation is when reactions and character moments should take place
  • one thing to note is the importance of focal length when shooting a single – single character framing is about emotion
  • shoot with a short focal length – if you capture with a 120mm lens you will distance yourself from what you are trying to say
  • Roger Deakins – “If the camera wants to be close, I would shoot singles inside [personal space]…It’s a sense of presence…psychologically it’s a totally different effect.’
  • it’s important to note that a single framing during conversations needs a close camera


Tracking into a Single

  • it’s common to track from an OTS shot into single framing
  • a lot more organic than just cutting to a close-up – especially when you a trying to convey a particular emotion


McGregor, L. (2017) ‘Camera Angles: Over The Shoulder or Single Shot?’ on At: (Accessed on 20 November 2017)

Exercise: Reflected ‘bounced’ light

I set up a couple of shots with a light source at one side of the subject, in this case daylight coming through a window. Using reflected light, I held a reflector directly opposite the light source to reflect light back into the shadows.

I used a Kenro 32″ 5-in-1 reflector kit, which comprises of white, gold, silver and black reflector covers on a 32″ translucent frame. I began by using the white reflector, to bounce light back at the subject to help level up the shadows and highlights within the shot. I then experimented with the gold, silver and black covers as reflectors to see what textures and colours can be achieved using these different materials.

Reflected light – Set-up 1

Camera: Sony PXW-FS7
Lens: Samyang 85mm T1.5


No reflector                                                                  White reflector

Silver reflector                                                             Black reflector


In the first set-up, I placed the reflector on a stand directly opposite the window.

Using a white reflector, I was able to reflect light back onto the face quite effectively. Which helped to level up the shadows and highlights a little. The closer the reflector was placed to the subject, the more light was bounced back onto the face.

The silver and black reflectors created a different effect. The silver reflector bounced light back onto the face, but gave the shot a much harsher feel. The black reflector increased the contrast in the shot by absorbing light in the shadow areas of the face, producing a much more low-key shot.


Reflected light – Set-up 2

Camera: Sony PXW-FS7
Lens: Samyang 50mm T1.5


No reflector                                                                  White reflector

Gold reflector                                                               Silver reflector


In the second set-up, I held the reflector slight slightly lower than the subject and angled it upwards to reflect the light back onto the face. Hand holding the reflector meant I could direct the light more accurately, sculpting the image by looking at the way in which the light fell on the subject.

Again, using a white reflector, I was able to reflect light back onto the face very effectively. Which helped to level up the shadows and highlights a little, particularly around the nose, cheek and hair. The closer the reflector was placed to the subject, the more light was bounced back onto the face.

Using the gold and silver reflectors I was able to achieve two quite different effects. The gold reflector bounced light back onto the face and hair, giving it a warmer feel. The silver reflector bounced light back onto the face and hair, but gave the shot a much harsher, colder feel, and was the least flattering of the reflectors used.

Of the three types of reflecting material I used in this exercise, it is the white reflector that I will start with when looking to bounce reflected light into a shot on my next assignment film, as it produces a more natural, softer light than the silver or gold reflectors.