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)