Know Your Camera

One of the most challenging aspects of acting for film and television is stepping in front of the lens.

As the actor it is your responsibility to bring the character to life. But, your job doesn’t end there. Once you’re on set the next part of the creative process is telling your story through the lens of the camera.

Knowing where your camera is. How to stay open to your shot. And having a basic understanding of how shots are composed can give you the confidence you need to elevate your performance for any role in film and television.

In my Making the Scene Class (on camera scene study) at Krater Studios, we develop an actor's knowledge of the language of film and how the technical demands of a shot can add to the artistic expression of their work on camera.

Here are some quick tips to keep your performance on point.

Know your camera/know your shot.

Where is the camera positioned?

Is it an over the shoulder shot (OTS) - where the back of the other actor is also in frame, creating the feeling like we are witnessing something that is intimate, private, and intense? The OTS emphasizes relationship usually in some kind of power struggle between 2 characters. Who is in control, who is subservient.

Is it a 2 shot? Where 2 characters are simultaneously open and exposed to camera, i.e. a couple sitting up in bed after a long day; 2 strangers on a park bench; a mother driving her teenage daughter to school, etc.

The 2 shot is most effective when establishing that what both characters are feeling is equally important and of interest to the audience. It is great way to underscore tension before we cut to a different angle. In the 2 Shot both characters are communicating their feelings to each other (dialogue) and most importantly they are communicating with us (the audience) non-verbally with how they really feel about what is happening.

As the actor, being specific with an eye-line, we can place these feelings in a way that the camera can pick up on the subtleties and nuances of character.

Is it a clean shot? When the camera is solely on you as in a Close-Up (CU) & Extreme Close-Up (ECU).

When it’s you alone with the camera then your point of view is all that matters to us, and conveying that point of view is paramount not only in pushing the plot forward but in order for us to understand your motives to the point where we empathize with you and experience the narrative vicariously through you.

The CU & ECU is more about how we are being affected by the those around us as opposed to how we are affecting them. Attention to detail is very important because the moments here are usually more distilled and subtle. 

How is the camera positioned?

Is it tilted slightly upward? Then we are creating a feeling of power or dominance.

Tilted slightly downward, we are creating the feeling of subservience, victimization, etc.

If the camera is at head level then we want to create the feeling that our protagonist and the audience are equal.

Status is everything in a scene. Knowing how your camera is positioned can inform you on where you need to be emotionally.

Why a Full Length shot or Medium Shot?

Because more of our body is exposed to camera in a wider shot this may allow us to live out our experiences more physically, especially if we are feeling nervous or anxious or if we are trying to affect the other character in the scene in a specific way. When there’s blocking or movement like in a walk and talk scene or romantic scene, the wider shots allow us to involve ourselves in a more animated way.

These are a few examples of the things we explore in Making The Scene Drama (On-Camera Scene Study) class at Krater Studios. Having the footage for the work we do in class validates what is working for us and at the same time allows us to take a look at where we need to strengthen our on-camera process.

As the actor in the title role of any project you want to seize every and any opportunity that will elevate your performance through the lens. Having the fullest impact possible on your audience is the whole point of Film and TV acting.