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God's-eye view: when to use it and how it impacts your story

Jamie McAleney
July 12, 2016 by Jamie McAleney Support

God’s eye view, one of the most well-known filmmaking shots, captures an overhead angle by placing the camera directly above the subject. But what are the pros and cons of this shot, and how can you best use it in your videos? Below, we overview the basics, then turn it over to a filmmaker to glean some expert advice.

When you use God’s eye view, you allow the audience to see the movement of a scene all at once in a way that the characters cannot necessarily see themselves, giving viewers a more omniscient perspective. But this vantage point is often disorienting; it can seem jarring or unnatural to the audience as objects in the frame may be unrecognizable at first (maybe that’s why classic creepster Alfred Hitchcock used it so much). However, once the audience has acclimated to the new point of view, the God’s eye view can have a crazy significant effect on the narrative and add symbolic meaning to a scene.

This device was used in the entirety of the Staff Pick favorite “Me & You” from London-based filmmaker Jack Tew, and it seriously impacted the tone in an amazing way. I touched base with our friend across the pond and picked his brain as to how God’s eye view influenced and shaped the film — and the best ways you can use it in your next video. Get some advice straight from Jack below:

Connect with viewers in an unexpected way

“I felt shooting the whole film from a God’s-view perspective would be a great way to visually show how a relationship can change over time — yet how so much of our time is spent in the same place. Looking down on these moments gives the audience a sense of looking back at their own relationships, which was one of my main reasons for creating this film. I had seen this technique used in other films such as “God View”, and felt it was a great way to capture an audience’s attention, as we’re not used to seeing life from this perspective.”

[author’s note: before hitting play, please know the video below is very mature in nature and contains themes and graphic violence that may be disturbing to some viewers]

Be mindful of limits

“Being unable to move in for a close-up meant I had to find a way of show everything from the same distance. So small details were hard to put across sometimes. And only having one wide angle meant I had to give [each moment] enough time on screen, so the audience could make sense of what was going on. But I always try and put limitations on my ideas, so I get to focus in and be creative with what I have.”

Choose shots that serve your story

“It’s not cheap to shoot from this perspective. Only use this if the story works for it. There are advantages and disadvantages to [it]: disadvantages being [that you’re] unable to see reactions on faces or show small details. Be super safe shooting from this perspective. No one wants a camera falling on their head.”

With this overview in mind and Joe’s helpful tips in tow, we hope you’re inspired to get out there, aim for the skies, and spice up your shots with a change in vantage point. Who knows, maybe your marvelous God’s-eye masterpiece will be the next Staff Pick. Upwards Uploads and onwards!

8 Comments

Chris A. Neal Plus

This is an awesome reminder and something I constantly forget. Always have a 'why' behind your shot. Don't just throw a god shot in cause it's 'cool.'

Jamie McAleney PRO

Absolutely. There's lots to think about when using this device, but it sure is satisfying when pulled off. Thanks for your thoughts, Chris!

Mark Anthony Hauck

I agree with that. So many indie films I see contain aesthetic choices made to call attention to themselves rather than directly serve the narrative in the most simple and uncluttered manner.

Brian Carroll Plus

The use of this shot has drastically increased in film and TV over the past decade. I'm sure it has to do with the technology advancements in both camera size and rigging options. What I find most interesting about it is how much this shot is used as the final shot of a death scene. I made this montage four years ago, so it's somewhat dated. vimeo.com/31487012

You could easily do another montage just using the past decade of TV shows. Breaking Bad used it very effectively, where as True Blood used it as almost every fourth shot in a single episode.

Jamie McAleney PRO

I really enjoyed your montage, Brian! I'll be sure to keep my eyes peeled for this next time I binge on Breaking Bad or True Blood.

Mark Anthony Hauck

It's a standard Hollywood shot that's often accompanied with a crane shot that pulls back very rapidly. It's overused and motivated by what another poster partially suggested ... the technology is there and yet, some directors feel that it *must* be used in order to appear au courant.

Jamie McAleney PRO

Definitely! It's important to remember the "why" when shooting like this.

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