Objective vs. Subjective Perspective

The intentional shot selection for each scene in a film provides valuable information to the audience.

Misha Tenenbaum avatar
Written by Misha Tenenbaum
Updated over a week ago

Visual storytelling relies heavily on the ability of the camera to capture empathetic views and on the editor to select shots that add to the story without even using dialogue or voice over. The picture itself is capable of telling at least part of the story by involving the audience in reading the shot, which is a subconscious reaction.

At the core are Objective and Subjective Shots. A masterful editor selects shots that provide often subtle glimpses into the story.

Subjective Perspective

A Subjective perspective shows how a character feels at a specific moment. These tend to be medium to close-up shots, with a focus on the emotional impact of a character. Subjective shots can be wider shots, as long as the shot tells the audience how the character is feeling in that moment.

An example of a Subjective Perspective from the short film, Authentic.

"People don't always express their inner thoughts to one another. A conversation may be quite trivial, but often the eyes will reveal what a person thinks or needs.”

Alfred Hitchcock, Director

The subjective view is not just for the main character. This view can be used any time the filmmaker wants to give the audience more information about a character, especially when it comes to their reactions and how they feel in certain moments of the story.

Another example of a Subjective Perspective from the short film, City Lights.

Subjective character shots also provide Subtext. Just like most people do in real life, characters often use subtext to give clues to something they don't want to say directly. Perhaps it’s a smile to show they are happy or a glance at another character to make the audience wonder about their connection. An editor needs to understand and highlight the deeper subtext of a seemingly straightforward shot, so they can convey that meaning to the audience.

When discussing subjective perspectives, Stephen Mark, ACE shared the following thoughts in his EditMentor’s Advanced Film Editing Workshop, “You can put the audience in a position where they feel that they identify with one character and we do this by placing the cameras close to the character whose empathy we want the audience to have. From that point of view, the camera picks up how that person is feeling in the way he or she talks, the tone of their voice, their body language, their eyes, etc.... All of these signals are communicative, and they give you the subtext, not just what they're saying, but how they feel... It's a unique quality of moviemaking."

Objective Perspective

An Objective perspective tends to use wider shots to show all the characters and/or a large portion of the Story World within the frame, with no focus on one particular character. This type of perspective gives the audience facts and information, more than emotions, by making the audience to be a spectator.

An example of an Objective Perspective from the short film, Authentic

The objective shot is the observer/audience's point of view - not the character’s.

Another example of an Objective Perspective from the short film, City Lights.

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