Camera Movement Techniques
by Kyle Cassidy, VideoMaker
Camera Movement Techniques
Learn to develop a variety of basic camera movement techniques to move your audience when the scene calls for a tilt, pan, zoom, pedestal, dolly, or truck.
Early movie cameras were limited by their size and weight. And by early, I mean for the first 150 years of cinema. Throughout the golden age of
Here's French filmmaker Jean Cocteau filming "The Testament of Orpheus" in 1959. He didn't always dress like that; he was also acting in the film.
The basic camera moves were all developed in this age of cinema; cameras could move up, down, left or right. They could tilt or pan if you had the proper mount, and zoom if you had a zoom lens.
Every time we learn a new craft or skill, we need to learn the basic moves or techniques that define that function. Here are some terms you'll hear as you develop your skill as a videographer.
Beginning to learn to shoot video, whether for a hobby or a budding business, requires some knowledge of the basic moves that define good video shooting practices.
Back when I was in high school taking
A camera exists in a three-dimensional world and can move anywhere along the XYZ axis.
A camera exists in a three-dimensional world and can move anywhere along the XY Z axis. This means it can move up, down, left, right, as well as forward and backward. So that the director and camera operator can effectively communicate, there are names for each of these moves. This means the director can give a series of verbal instructions, and the camera operator knows exactly what to do without anybody having to get out and draw diagrams.
The Basic Camera Moves
Let's look at the basic moves that are used in every video and film production, from those used by your wedding videographers to those used by Spielberg himself. Our pictorial examples show a videographer using these moves with a
Tilt: Moving the camera's lens up or down while keeping its horizontal axis constant. Nod your head up and down - this is tilting.
WHY DO THIS? Tilting is the fastest way to get from low to high, or the other way around, when you want to show two things, though not necessarily at the same time. You might start
Pan: Moving the camera lens to one side or another. Look to your left, then look to your right — that's panning.
WHY DO THIS? You might pan across the audience at a wedding to show all the people there. You might pan from one character to someone who walks through the door to elevate the tension that wouldn't exist with a fast
Zoom: Zooming is one camera move that most people are probably familiar with. It involves changing the focal length of the lens to make the subject appear closer or further away in the frame. Most video cameras today have built-in zoom
WHY DO THIS? Zooming is the easiest way to get from far to close, or the other way around. You might start with a wide shot of a concert to set the stage and then zoom
Pedestal: Moving the camera up or down without changing its vertical or horizontal axis. A camera operator can do two types of pedestals: pedestal up means "move the camera up;" pedestal down means "move the camera down." You are not tilting the lens up, rather you are moving the entire camera up. Imagine your camera is on a tripod and you're raising or lowering the tripod head. This is exactly where the term comes from.
WHY DO THIS? When
Dolly: This is a motion towards or motion from. The name comes from the old "dolly tracks" that used to be laid down for the heavy camera to move along — very much like railroad tracks — in the days before Steadicams got so popular. The phrase dolly-in means step towards the subject with the camera, while dolly-out means to step backwards with the camera, keeping the zoom the same. Zooming the camera changes the focal length of the lens, which can introduce wide-angle distortion or changes in the apparent depth of field. For this reason, it's often preferable to dolly than zoom.
WHY DO THIS? My favorite dolly move in cinema history is Alfred Hitchcock's long dolly shot at the end of "Frenzy."
I won't spoil it by telling you what happens, but the camera starts
Truck: Trucking is like
WHY DO THIS? You'd Truck if you want your camera to subject distance to stay the same. You might, for example, truck the camera parallel to a person walking down the street to keep them in the frame. Lots of trucking in movies is done from the window of an actual truck. So this isn't a bad way to remember it. In the training montage in the 1976 Best Picture Academy Award Winner, Rocky, directed by John G.
The Fancy Camera Moves
Now that you understand the basics, here are few more advanced moves. Some of these usually require the use of a steady device and one or two crew members to execute smoothly.
Handheld Shooting: Sometimes the action is moving too quickly or too unpredictably for the camera to be on a tripod. This calls for making the camera more mobile and able to follow the action of a scene. Most times the camera will simply be held by the operator, who will then employ a number of basic camera moves by moving the feet, trucking in and out,
WHY DO THIS? Handheld shooting can be very bouncy, giving the viewer a sometimes subtle feeling that they're watching
A more modern alternative to the sled-and-vest set up popularized by the Steadicam and GlideCam is the 3-axis motorized gimbal. When gimbals like the Freefly MoVI M5 and DJI Ronin came out, they offered an affordable, versatile alternative to larger stabilizing rigs. Today motorized gimbals are everywhere.
WHY USE IT? A
Steadicam or 3-axis gimbal gives you the freedom of shooting handheld while keeping your shot perfectly stable, eliminating the distracting shake that often occurs when your camera is unsupported. Here's Garret Brown's famous
Crane/Jib: A crane can be used to lift a camera (and operator, if it's big enough) from low to high shooting positions. Less expensive jibs can support the weight of a camera and
WHY USE IT? You want to show things from a different angle. One example is the crane shot at the end of Robert Zemeckis' 1985 "Back to the Future"(link is external) where genius inventor Dr. Emmet Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd shows off his new and improved Time Machine, built out of a Delorean, and takes off down the road--and as the camera cranes up, it starts to fly showing that in The Future, where we're going-- cars travel in three dimensions.
The Even CRAZIER Camera Moves
Spinning your camera around on a string? What do you do when you have zero budget but a really small and cheap camera? If you're really clever you invent a new camera move and build a music video around it. Indie musicians Matt & Kim attached a
WHY USE IT? You're a genius with no budget for equipment. Check out
Matt & Kim's Video for Let's Run Away
Putting It All Together
Just because you're not in school for video production doesn't mean you shouldn't be doing homework and practicing to improve. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is twofold.
First, identify basic camera moves while watching movies and television and deconstruct them in your mind. Is the
Second, utilize all of the basic camera moves in a production. Understanding how the moves work
Contributing Editor Kyle Cassidy is a visual artist who writes extensively about technology.