Filmmakers use camera movements to add different dimensions to a particular scene and increase the depth of field by manipulating the camera angles. For a beginner, learning all camera movements at once can be scary. So, we’ll take you through each movement one by one.
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What is camera movement?
Camera movement is the way a camera is intentionally moved to produce artistic effects and shape the viewer’s perspective of space and time. However, the movement is not limited to the kit, and you can create camera movements by shifting the aperture, lens, and camera settings.
Cinematographers and directors use different camera movements to shift the audience’s view without cutting the scene. A single setting is shot with multiple cameras to utilize the other camera movement techniques. The video editor’s job is to choose the best perspective or combine multiple clips to create the perfect scene.
Shifting the camera movement can significantly enhance the story’s narrative. For example, the cameraman may emphasize a particular object vital to the story. Similarly, several visual effects are based on varying camera movements. Lana Wachowski produced the notorious bullet-dodging effect in The Matrix by simultaneously shooting the scene from 17 different angles.
The 10 Camera Movements in Film
Varying the camera movement can have emotional and psychological effects on the story. An actor’s emotions are often captured using the zoom camera movement to capture their facial expressions in detail. Thus, you can make any footage immersive, authentic, and engaging by choosing the proper camera movement for the scene. There are numerous camera movements that you can learn to become the best. However, everyone should know these basic camera movements to get started:
Zooming is the most common camera movement used in all types of video production. It is used to magnify or de-magnify a particular focal point in the scene to make the shot interesting for the audience. The camera is fixed at one point throughout the frame, so the audience barely notices any focus shift.
Zooming in on the character often emphasizes the actor’s facial expressions like terror, humor, or sorrow. Similarly, zooming out shows a large crowd or area in one frame. Some examples of zoom are:
- Resident Evil’s zoom-out scene shows a zombie attack.
- Zooming in on Forrest Gump’s face when he starts telling the story.
Why use a zoom shot?
The zoom shot is a great way to capture the essence of your subject. It allows you to get closer than a wide-angle lens, which is usually used to get a wide shot, without worrying about getting too close to your subject. The zoom shot also gives you more control over how far away you want your subject to appear.
Zoom shot vs. dolly shot
There is some confusion about distinguishing between a zoom shot and a dolly shot. These two shots appear nearly identical unless you know what to look for. A zoom shot is an enlargement of a frame that creates the illusion that the camera is closing in on a subject). On the other hand, dollying is defined as moving the camera towards its subject in a smooth but distinct motion.
When the camera is moved toward or away from the object, it is known as a “dolly shot.” A Dolly is one of the two types of tracking shots, meaning a camera is placed on a stable movable surface, such as a motorized vehicle that moves forward or in reverse. This basic camera movement is vital to promoting a sense of a sudden realization or thought in the story. Similarly, dolly tracking is also used when displaying a walking character from the front.
- The first bogus cheque at the train station scene from Catch me if you can.
The dolly zoom effect
The dolly zoom technique isn’t to be confused with the dolly shot, which we’ve described previously. A dolly shot adjusts the camera’s position, whereas a zoom adjusts focal length—combining these two techniques results in a dolly zoom effect, or track-in.
Trucking is the second type of tracking shot, meaning the camera moves alongside the character or object. Usually, the camera is mounted on a motorized surface to provide constant movement. It is very similar to a dolly shot, except it moves horizontally rather than in and out. The shot requires perfect camera stability and constant speed as the camera moves from left to right. Therefore, a motorized rail or vehicle is suitable for the movement.
- The iconic trucking shot of the gangster Henry Hill in Goodfellas.
Panning is a technique of moving the camera’s face either horizontally or vertically while keeping it fixed on a point. It allows you to capture two characters in a single frame.
For example, you can pan the camera horizontally when the character turns their face away when looking away. The movement is used to create a panoramic effect in a continuous shot. Some examples of panning:
- The whole Breaking Bad season is the perfect example of the wonders you can do with simple panning.
Tilting the camera is a vertical movement in either the up to down or down to up direction. The camera remains stationary throughout the shot to minimize any chance of camera vibration.
Tilt shots have several uses in cinema, television, YouTube, and nature shots. For instance, you can tilt the camera upward as the character raises their head. Secondly, downward tilt marks the starting scene of many films, and the film’s ending scene is often shot in the opposite direction.
- In the film Gravity’s ending scene, tilt movement shows the sky and zooms into space.
6. Rack Focus
Rack focus is more of a camera technique than camera movement. It involves shifting the camera focus in a continuous shot from one point to another. The camera’s lens is adjusted to blur a particular object of interest at the start of the scene. The focus is then slowly shifted to the object in the background or vice versa. Rack focus is an effective technique to shift the audience’s attention between two characters without moving the camera.
- The planet God scene in The Guardian of the Galaxies is the perfect example of rack focus.
The camera is lifted to a high shooting position by a moving crane or helicopter jib to pull off an aerial shot. This is vital to capturing overhead or long sweeping moves.
However, you control the camera’s movements to stay focused on the scene. Recently, helicopter shots have been replaced with drones that allow better control and perspective. The crane movement allows the audience to dive into the action at the start of the movie. Similarly, you can also use this technique to escort the audience back into the real world at the film’s end.
- Dennis Dugan frequently uses crane shots in his comedy films like Big Daddy.
Steadicam is widely used in almost every film or series these days. A Steadicam is a camera mount that allows camera operators to move freely without capturing any wobbles in the shot. You can use a Steadicam to move along with the character, even on jagged terrain, to capture smooth and flawless shots.
- Saving Private Ryan has multiple scenes that were shot using the Steadicam movement. The most famous of them is the start of the Omaha Beach landing scene.
9. Handheld shooting
Films that show realistic camera movements seem more authentic and persuasive. For this reason, handheld camera movement is used in some films. The cameraman avoids any artificial stabilization in this technique while following the character. So, the scene has realistic camera shaking that conveys the character’s adrenaline rush to the audience’s hearts.
This camera movement is usually used in POV and running scenes, especially in action and horror movies. The effect produced by handheld shooting is better known as the trembling or shaking effect in horror movies.
- The 2011 film The Amityville Horror used handheld shooting for multiple running scenes.
As the name suggests, a pedestal shot is when the camera’s height is increased or decreased while keeping it focused on one point. The pedestal shot is usually achieved by fixing the camera on a moveable tripod. Increasing the camera’s height is called “pedestal up,” while decreasing its height is dubbed “pedestal down.”
This camera movement is beneficial when introducing a new character in the film. Similarly, a pedestal shot is also used to show the height of a structure or character.
- Marvel’s Avengers series uses the pedestal shot whenever a new character (superhero) enters the scene.
Bonus: Static shot
A static shot is a type of shot where the camera does not move. The subject in the photo remains still, and you can see it from different angles. It makes for great shots in films but requires skill to get right.
A static shot is most commonly used to show action from multiple perspectives. For instance, you could show the same scene from above, below, and behind your main character. A static shot can indicate a person’s reaction to seeing something. It’s typically accomplished by securing a camera with a tripod, making it one of the best ways to shoot dialogue scenes. It doesn’t distract from the listener’s point of view or draw attention away from the person doing the shot. The disadvantage to shooting this way is that you cannot move around with the subject.
Benefits of camera movements
Camera movement has become a must for every film production. It provides greater depth to the scene by showing different story aspects in one frame. For instance, camera movement is vital to shifting the course of the story in one fluent, continuous shot. Some of the benefits of camera movement are:
The best way to introduce new characters into the story is to use a pedestal or racking focus shot. Sometimes, both techniques are used simultaneously to increase the tension by foreshadowing the unknown character in the movie.
Controlling the focus
The audience can only see what you want to show them on the screen. So, the camera movement is useful when you want to divert attention. Similarly, you can emphasise an object of interest by zooming in or racking the focus.
Controlling the emotions
The camera movement allows you to manipulate the audience’s emotions. For instance, focusing on the character’s sorrowful facial expressions makes them sad. Shaking the camera creates a sense of earthquake or terror, and handheld shots portray a realistic running scene. In short, you can use appropriate camera movement to make the audience feel what is happening in the film.
Controlling the vision
The audience wants to believe in what they see through the camera. So, you can increase the interest by making the scenes more natural and realistic by using camera movement. You can also create dynamic scenes from a static environment by tracking shots.
The 3 main types of shots
Based on what kind of lens you use, there are three types of shots.
What is a wide shot?
A wide shot (WS) is a single shot that encompasses the entire length of an actor or actress. They are also known as long shots or full shots, and filmmakers use them in films to give audiences a broad view of the setting and picturesque elements that a medium or close-up shot might not have provided. Filmmakers use wide shots to encapsulate key plot points or action sequences by taking up more visual space onscreen.
What is a medium shot?
A medium shot, also known as a mid-shot or waist shot, is a camera angle used in film and television that shows the subject’s body from the torso up. It is commonly used to emphasise the actor and their surroundings on screen by giving them equal screen presence. Camera operators will use this angle to show details like an actor’s facial expressions while also informing audiences about the character’s surroundings.
What is a close-up shot?
A close-up shot is when you photograph something or someone from a closer angle than in other shots. The goal is to show more detail on the subject/object by entering their personal space, allowing the audience to get inside that character’s head and beyond what’s in their field of vision. Extreme close-up is frequently used in television series today because it adds intimacy and makes the viewer feel emotionally connected to what’s going on.
Camera movements for film production
Camera movement is the best way for directors to express their genuine vision. Therefore, camera movement is one of the top priorities in any corporate video or film production, as you have to use expensive equipment like cranes, helicopters, and motion stabilisers. The complex camera movements are sometimes costly and can add a lot to the movie’s budget.
However, the latest camera technology allows appropriate camera movement at a lower price. Currently, filmmakers use the following technology to produce the desired camera movement:
Servo-driven Gimbals, or SDG, are widely used in Gun and Run scenarios, especially in corporate film production. The device is multifunctional, and you can use it for tilt, panning, tracking, zooming, and several other camera movements. The handheld SDG is compact enough to fit inside a backpack, making it suitable for travelling. On the other hand, the 3-axis SDG is used in indoor film sets to film the complex dolly shots.
- 360-degrees of rotation for tracking and panning shots
- Tilt and Lift shots
- Racking focus shots
- Trucking through a door or a window to reveal the following environment.
The first crane shot was produced back in 1916. Since then, directors have used various techniques to create clear overhead shots through expensive helicopters. However, modern video drones provide the same footage with increased stability and higher 4K resolution. Moreover, video drones are far less expensive than helicopters and cranes.
- Crane shots at high altitude,
- Slow 360-degrees rotation at any height,
- Reveal an object of interest from the air,
- Pedestal shots at greater heights, e.g., waterfalls,
- Following the character to an infinite distance,
- Bird’s-eye view shots
What is the basic rule of camera movement?
The 180-degrees rule is a basic rule that creates a spatial relation between two characters or groups and helps the audience keep track of the character’s location in the scene. The guideline dictates that an imaginary straight or 180-degrees line is established between the two characters, and the camera should only stay on one side of the line.
What is the difference between camera shots and camera movements?
Camera shots demonstrate the aspects of characters, themes, and objects from a fixed position. On the contrary, camera movements utilize different camera angles and techniques to shape the viewer’s perspective of a scene. In short, a camera shot is a scene while the camera movement defines how the audience is positioned to watch the scene.
What is the benefit of the 180-degree rule?
The 180-degrees axis provides the best field of view to visually connect with the character and the environment. It provides the perfect perspective to view the whole room, the characters, and the objects in the background without losing focus.
Camera movements are used in all modern film and video productions worldwide. It allows you to demonstrate its true nature to create an immersive experience for the audience. Moreover, you can even manipulate their emotions to enhance the audience’s interest. It is necessary to understand the different camera movements and their effects.