Movies and Film: The Five Basic Techniques of Camera Movement

The Five Basic Techniques of Camera Movement

Camera movement can itself be broken down into seven different kinds: tilt, pan, track (or dolly), crane, zoom, handheld, and aerial shots. Of course, the camera can do more than one of these at one time. And, in animation and digital effects, you don't even need a camera to accomplish these shots. Here are most of the movements possible to the moving picture camera, in order of least to greatest camera mobility:

  • To zoom, the only part of the camera that moves is the lens, whose focus changes in order to bring us into or pull us back from the scene it is photographing.
  • On a tripod, or in an otherwise stationary mount, the camera pans, when it swivels on its horizontal axis, moving from side to side, for example back and forth between tennis players.
  • Again from a fixed mount, a camera tilts up and down on its vertical axis, for example up the side of the Empire State Building to emphasize the skyscraper's height. (See the photography of the Hudsucker Building in The Hudsucker Proxy.)
  • No longer fixed on its mount, the camera moves mostly along the horizontal in a tracking (or dolly) shot. In Day for Night (France, 1973) we cut from a shot in which one of the characters is tracked, to another shot of the track, the camera, and the actor trying to walk on the irregular tracks as if walking on a smooth pavement. A dolly can be a complex, motorized bit of equipment, or the back of a flatbed truck.
  • The crane shot is so-called because the cinematographer/director and her camera are perched on a crane to allow the camera vertical (and some horizontal) movement.
  • The bird's-eye (or aerial) shot takes us up even further from the action than the crane shot, in a helicopter or atop a mountain or skyscraper.
  • The handheld (or steadicam) shot was largely enabled by the invention of the Steadicam, which allowed the camera to be shouldered by a cameraman with a minimal amount of visual jogging. Because the cameraman can keep the camera steady, the camera can go anywhere he can. An entire film aesthetic—cinma verit—is based in part on the possibilities of this technology.
Filmophile's Lexicon

Cinma verit: Loosely translated as "cinema of truth." In the United States, "direct cinema." All these phrases refer to the tendency in the late 1950s and early 1960s to try to film the world without the artificial intervention of a director's style, but rather simply recording and reproducing the visible world.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Movies and Film © 2001 by Mark Winokur and Bruce Holsinger. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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