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  • Writer's pictureDrew Schettler

A Simple Guide to Cinematic Camera Movement

Do you ever wonder why you feel a certain way when you watch a movie. Sure there's the actor, wardrobe, set design, but one unseen character of your film is the camera itself. How you move it or how you don’t makes all the difference in how you tell a story. Today, we’re going to talk about motivating feeling with camera movement.

The camera is what determines perception in your film. It is the eye, the gate so to speak, the window into the soul of your video. Sometimes you can even think of it as a character in your film. But what kind of camera moves tell the best story? Does more camera movement or more complex shots equal better storytelling? While we could shoot a movie that rotates the camera 360 degrees on its axis and call it a day, we would miss the heart and meaning of the film. So it’s crucial that we know the intention and motive behind camera movement. Let’s get into it.

The first camera movement to draw that juicy emotion out of your audience is actually not a movement at all.

The Locked Off Static Shot

This is a shot where the Camera is placed on a tripod and that’s it boom you're done, but what is it conveying? A locked off shot removes distractions and lets us focus on what’s happening in the frame. It evokes stillness but also can create tension at the same time. It can make the audience feel paralyzed in moments of chaos. Imagine a fight scene where two people are just going at it, but the camera is still. As a human

you want to jump in and help or maybe just run away. But with a locked off shot, you can’t do anything. Just helplessly watching as a bystander. An effective way to create tension in your story. And that’s just one example of how not moving the camera can evoke emotion. But don’t forget the most timeless use of the camera is not moving it at all. The locked off shot is one of the best friends of a filmmaker to remove distractions and be present in the scene.

The locked off shot is one of the best friends of a filmmaker to remove distractions and be present in the scene.

Moving on to...

The Dolly Shot

This is one of my favorites but like anything it can also be overused.

A dolly shot is simply moving the camera in or out of your scene. To use it effectively, you can dolly in on a character to feel a sense of urgency, perhaps a change of thought, or to capitalize on a story beat in your script. And the same is true in reverse. If you dolly out you can make your character feel isolated, like your leaving them with an introspective existential feeling, or it can be a good way to end a scene or transition to another.


The Zoom Shot

A lot of times you’ll see this characterized in a horror movie. A slow steady zoom. It’s really effective at making your audience feel unnerved. Instead of getting physically closer you’re pulling the environment of the character away from them almost like the

reality they know is being distorted making for this eerie unsettling feeling, or one effective way is to make it feel like you're eaves dropping on a conversation. Like you’re really far away and getting closer and closer and as you get closer the tension or stakes of the scene rises. Or you can always use a zoom in a comedic way like the Office does.

The next type of camera movement is...

The Pan and Tilt

Obviously it’s two moves but they can have a similar effect. Both have the idea of revealing something or pulling back the curtain so to speak. Often with a tilt shot you could reveal an object that the character is looking at then tilt up to see the character, or with a pan shot to reveal a vast landscape or audience to capture the scale for the viewer. A lot of times you’ll see this in aerial shots or establishing shots but it also can be used creatively like in movies such as LA LA Land, a whip pan is used to create intense character action and build the energy of the scene.


The Tracking Shot

What is a tracking shot? Well you’re simply following or tracking your character in a scene. This can be done from a horizontal plane where the camera is parallel to the characters or you can track the scene from behind or in front. It’s a great way to make your audience feel like they’re a part of the scene. A lot of times you’ll see a tracking shot in a dialogue scene, action sequence, or a solo shot of a character. Really effective way to immerse the audience into the action.


The Boom Shot

It is a vertical shot of the camera and The most unused shot for any independent filmmakers. Why? Because it is just unrealistic. It usually takes a gigantic crane or jib to create. Which is not the mo for solo filmmakers. However if and when you use it, it can be a great way to add production value to your film. One creative hack if you don’t have access to a crane is to use a gimbal to create a similar effect. Obviously it’s scaled down a bit, but still can be effective to establish a scene.

And lastly on our list of effective camera moves is my personal favorite, the swiss army knife of camera moves...

The Handheld Shot: The swiss army knife of camera moves.

The Handheld Shot

Probably the best shot for keeping things quick and efficient, but also effective at conveying an authentic emotion. Because someone is physically holding the camera it’s organic and feels natural. However it does have its drawbacks. Too often you’ll see

someone over do it with the handheld motion, making it feel like you're part of a cosmic tectonic earthquake or they’ll use it at the wrong time. Like when a scene is better served with a locked off shot they’ll use handheld instead and draw too much attention to the camera. But on the plus side it takes no rigging to set up just you and the camera and makes the audience feel like they’re a part of the scene.

Conclusion | A Simple Guide to Cinematic Camera Movement

So with all of these shots, which is your favorite or which do you want to utilize more What’s beautiful about filmmaking is that hypothetically you can use all of these camera movements in one scene and each could feel appropriate. But it’s important to maintain intentionality with each camera move asking yourself how do I want the audience to feel? This is just A Simple Guide to Cinematic Camera Movement.


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