Below, you will find the 7 most common camera movements used in film. Once you have read and understood them, create an example of each of them with your own camera – even if you use your phone – to show your understanding as to how each shot works.
A pan is when the camera is stationary on a tripod, but it is then turned from either left-to-right or right-to-left. A pan might be used to follow someone’s movement, or to show a wide expanse of people or scenery.
A tilt is the same as a pan in that the camera is stationary on a tripod, however the camera is then moved vertically – either from up to down or from down to up. A tilt might start by focussing on a character’s feet and gradually tilt upwards to reveal the remainder of the character. Shots that tilt up often finish by looking up at a powerful character or a grand setting.
The camera is placed on a “dolly”, which is any track or wheels that the camera is on that allows the camera to change position during a shot. Professional filmmakers usually use tracks to place their camera on, while student filmmakers might use wheelchairs, skateboards, or any other wheels they can find. Usually, a dolly shot is used to move towards (“dolly-in”) or away (“dolly-out”) from a character or object.
For an explanation as to how you can recognise the difference between a dolly shot and a zoom, here’s Film Riot:
4) Tracking / Trucking Shot
A tracking shot can be defined in a number of ways, but usually it is a shot that follows a character on a dolly – often from left-to-right or right-to-left – as they move in a scene. By moving the camera alongside a character, a tracking shot is often designed to maintain the distance between the camera and the subject.
5) Handheld Camera
Handheld shots refer to those shots that aren’t using a tripod. They are at least a little more shaky than normal – sometimes this can be subtle and generates an uneasy atmosphere, while in other films like those in the found-footage genre, the use of a handheld camera is far more obvious and gives the viewer a sense that the footage they are viewing is “real” as it appears more authentic and less prepared.
With the final two shots on this list, the camera isn’t technically moving, but rather it’s just changing its focal length. As Video Maker Magazine states, “The director calling for ‘zoom out’ wants the focal length changed so that the new shot encompasses a wider angle of view. This allows the audience to see more of the shot and lightens the emotional tension of a scene. ‘Zoom in’ calls for the opposite effect, moving the frame towards a specific part of the scene and making target objects appear larger in the frame.”
7) Pull Focus / Rack Focus
A technique where one object or person in the frame (let’s call it ITEM A) starts the shot in focus while another (ITEM B) is out of focus. The focus of the shot is then changed so that while nothing in the frame has physically moved in the shot, ITEM B goes in focus while ITEM A goes out of focus.
For the remainder of your introduction to camera techniques on Opening Class, follow the links below. Of particular interest to camera movement is the final video on the “Best Shots of All Time” link which considers and explains 5 brilliant and creative uses of camera movement.