Filmmaking is all about images in motion, and capturing moving images begins with the camera, the essential instrument in every film. The camera is the eye of the director. As such, it itself moves from one focal point to the next, follows the subject of interest, and carefully examines the surroundings. For this reason, it is important to learn how a camera moves and with what purpose. This way we can imprint our personal vision on the film. Let’s take a look at 7 basic camera movements that every filmmaker should know.
Pan Camera Movement
You can mimic the turning of a person’s head from left to right with a camera. This is called a pan, and the speed of the movement is a variable that makes it very versatile. A quick pan can be easily used as a transition, while a slow pan can be used to show and describe a landscape, for instance. It can also be used to show reveal, so the audience learns the information at the same time as the character!
Tilt Camera Movement
Thinking of the camera as if it were our own sight makes it easier to understand different movements. A tilt is the movement of the camera on the vertical axis, upwards or downwards. Similar to the pan, tilts are used to reveal something that was otherwise out of frame. Depending on the tripod or mount, the movement range can be limited and it might not be as practical for transitions.
Dolly Camera Movement
The camera dolly is one of the greatest inventions in filmmaking history. It consists of a cart with wheels and a set of tracks. The cart is mounted on the tracks, the camera on the cart. Depending on how you set the tracks, the movement can be a dolly-in, dolly-out, and track. This means to approach the subject, move away from the subject, or move from one side to another respectively. This adds motion to your production. Moving-in can accent an important speech. Taking the camera and moving out can reveal the surroundings the character is in. Moving to the side can follow the action from one location to the next.
Zoom Camera Movement
Different from all the other movements on this list, the zoom is a fully optical movement, meaning it depends entirely of the inner mechanics of the camera lens rather than on movement of the camera itself. All lenses with variable focal lengths have zoom controls that allow you to zoom in or out to adjust the angle of your shots.
Crane Camera Movement
The crane is just that, a crane that the camera is mounted onto. The crane can be used to add height and verticality to a shot. It allows for a greater range of movement, and it is typically used for scenes and shots which need two separate axis of motion. For example, this might be used to start in a room, come out of the building, and pan down to the first floor. You move both horizontally, and vertically.
Steadicam/Handheld Camera Movement
Taking the camera and making it handheld is a good way to add more immersion to your shot. One alternative is using a steadicam for added stability, which gives you more control and balance to avoid excessive shaking. This is as free as it gets in terms of camera movement, and most films with difficult shots in tight spaces resort to a handheld perspective to get those shots right.