4 essential camera moves every aspiring filmmaker needs to know
There isn’t much that’s more boring in film than just seeing one locked off tripod shot after another. Getting that camera moving really adds emotion to a shot. And watching just about every movie made over the last few decades you’ll spot the same four camera moves.
There are others as well, of course, but these four are the staples that exist in almost everything. Those moves are the pan, tilt, boom and dolly. They’re all pretty straightforward, but they all provide a different meaning to the viewer and give the shot a different mood. In this video from Fandor, we find out how each of the moves is defined and how they affect the viewer.
The main thing to remember about pans is that they are the horizontal rotation of the camera about its axis. Horizontal. This means a pan can never be up or down, only left or right. At its simplest, a pan simply follows movement or shows new visuals in the scene. But it can also be used dramatically to hide action off-camera. To suggest that the acts are too unspeakable to show.
Tilting is what people mean when they incorrectly say “pan up” or “pan down”. Tilting is the vertical rotation of the camera up and down. Like the pan, the tilt is frequently used to follow motion or highlight some new visual element. The tilt is also a go-to shot for showcasing characters or new locations in establishing shots.
This is where the camera completely moves up and down. It differs from the tilt because you’re not simply rotating the camera vertically, you’re actually moving it to a different point in space. As with the tilt, this is commonly used for establishing shots, but much more dramatically. Combined with a tilt, this can also make for some very dramatic reveals a scene’s location and what may be about to happen.
The Dolly is one of the most versatile camera moves there is. Just look at the popularity of camera sliders. They can be used to move the camera forward or backward or side-to-side. They can be used to add tension, intensity and provide more weight to a character’s performance. Or they can be used to make a character feel isolated and weak. Or they can simply be used to track a character as they move through a location.
Each of these different camera movements can be used individually or they can be combined to create a completely different mood and feeling in your shot.
Sure, having the camera locked off on a tripod can sometimes be the way to go to tell your story. But so often, a shot is much better served with a little movement.
So, go on, give it a try.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.