This drone video uses the Hitchcock Zoom technique for beautiful but dizzying results
The Hitchcock Zoom, also known as the dolly zoom, the Vertigo effect, reverse tracking shot, triple reverse zoom, the trombone effect, as well as countless other names, is the process of simultaneously moving the camera while zooming the lens to keep your subject a constant size within the frame while the environment gets larger or smaller.
This is not an easy trick to pull off, which goes a long way towards explaining why we’ve never seen this effect used with drone footage before. Now, thanks to a collaboration between Tim Sessler, Brandon Bray, Brooklyn Aerials, and Freefly Systems, titled Balance, we can finally see this beautiful effect used from the air.
Used over the years in movies such as Vertigo, Psycho, Jaws, Poltergeist, Goodfellas and Apollo 13, this technique takes a lot of planning and co-ordination between moving the camera and zooming the lens, all while trying to keep your subject in focus.
Brooklyn Aerials describe the principle in a post about Balance on their blog.
The basic premise is simple: the move starts at a 45mm focal length and while the camera moves towards the subject you zoom out to the maximum wide angle, while keeping the subject at the exact same size.
Balance also uses another very effective technique in this short film, of rolling the camera, with subtle moves that completely change the mood and emotion of the footage.
A short (very short) behind the scenes video has been released, which shows off some of the gear being used. A longer version is expected soon.
As you can see, this takes quite some gear to pull off. I wouldn’t get your hopes up on being able to capture this type of stuff with a DJI Phantom 4 and a GoPro. This was the equipment used to create Balance.
- Freefly Alta 8 – starting at $17,495
- Freefly MōVI M15 – $12,995
- Red CF Weapon – $49,955 (body only)
- Canon CN-E 15.5-47mm T2.8 Cinema Zoom – $21,275
A Robinson 44 helicopter was also utilised for some of the footage, where flying a drone over the streets of Manhattan is somewhat frowned upon. Ok, it’s flat out illegal.
For those of us who don’t have a hundred grand to spare or a friend with a helicopter we can borrow (which is probably most of us), you might have to get a little more creative if you want to try and create these kinds of shots yourself.
One slightly less expensive (although still pretty high) option could be DJI’s new Matrice 600, along with a Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera and their fancy new Arduino shield to help automate some of the zooming and focusing via the use of GPS, accelerometer and distance sensors (I actually mentioned the possible automation of this technique in that very post).
Whether or not this is a technique you can pull off yourself at the moment, it certainly produces a very effective and interesting result.
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.