The effects of Camera Movement – why they’re used

Camera movement has the potential to function in
many different ways, such as to direct the viewer's attention, reveal off-screen space, provide narrative information, or create expressive effects. The camera most frequently moves when an object moves within the frame, initiating reframing or a following shot. Reframing involves slight pans or tilts designed to maintain the balance of a composition during figure movement. A camera operator will reframe when a sitting person stands up, for instance, so as to keep the person in the frame and allow for appropriate headroom. Reframing helps to fix the viewer's eye on the most important figures within the frame and is so common it is often unnoticed. The camera itself accompanies the movement of an object during a following shot. A track, crane, or hand-held shot can lead a moving figure into space, pursue a figure from behind, or float above, below, or alongside. Intricate following shots may be motivated by the movements of more than one figure. Not all camera movement responds to motion within the frame; the filmmaker may direct the camera away from the dominant action for other purposes. Such camera movement draws attention to itself and is typically used sparingly to emphasize significant narrative details. For example, when Judy (Natalie Wood) stands up to exit the police station in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), the camera pans and tilts down to frame the compact she left behind, highlighting an important motif that will bring the protagonists together. Because of its ability to reveal or conceal space, camera movement often participates in the creation of suspense and surprise. In Strangers on a Train (1951), a point-of-view editing pattern places the viewer in the optical perspective of Guy (Farley Granger) as he approaches a dark staircase to warn a father of his son's murderous intentions. The director Alfred Hitchcock (1899–

1980) then varies the editing pattern by craning up from Guy to disclose a menacing dog waiting on the landing above. The independent camera movement informs the viewer of an obstacle unknown to Guy, raising the question of whether he will be able to reach the father—thus heightening suspense. Later in the same scene, Hitchcock alters his use of camera movement to conceal off-screen space and suppress narrative information. As Guy enters the bedroom to wake the sleeping father, the camera tracks to Guy's side and keeps the father off-screen. By delaying an onscreen image of the father's bed, Hitchcock surprises viewers when a subsequent shot reveals the treacherous son in his father's place. Sometimes camera movement positions the viewer as an objective witness to unfolding events. Very slow camera movements within long takes focus the viewer on the passage of time and build narrative expectation. When this happens, the camera movement situates the viewer as a curious inhabitant of the narrative world, linking simultaneous events in adjacent spaces and integrating the protagonist's preparations for death with a joyous celebration of life. Camera movement can also be used to illustrate a character's subjective experience. This is used very effectively in ‘Friday 13th’ when Michael climbs down the stairs in his ‘fancy dress’ having just murdered his sister. The framing is classically framed by the outline of Michael’s face mask.


Camera movements – what they’re called

Track (or Dolly) Moving the camera itself towards or away from the subject, or to follow a moving subject. The shot is called a ‘track’ or ‘tracking’ shot because the camera is often run along a small track (very like a small railway track) to follow the action.

The use of the word ‘Dolly’ comes from a tripod which is on wheels called a ‘dolly’. Both these techniques are used to stabilize the camera. This places all the focus on the objects/action in the frame – it allows for focus to remain still whilst the background rushes past. This is often used when we stay with the occupants of a car, listening to their dialogue and watching their actions when the background is largely unimportant. It should not to be confused with a zoom, where the camera’s lens is varied to give the impression of moving closer to, or away from the subject.


Pan This is pivoting the camera from one side to the other, usually to scan a scene or to follow a moving subject as it moves past, in a kind of semi circular sweep. The camera stays STILL and the action rushes past. This highlights the SPEED of what is happening in form of the camera OR it gives clear evidence of scope of the scene – often used to show the surroundings or to establish the ‘background’. Whip pan A sudden, fast pan. This can easily be viewed in the opening of 'Snatch' and is common in that stylised brit style gangster movie genre. Tilt Pivoting the camera vertically up or down. This produces a low or high angle shot. The LOW angle shot emphasises the subject's power whereas a HIGH angle shot makes the subject seem much smaller.

Rolling Shot This is when the camera moves diagonally, making the image askew. It can also be a kind of rocking or swaying style. This is usually used to show that the character is ill or drugged and is often used in as point of view shot. When this is extended to the frame, it is also called a ‘dutch angle’ or a 'canted angle'.

Dutch Angle


Arc Moving the camera in an arc around the subject. This can produce a disorientating effect and is often used when a character is dealing with a revelation or moment of 'discovery'. Subject

Crane shot This is used when the camera itself moves up or down and is usually placed higher above the ground/action. The crane shot is the primary means of moving the camera above ground. During crane shots, the camera rises and lowers on a platform connected to a mechanical arm, much like utility company cherry-pickers. A crane enables the camera to travel great distances up and down, as well as forward and backward and from side to side. Overhead This is where the camera looks over the action or scene directly from above – it’s like a kind of shot from the ceiling. Aerial shot Aerial shots are taken from a plane or helicopter and are a variation of crane shots. A camera mounted on an aerial support can move into space in all directions while achieving much greater heights than can a crane. Filmmakers began exploring ways to mount a camera on a plane during the 1910s, and in the 1950s helicopter mounts created additional shooting possibilities. An aerial shot may frame another flying object or it may provide a "bird's eye view" of the landscape, as in the swooping helicopter shot of Julie Andrews in the Alps at the opening of The Sound of Music (1965).

Hand-held shot


This is used to convey a sense of immediacy OR it can be used to suggest realism. Thus this shot if often used in more gritty films. However, it is often used these days as it allows for more freedom and with the use of a steadicam the shots have less of the hand-held, shaky feel that one associates with amateur film.

The main parts

height with viewer

The real thing

Zoom (Crash Zoom, Reverse Zoom, Reverse Crash Zoom) This is not really a movement of the camera but it appears to be so. It is when the focus is pulled making either the object/scene slowly appear closer or further away. When this is done very fast, it’s called a crash zoom. When the focus reverses to make the object/scene seem further away, then it’s called a reverse zoom or, when done very quickly, a reverse crash zoom.


How the individual shots are put together in terms of the way it's done STYLE and how quickly PACE. There are two main types of editing which you will encounter in mainstream films and TV programmes: Continuity editing The majority of film sequences are edited so that time seems to flow, uninterrupted, from shot to shot. Within a ‘continuity editing’ sequence, only cuts will be used. Continuity editing can also involve ‘cross-cutting’, where a sequence cuts between two different settings where action is taking place at the same time. There are matches on action and no editing that draws attention to itself. this is the realm of the 'invisible edit'. Montage In montage, different images are assembled to build up an impression. This is often used in title sequences. The most famous example of this technique is the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin. This is used increasingly in what is now called 'American Quality Television' and includes most of the shows headlining on Sky, FX, Channel 4 amongst others. Editing can vary both in pace (how long individual shots stay on the screen for) and in the transitions (or STYLE) between shots. Transitions describe the way in which one shot replaces the previous one and is the term used by editors and their software.

Cutting rate Frequent cuts may be used as deliberate interruptions to shock, surprise or emphasize. Generally speaking, the rate that cuts are made increases with the tension in the film. Cutting rhythm A cutting rhythm may be progressively shortened to increase tension. Cutting rhythm may be exciting (erratic and unpredictable), lyrical (in time with the music or with a feeling of rhythm) or staccato (like sharp regular cuts). It can create excitement, musical ‘alignment’ or intense response in the viewer.


Straight Cut One image is suddenly replaced by another, without a visible transition. We are so used to these you will probably not even notice them. In Classic continuity editing, that is the point – not to be noticed. Cross-dissolve One image dissolves into another. This can be used to make a montage sequence – such as a title sequence - flow smoothly; it can also be used in continuity editing to show that we have moved forwards in time and/or space. Fade up An image gradually fades in Fade out An image gradually fades out. Fades to and from black usually mean that time has passed Wipe One image replaces another without dissolving, with the border between the images moving across or around the screen. This style was previously popular in the 1960s but has not been much used until recent work, mostly cartoon based hollywood mainstream films such as Hellboy and Iron Man. Jump Cut This is where a cut is disjointed – often by the change in what the audience sees not changing that much – the action appears to judder or just ‘jump’. This is used to disconcert the audience. Typically a jump cut is one of less than 30° and is easy enough to spot as it makes the scene literally 'jump' before your eyes and it Is used infrequently. Matched cut In a 'matched cut' a familiar relationship between the shots may make the change seem smooth through: continuity of direction completed action* a similar centre of attention in the frame a one-step change of shot size (e.g. long to medium) a change of angle (conventionally at least 30 degrees)

*The cut is usually made on an action (for example, a person begins to turn towards a door in one shot; the next shot, taken from the doorway, catches him completing the turn). Because the viewer's eye is absorbed by the action he is unlikely to notice the movement of the cut itself. Motivated cut This is a cut made just at the point where what has occurred makes the viewer immediately want to see something which is not currently visible (causing us, sometimes, to accept compression of time or space – we can jump in time or place – what matters is seeing the next ‘expected’ thing). A typical feature is the shot/reverse shot technique (cuts coinciding with changes of speaker). Editing and camera work appear to be determined by the action. Cutaway/cutaway shot (CA) A bridging cut, this is usually an intercut shot between two shots of the same subject. It represents a secondary activity occurring at the same time as the main action. It may be preceded by a definite look or glance out of frame by a participant, or it may show something of which those in the preceding shot are unaware. It may be used to avoid the technical ugliness of a 'jump cut' where there would be uncomfortable jumps in time, place or viewpoint. It is often used to shortcut the passing of time. Reaction shot Is a cut to any shot, usually a cutaway, in which a participant reacts to action which has just occurred. Insert/insert shot A bridging close-up shot inserted into the larger context, offering an essential detail of the scene (or a reshooting of the action with a different shot size or angle). This is often a focus on an object, person or reaction. Buffer shot (neutral shot) A bridging shot (normally taken with a separate camera) to separate two shots which would have reversed the continuity of direction or to move from one place to another we no jumping effect. Make a note of these in your work and add examples to your list as you spot them. This will help you to build up a good understanding.


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