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Cinematography camera moves

The camera moves and angles

Movies should move. Even when the actors aren't moving the camera should keep moving to keep the audience interested. The easiest way to "move" the camera is by cutting back and forth between the various coverage angles. There are a number of other ways of actually moving the camera to keep a sense of movement in the film.

All of the following should be used sparingly. The moving camera can be disconcerting to the audience, even inducing nausea, and is most effective in small quantities or it begins to feel like a gimmick.

Pan - Turning the camera around the vertical axis to the left or right. A slow pan across a landscape can be a good establishing shot. A quick pan from the hero to the villain sneaking up behind can startle the audience.

Tilt - Turning the camera on the horizontal axis to point up or down. Tilt down to show how deep a canyon is, or tilt up to show the height of a cliff the hero must climb.

Dolly Shot - Any shot where the camera is mounted on a Dolly: a moving platform. The dolly may be on free moving wheels or on a track to ensure the shot can be repeated in each take. This shot may be to follow some action such as two people walking and talking. Often it is just to move the audience through a set so they can understand the layout of the scene.

DollyTrack

Tracking Shot - Moving the camera on a dolly to closely follow walking or running characters. A Tracking Shot is one form of a Dolly Shot.

Crane Shot - The camera is mounted on a crane allowing the camera to move very high and then swoop back down to the ground. Sometimes the crane is mounted on a dolly so the camera can move along the ground and at the same time move up into the air. Crane shots are often difficult to pull off but can be highly effective establishing shots.

Crane

One of the most famous crane shots is in the movie Gone With The Wind where Scarlet has gone to the Atlanta railroad yards to get a doctor. As she walks onto the yards the camera cranes up to slowly reveal an almost endless expanse of wounded and dying soldiers eventually framed by a Confederate flag.

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Zoom - Using a variable focal length lens to bring the audience closer or farther away from the scene. Zoom shots were popular in the 70s but because they are unnatural for the human eye, and are therefore often a bit disconcerting to the audience, they are rarely used today in films.

Alfred Hitchcock made effective use of a combination of a zoom and a "dolly" in the movie Vertigo to show the hero's fear of heights. As Jimmy Stewart climbs to the top of a bell tower he looks down. Hitchcock had the camera pulled up quickly at the same time the lens was zoomed from wide angle to telephoto. The effect was that near objects seemed to stay the same size but the bottom of the tower in the distance seemed rush up toward the audience. This created a disconcerting feeling of vertigo.

Low angle - Shooting with the camera very close to the ground. This can emphasize the size and power of the character, or make the character appear to be staring off into space depending on how it is used.

High Angle - Shooting with the camera held above the actors heads. This can make the actor appear small and helpless.

Dutch Angle - A shot where the camera is tilted and turned at a disconcerting angle. Used to show that the situation is "out of balance".

Hand-Held - The camera operator carries the camera as s/he moves around the set. Often used to give a sense of reality but can quickly become nauseating to the audience.

Steadicam - is the trade name of a company that produces a special harness and rig that allows a highly trained camera operator to walk or even run through a set but the camera stays steady and even seems to float through the air. A number of companies manufacture similar devices but they are all often referred to as a steadicam. Used in situations where a dolly would be too cumbersome or impractical.

Steadicam

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Hollywood Camera Work is a master course in film blocking and staging. If you've never heard of blocking and staging that may explain why you find your attempts at filmmaking look amateurish next to what you see on the screen at the multiplex. Along with bad sound, lighting, and acting, poor placement of the actors and camera are the biggest mistakes for beginning filmmakers. It's the difference between films that look like bad home movies and films that tell an exciting, emotional story.

Per Holmes, the creator of the Hollywood Camera Work DVDs, was a both a successful music producer and music video director. He was puzzled that there wasn't a comprehensive reference on blocking and staging techniques and spent five years creating one of his own. Luckily he decided to share his work and Hollywood Camera Work is the result of that effort. (Note that the educational discount previously offered from this site is no longer available. Check with the publisher to find out about product availability.)

The Filmmaker's Basic Library has all the top-rated filmmaking resources.

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