We talk a lot around here about how effective video can be as opposed to other forms of content when it comes to emotional storytelling. Whether it’s the way the story’s scripted or the shots are composed, the editing, etc., there are just so many layers which can be injected with emotion.
And for some general information about the emotional power of the camera, check out this post, How to Use the Camera to Convey Emotion on Your Film & Video Productions, but today’s post isn’t about the camera in general, but how it moves.
We’ve been doing video production in NY and NJ for a long time now and trust us, your choosing to move the camera as well as the specific way you do it can make a big difference in the ultimate impact of your video content. Read on to learn more.
First off, let’s go over the basics.
Before getting into how, exactly, camera movement can be used effectively, you first need to learn the basic terms and meanings. That way, you’ll be able to follow along, not just with this blog but with any video production people you may end up working with.
It all starts with panning and tilting, the simplest of camera movements. Panning refers to turning the camera to one side and/or the other. Think of it like turning your head, and the same goes for tilting.
Think of a tilt as lifting your head up and down, as it refers to turning the camera that way. Just remember that with both of these movements, the camera moves on a swivel as opposed to other movements in which the whole body of the camera moves.
For example, a pedestal involves moving the entire camera up or down without changing its vertical or horizontal axis, meaning the lens isn’t being tilted. The whole body of the camera moves, and make no mistake, the resulting image is different from the one a tilt would accomplish.
Then there are dolly and tracking shots, a dolly being a wheeled platform that the camera is mounted on which is then pushed on rails during the shot. In a tracking shot, not only do the dolly and the mounted camera move, but the subject moves as well.
Now for the next level of camera movements.
Those are all the basic camera movements, but there’s more. For example, cranes can be used to physically lift the camera for those sweeping shots or, if your budget doesn’t allow for that, there are more inexpensive jibs which can be used to accomplish similar movements.
Then there are camera stabilization tools like the steadicam, a counter-weighted stabilizing device invented to allow camera operators to accomplish smoother handheld shots, which are obviously another kind of moving shot, albeit one that needs to be motivated. Why?
Because without some type of assistance in terms of stabilization, handheld shots produce very shaky, somewhat unsettling images, so if you go that route, make sure the content fits the form. Just think of The Blair Witch Project.
It actually led to viewers getting sick in theaters, but the shakiness was motivated by the fact that the film was supposedly made of “found footage.” The point being that handheld shots have a very distinct, unsettling effect and should therefore be used accordingly.
Then there’s the long moving take, which isn’t exactly a different kind of move but just one uninterrupted movement through a space. Just think of the legendary Copacabana steadicam shot in Goodfellas or Alejandro Iñárritu’s 2014 film, Birdman, which was made to appear entirely like one long, non-stop moving shot.
Again, though, such a movement needs to be used for the right reasons. And take it from us as longtime NY / NJ video production pros, it’s not just because of the distinct effect it has but also because of the amount of work that goes into achieving it.
How can you use these moves in your video production?
The Blair Witch instance above is a perfect example of how camera movements can, and should, be used in accordance with the nature of the content and the kind of effect you’d like your video to ultimately have. In that movie, the inherent handheld effect was exactly the kind of emotion the story’s creators were striving to evoke with their film.
So, it was a good marriage of content and movement, and that’s how you need to think of all the camera movements, which is why it’s so important that you or the video people you’re working with have a firm understanding of the natural effects that each one of them leads to.
That’s the only way you’ll be able to fully use them to your advantage. For instance, pans and tilts present and reveal new areas and details, and a camera moving to different distances or even objects mid-shot can tell viewers something about the subject’s state of mind and his/her relationships with other characters or with the space around them.
So, if you’re trying to make viewers feel like they’re entering a character’s space or inner state, then you may want to drop down with a crane or jib or push in on them, or if you want viewers to get a sense of the character’s vulnerability or how large the obstacle ahead of them is, then you may want to start close and slowly dolly back.
Those are just a couple examples, and the speed with which you move will lead to different effects, too. A quick push-in, for example, can have a jarring, somewhat shocking effect whereas a slow dolly, like the one mentioned above, can create tension and bring the viewer in closer to the character’s state.
Then there’s the dizzying, dazzling effect of the combination dolly-zoom shot, which requires doing exactly that, dollying out while zooming in or vice versa, and the effects can be striking. Again, though, you need to make sure such a move is motivated by the content and intended effect.
There’s too much to gain in getting moving.
As you can see, moving the camera isn’t as simple as swiveling the tripod or yanking the camera off, going handheld, and just walking around with it. Well, it can be that simple. It’s just that you shouldn’t expect dramatic results when taking that approach.
To really use camera movement effectively, you or the video production people you’re working with need to have a firm understanding not just of the array of movement options you have, but also of the different effects each of those moves can have on the end product.
The bottom line, though, is that camera movement provides too many useful cinematic tools to ignore. It’s just that, like anything else, you have to know the right tool for the job. We hope this post helps.
About Us: KVibe Productions, a New York/New Jersey full-service film & video production company, can handle every aspect of the production process. Whether it’s a commercial, corporate video, or a feature film, etc., at KVibe, we always create to inspire.