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Camera Movement

Arc Shot

An arc shot is a camera move around the subject, somewhat like a tracking shot.

In mathematics, an arc is a segment of the circumference of a circle. A camera arc is similar — the camera moves in a rough semi-circle around the subject.

Some definitions of the arc shot describe it as being tracking and dollying at the same time, i.e. simultaneous side-to-side and in-and-out movement.

 

Crabbing Shot

The term crabbing shot is a less-common version of tracking, trucking and/or dollying. These terms are more or less interchangeable, although dollying tends to mean in-and-out movement whereas the others tend to mean side-to-side movement at a constant distance from the action.

 

Dolly Shot

Dolly Shot
Filming The Alamo (2004)
Photo by Sean Devine

A dolly is a cart which travels along tracks. The camera is mounted on the dolly and records the shot as it moves. Dolly shots have a number of applications and can provide very dramatic footage.

In many circles a dolly shot is also known as a tracking shot or trucking shot. However some professionals prefer the more rigid terminology which defines dolly as in-and-out movement (i.e. closer/further away from the subject), while tracking means side-to-side movement.

Most dollies have a lever to allow for vertical movement as well (known as a pedestal move). In some cases a crane is mounted on the dolly for additional height and flexibility. A shot which moves vertically while simultaneously tracking is called a compound shot.

Some dollies can also operate without tracks. This provides the greatest degree of movement, assuming of course that a suitable surface is available. Special dollies are available for location work, and are designed to work with common constraints such as doorway width.

Dollies are operated by a dolly grip. In the world of big-budget movie making, good dolly grips command a lot of respect and earning power.

The venerable dolly faced serious competition when the Steadicam was invented. Most shots previously only possible with a dolly could now be done with the more versatile Steadicam. However dollies are still preferred for many shots, especially those that require a high degree of precision.

 

Dolly Zoom

Different angles in a dolly zoom

A dolly zoom is a cinematic technique in which the camera moves closer or further from the subject while simultaneously adjusting the zoom angle to keep the subject the same size in the frame. The effect is that the subject appears stationary while the background size changes (this is called perspective distortion).

In the first example pictured, the camera is positioned close to the subject and the lens is zoomed out. In the second shot, the camera is several metres further back and the lens is zoomed in.

The Effect

Dolly zooms create an unnatural effect — this is something your eyes would never normally see. Many people comment on the shot after seeing it for the first time, e.g. "That was weird" or "What just happened there?".

The exact effect depends on the direction of camera movement. If the camera moves closer, the background seems to grow and become dominant. If the camera moves further away, the foreground subject is emphasized and becomes dominant.

The effect is quite emotional and is often used to convey sudden realisation, reaction to a dramatic event, etc.

History

Invention of the dolly zoom is credited to cameraman Irmin Roberts. The technique was made famous by Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo being the best-known example), and was used by Steven Spielberg in Jaws and ET. Many other directors have used the technique, which brings us to an important warning...

Warning

The dolly zoom is often over-used by junior directors. Many film critics see it as a cliché, so be very careful before you use this technique.

Other Terminology

The dolly zoom is also known as:

  • Hitchcock zoom
  • Vertigo zoom or vertigo effect
  • Jaws shot
  • Trombone shot
  • Zolly or zido
  • Telescoping
  • Contra-zoom
  • Reverse tracking
  • Zoom in/dolly out (or vice versa)

Follow Shot

The Follow shot is fairly self-explanatory. It simply means that the camera follows the subject ot action. The following distance is usually kept more or less constant.

The movement can be achieved by dollying or tracking, although in many cases a Steadicam is the most practical option. Hand-held follow-shots are quite achievable in many situations but are not generally suited to feature film cinematography.

 

Pedestal Shot

A pedestal shot means moving the camera vertically with respect to the subject. This is often referred to as "pedding" the camera up or down.

The term comes from the type of camera support known as a pedestal (pictured right). Pedestals are used in studio settings and provide a great deal of flexibility as well as very smooth movement. Unlike standard tripods, pedestals have the ability to move the camera in any direction (left, right, up, down).

Note that a pedestal move is different to a camera tilt, which means the camera is in the same position but tilts the angle of view up and down. In a ped movement, the whole camera is moving, not just the angle of view.

In reality, like most camera moves, the pedestal move is often a combination of moves. For example, pedding while simultaneously panning and/or tilting.

 

Camera Pan

A pan is a horizontal camera movement in which the camera moves left and right about a central axis. This is a swiveling movement, i.e. mounted in a fixed location on a tripod or shoulder, rather than a dolly-like movement in which the entire mounting system moves.

To create a smooth pan it's a good idea to practice the movement first. If you need to move or stretch your body during the move, it helps to position yourself so you end up in the more comfortable position. In other words you should become more comfortable as the move progresses rather than less comfortable.

 

Camera Tilt

A tilt is a vertical camera movement in which the camera points up or down from a stationary location. For example, if you mount a camera on your shoulder and nod it up and down, you are tilting the camera.

Tilting is less common than panning because that's the way humans work — we look left and right more often than we look up and down.

The tilt should not be confused with the Dutch Tilt which means a deliberately slanted camera angle.

A variation of the tilt is the pedestal shot, in which the whole camera moves up or down.

 

Tracking Shot

Tracking Shot

The term tracking shot is widely considered to be synonymous with dolly shot; that is, a shot in which the camera is mounted on a cart which travels along tracks.

However there are a few variations of both definitions. Tracking is often more narrowly defined as movement parallel to the action, or at least at a constant distance (e.g. the camera which travels alongside the race track in track & field events). Dollying is often defined as moving closer to or further away from the action.

Some definitions specify that tracking shots use physical tracks, others consider tracking to include hand-held walking shots, Steadicam shots, etc.

Other terms for the tracking shot include trucking shot and crabbing shot.

Trucking Shot

Trucking Shot

Trucking is basically the same as tracking or dollying. Although it means slightly different things to different people, it generally refers to side-to-side camera movement with respect to the action.

The term trucking is not uncommon but is less widely-used than dollying or tracking. Yet another equivalent term is crabbing.

The example on the right shows a simple, very mobile set of tracks used with a standard tripod to create smooth trucking shots.

Zoom Shot

A zoom is technically not a camera move as it does not require the camera itself to move at all. Zooming means altering the focal length of the lens to give the illusion of moving closer to or further away from the action.

The effect is not quite the same though. Zooming is effectively magnifying a part of the image, while moving the camera creates a difference in perspective — background objects appear to change in relation to foreground objects. This is sometimes used for creative effect in the dolly zoom.

Zooming is an easy-to-use but hard-to-get-right feature of most cameras. It is arguably the most misused of all camera functions.

 

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