Camera Movements in Film in Theory and Practice (Part 1): Types of Movements

Camera movements in film in theory and practice (Part 1) Types of movements
Not without reason is film also called moving image | Image: Cinematographer Dejan Georgevich, ASC

There are different types of camera movements. Each of these has an impact on how the viewer perceives and experiences a film plot. The cameraman must therefore know exactly how to guide the camera.

The camera movement is as important to the film language as the settings. Filmpuls illuminates this topic in a four-part series. At the same time, the associated cinematic means of expression are examined and explained from different perspectives. There is also a separate series of articles on the subject of picture lighting.

You need to know

  • Camera movements refer to either the camera’s own movements (something moves in front of the camera) or movements of the camera. In a narrower sense, this is understood to mean only the second form.
  • The type and manner of movement can be divided into four classes: a change in distance, angle of view, a streak (an object enters or leaves the field of view), or a pursuit (parallel movement).
  • If the camera and the object are moving in front of the camera at the same time, this places increased demands on the cameraman. Especially when these movements take place in three-dimensional space, for example under water or in aerial photography.
  • A zoom move is not a camera move because it is not the location or angle of view of the camera that changes, but the focal length.

Camera movements in film in theory and practice

The series of articles on Filmpuls comprises four continuous contributions

  1. Types of camera movements (this article)
  2. the pan shot
  3. the tracking shot
  4. Rules for camera work

The series is supplemented by explanations of shot size, framing and camera perspective, angles of view and camera lenses.

Movement in front of the camera

In silent film, movement was limited to filming scenes with a rigid tripod. The fathers of cinema let the pictures run for the viewer in the most beautiful sense of the word and did so until they ran out of film. Yes, they were almost insatiable in savoring this means of expression.

The movement in front of the camera lens expresses the physical legality of objects that do not need to be pushed by the camera and are not subject to any changing influence by the camera.
Walter Dadek

The silent films of this era are still known today for their comical chase scenes, in which Chaplin also earned his first spurs: people, often policemen and gangsters, chase each other back and forth through the picture, get in each other’s way, tumble, fall and slide.

1 Intrinsic movements

The focus of historical films is the self-motion of people or objects in front of the camera. The camera itself, it remains static for the duration of the shot. She observes. This is often done without a cut, without panning and thus, by today’s standards, unusually long, identical shot sizes.

2 Camera movements

The second type of movement comes from camera movements themselves. It determines the design of a video just as much as the choice of perspective and focal length. This is also true for the Action Cam, even though it is rarely done this way in practice.

The camera movement opened up new horizons for the cameraman as an artist (already during the silent film era). Camera movements allowed the pioneers (like the invention of the hand-held camera later) a whole range of interesting, additional expressive possibilities.

It has now become possible

  • move towards objects and people, or
  • move away from them, and
  • at a steady pace, or
  • at varying speeds.

In moving automobiles directed into the distance, one could now also “paint” a scenery (in former times this was called nobly and eloquently: panoramize). Or even orbit, a particularly interesting case from a dramaturgical point of view. Such circumnavigations are the trademark of the ingenious cinematographer Michael Ballhaus.

3The royal road: movement in front of the lens and camera movement

Combining the two forms places increased demands on all involved. Camera-wise, because the camera movements usually want to be coordinated with those of the object in front of the lens. In terms of content and dramaturgy, because the change opens up new perspectives that also need to be thought through.

Camera movements in their most complex form: Planning for flight shots

Kamerabewegungen in ihrer komplexesten Form: Planung für Flugaufnahmen

Shots on the water or aerial shots are considered high school and the most demanding combination of gaze changes:

While on the water the movement of the film camera and the setting can still be controlled in a reasonably coordinated way, the flying recording unit is exposed to different turbulences and air currents, which are sometimes difficult to assess.

If one pursues another object in the air or on water, two movement sequences are valid, i.e.

  1. the one of the camera platform with
  2. that of the object to be tracked

in unison.

Cinematographers specializing in this and masters of panning. Specialists like David B. Nowell (e.g. “Pearl Harbor”, “Iron Man”, “Zero Dark Thirty”) not only have a lot of knowledge about different camera movements and camera types, but often also have an aviation and meteorological education.

The more complex the processes, the more valuable a good storyboard can be.

The origin of the moving camera

Camera movements have become lighter and handier due to the technological advances of two world wars.

The film learned to fly and bounce or float in a calmly curving path as if on rails. To accomplish this required a new vocabulary for camera movements:

  • The corresponding technical terms (e.g. camera movement, zoom or pan) are the subject of the next two parts of the series on the moving camera.
  • Part 4 then looks specifically at when and why to move the camera in a video in the first place.

In summary

Just like camera movements, film format is also a part of the work. For more on the subject, see here: “The Ultimate Introduction to Film Formats and Video Formats.”

Camera movements also lend themselves to CEO videos, a genre that remains underrated. Not only because this gives the CEO spatial depth and thus closeness. But because they also help to distinguish the amateur from the professional. For more on lighting, see Lighting for Film and Video: Introduction to Spotlights and Film Lighting.

For more on the moving camera, see the post Good Film Books.

A completely different, world-famous type of camera movement is Bullet Time Shots. Here the lens only seems to go around the scene. In fact, the impression of a 360 circle is created by the montage of a series of individual images.

This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.

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