Camera Movement - Video Basics

by Allen Kingsbury & Jarret Brown

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With video, unlike still photography or painting, the frames can move as shots are created. The three most common camera moves are zoom, pan/tilt, and tracking.

In a zoom, the camera lens is used to move closer to or farther from the subject, zooming in or zooming out. A zoom allows you to show context and then push in to show detail. Practice zooming technique with your camera. It is often difficult to start or stop the zoom smoothly. In editing we often start the shot after the zoom has begun and cut away before it finishes, avoiding this roughness in the move. Also it is good practice to record several zoom speeds when possible, since you won’t know how fast the move needs to be until you start the final edit.

For a pan or a tilt, the camera is fixed to a tripod. It moves up and down or side to side. This movement allows the viewer to see more of the environment in the frame as the frame moves around. Under some circumstances you may notice a sort of barrel roll as the fixed camera rotates around a fixed background. Keep in mind that a level camera is critical for this type of movement. As with a zoom it may be a good idea to experiment with multiple speeds to give you more choices in the final edit.

Zoom and pan can be used together to add drama to a scene.


Pan and Zoom

Tracking shot
The third common camera movement is a tracking shot. In a tracking shot the camera (and the camera operator) follows the action. This keeps the subject parallel to the background so there is none of the barrel roll that you might see with a pan. Tracking shots are difficult to do. Professional camera operators use dolly and track rigs, steady cam vests, or car mounted cameras to follow the action. Keep in mind that lead room for your subject (which is discussed in the framing module) is critical.

Tracking shot (correct lead room)

Tracking shot 2 (incorrect lead room)

Dolly in/out
A Dolly shot is when you physically move the camera forward towards (in) or away (out) from your subject. This is achievable on a track, rolling tripod, a stabilizer or simply going handheld and moving in that direction (forward/back).

Trombone shot
Was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock for the movie Vertigo. It's moving the camera forward while zooming out. Or moving the camera back while zooming in.

It was used here to create a sense of vertigo when the main character looked down the stairwell.

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