Now we that we have discussed the essentials of framing and composition it's time to talk about camera movement. There are a number of common camera movements that are used time and again in film and television for a variety of purposes. Thankfully many of these moves are achievable for students with some practice and a tripod.
Moves for Tripod
Whilst not technically a move you should always ask yourself this simple question before filming a shot: Is there any reason to move the camera? A well composed frame set on a tripod might be all you need. Letting the action move through the frame is a commonly used technique by professional's that can be simple and effective. Renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins (although a master of many camera moves himself) is a big advocate of well composed static shots - claiming that much screen time in films today is wasted on unmotivated camera moves. You should by all means encourage your students to move the camera - but make sure they have a reason to do so!
A tilt is simply achieved by vertically tilting the camera upwards or downwards to reveal information to the viewer. A fluid head tripod is required for smooth tilt movements and should be on the top of your equipment list if you do not yet have one (Manfrotto and Miller produce some excellent products for a range of budgets).
A pan is much like a tilt but is a horizontal move move from left to right (or right to left). It is an effective and relatively easy move and can be used to follow the action in a scene or reveal some new information within the shot. Students should however avoid performing this (or any camera move) too quickly.
Tilt and Pan
A move for more experienced users which incorporates left or right movement with an up or down movement simultaneously. With a good fluid head tripod and plenty of practice there is no reason students shouldn't be able to perform this move confidently.
Tracking Shots (or Dolly Shots)
Tracking shots are shots where the camera physically moves on tracks towards or beside it's subject.
The movement towards or away from a subject is very different to a zoom which effectively magnifies an image and is not technically a camera move at all (the zoom should be avoided if at all possible as it looks quite unnatural). The tracking movement beside a subject is also very different from a simple tripod pan as the camera itself is actually physically moving and tracking along with the subject. These shots are often described as being very cinematic and can be very aesthetically pleasing, especially if performed with subtlety. As a result these camera moves are usually associated with big budget productions - but thankfully there are some methods for students to achieve these moves.
Wally Dolly (or similar): The Wally dolly is a simple tracking system that allows you to insert your existing tripod onto a skateboard like frame that rolls across two steel poles. This system takes a degree of patience and practice but can achieve some great results.
(or similar): For more flexibility the Glidetrack is a simple device that attaches to your existing tripod or to a flat surface (for low angle shots). It allows you to produce short but effective tracking shots on various lengths of metal frame. It is quite difficult to get your move right the first time - so will require practice. To aid in any inconsistent moves there are also motorised versions of these devices that produce smoother movement.
There are other creative methods available for producing tracking shots. The tracking shot below was achieved using a very simple method. The tripod was placed on a towel and pulled very slowly across wooden floorboards to create the camera move. It took a few practices but was very cheap and effective method (This was also the technique used in the two tracking shots in the task 3 example video!). Click here to see a simple 'how to' video on achieving this camera move
Another form of movement associated with tracking shots are steadicams. Steadicam rigs allow the operator a great degree of freedom to follow the action and produce smooth fluid movement. Many students may see professional footage shot with a steadicam and want to emulate this type of movement. Steadicam operators have years of experience is what is a specialised and hard to master art form (involving complex rigging and equipment). For some examples of excellent steadicam use watch the four minute fight scene in the film 'The Protector' directed by Prachya Pinkaew, and also the music video by the band 'OK GO' entitled 'This Too Shall Pass - Rube Goldberg Machine version'.
For your students you may consider investing in a Steadicam Merlin (or similar) which is designed to achieve the look of professional steadicams using a camcorder. These are still very specialised pieces of equipment and you will need to be prepared for hours of work in setting it up effectively. One of our students used this device to produce some beautiful camera moves in his final year 12 film production which was nominated for a number of awards. If used correctly steadicam can really add a professional dimension and increased production value to a student's work. Below is a quick test shot using the Steadicam Merlin.
A crane allows the actual camera to move smoothly up and down (and forwards and backwards) on an extended arm or crane. One of the most famous crane shots is from the film 'Touch of Evil' directed by Orson Welles. In this highly technical and amazingly well planned three minute shot the viewer is taken from a close up of a ticking bomb, up and over a building, under a bridge, beside some pedestrians who have a conversation and back to the car. It is a highly technical and expensive technique that can happily be emulated at a fraction of the cost using a jib such as the Kessler Crane. For another impressive opening crane scene watch 'The Player' directed by Robert Altman.
Hand held shots can be used to create a frantic sense of urgency and can give a film an air of authenticity (handheld shooting has long been associated with documentary film production). There are many recent examples in both film and television where this type of camera movement has been used to great effect. The question needs to be asked whether or not it should be a technique encouraged in the classroom with the equipment available.
Unfortunately the answer for most student productions is usually no.
Many students will rationalise the decision to shoot handheld as stylistic choice saying - "I want to get the hand-held look of shows such as .........". It is great that they are enthusiastic and wanting to emulate professionals, but unfortunately the cameras that most schools have are not designed to obtain an acceptable 'handheld' look. The cameras that the Professional's use are usually shoulder mounted and have a more weight than consumer camcorders - therefore they have much more stability and control over the handheld movement. With a lot of practice (and a wide angle lens) some students handheld shots might be acceptable, but for most students it should be the exception rather the rule and most times the footage will simply be unwatchable. What if there is no tripod available?
However sometimes a tripod may not be available and a student will need to shoot hand held with a small camera. Here are a few tricks that can help:
(1) Use the camera's eye viewfinder instead of the flip out screen. This minimises 'arm wobble' as the camera will have the additional contact point of the head to give stability. This is also a better way to shoot in bright daylight conditions as flip out screens can be difficult to see in the sun.
(2) Keep legs at shoulder width with knees slightly bent and push both elbows into the body as you hold the camera with two hands & the LCD screen pointing upwards. This provides a much more stable situation for the camera and can also be used to shoot passable panning shots.
(3) Lean on a solid object. A camera operator can also achieve a much steadier hand held shot by leaning up against solid objects (like trees or walls). Leaning your body and/or arm and camera up against a solid object will ensure a much more stable shot.
(4) Use a small beanbag. A small beanbag on a steady object can be used to get very stable static shots. Objects such as a fence, a desk, a wall or the ground work well in this method. If students are using this method they must be aware that the camera will not have the stability of a professional tripod and extra care will need to be taken.
(5) Make sure you have Image Stabilisation (IS) switched on if your camera or lens has this functionality.
(6) When using any of the above techniques try not to breathe heavily and try and keep camera on the widest zoom setting (if you are zoomed in and handheld it will increase camera shake!).
The footage below was shot using the above techniques and shows that with practice an acceptable look is achievable with no tripod: