Moving the Camera

Lesson Details

Subject: Shooting

Title: Moving the Camera


“Oh No!” After pounding you with the mantra NEVER move the camera, we are going to start talking about – yes- moving the camera. This is not a license to wave the camera around. There are some situations where a camera move is appropriate and editorially motivated, but very few and only in very special circumstances!


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OK so now we’re going to walk into that world of intermediate shooting. Right now, up until now you’ve been doing basic stuff. Which is of course, don’t move the camera. It’s not that hard to do, a series of stills. And for the most part, I want you to keep doing that. This is not a license to start moving the camera. In fact, there’s never going to be a license to start waving the camera around and doing stuff like this. You’ve probably seen this a million times, right? Good shooting is still about discipline and about only moving the camera when you absolutely have to but now, we’re going to start to move the camera but only under very circumscribed circumstances. These are what are called motivated pans.

Ninety-five percent of the time we are still not going to move the camera. And in fact, for most of your career, you’re going to spend ninety-five percent of your time never moving the camera. But every once in a while, you’re going to have to move the camera. You’re going to want to move the camera. Because the move will advance the story. And the only time we’re going to move the camera is when it’s bound to the editorial need to move the camera. So this is not freedom to wave the camera around and find whatever you want. And I still want you to pause between shots.

I want you to pause between shots because I want you to have to set up the next shot. In other words, you’re not free to wave the camera and go “Well I’ve got the close-up on the hands, let me get the face, let me get the wide” but keep rolling the whole time. Do not do that because that gets very messy very fast. Instead I still want you to pause between each shot, set up the next shot when you have it perfectly, hit the record button.

But every once in a while we’re going to now start talking about moving the camera. When do we move the camera? Well you remember when we talked about motion in terms of storytelling, right? We we’re shooting a character and the character got up, reached for the doorknob, pulled the doorknob open like this and we went from the hand to the face. Now in real life if you were shooting the hands and they walked out the door by the time by the time you set up on the face, they would be out the door already.

So there are some times where you simply have to move the character as both economy of time and also to drive the story. You move the camera when your eye naturally moves. Let’s go back to, remember the story about the cutting the carrots in the very beginning? So we were chopping the carrots there’s a close-up on the hands and then we went to the face. Close-up on the hands, to the face. In an edit we would cut from the hands to the face but we might also move the camera from the hands to the face because that’s where your eyes would go naturally. So now how do you move the camera, right? We’re a close-up on the hands down here, we’re chopping the carrots, and then we come up to the face like this, right?

So here’s a good move, right? And here’s a good move. Now I’m going to show you what’s a bad move. Here’s a bad move, oh oh no wait, that’s the shot I wanted there. The trick to moving a camera successfully while you’re recording is to know where you’re going before you start. You have to know what the termination point is. Because essentially you’re taking your viewer by the head and going “look over there”.

You don’t want to take them by the head and go “Oh there’s the thing I was looking for”, because it communicates to them uncertainty on your part about what you’re talking about. So before you start to move the camera, you want to know where the termination point is. Right? From here to here. It can be a very short move from here to here. Or it can be a very long move from here all the way to the other side of the room. But there’s an editorial purpose to doing this because we’re binding this shot to this shot. But all the motion must be from a still to a still and there are two reasons for that. One is that’s how you are in real life. From a still to a still and the other one is that when you shoot a still and you bookend with another still when you get in the edit it gives you the option of editing from a still to a still or taking the move. But the move replaces the edit. Got it?

© Michael Rosenblum & Lisa Lambden 2015