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Camera movement is one of the most expressive tools for a director to use. Good camera movement can enhance the emotion of a scene, reveal elements that are off-screen, and can help the viewer feel like part of the action. Since it is such a powerful tool, it is very important to know the types of camera movements available as well as the proper time to use them.
By far the most common type of camera movement is a simple pan or tilt. Panning a camera refers to rotating a camera on an axis or tripod horizontally while tilting refers to moving a camera in the same way - only vertically. Both movements are most often used to follow the movement in a scene, but can also be used to reveal elements that were not originally in frame. This can help build a feeling of surprise or advance the storyline of a film. A great example of this can be found in the movie Braveheart when William Wallace runs around the corner of his house. As he does so, the camera pans to the right to reveal an envoy of people who have come to announce the death of William's father. This helps the audience feel the same shock and surprise as William feels when he realizes what the envoy means.
One of the best ways to make a narrative look more professional is to incorporate dolly and truck movements into a scene. A dolly movement is made by moving a camera either closer or further from a subject over time. The movie Tombstone uses a dolly shot in order to see expression on the face of the main character better during an important piece of dialog in the movie. Another move closely related to the dolly is the truck This shot is performed by moving a camera from side to side. Movies such as The Dark Knight use this camera move to set the pace of a scene. The slow dolly movement in this scene is in stark contrast to the action that just happened in the movie - allowing the audience to know that the pace has become more relaxed in this scene. Other movies such as Saving Private Ryan use this movement to follow characters as they move away from the camera and to reveal elements in the foreground that help you gain insight into the story. Dolly moves are most often performed using either a wheeled dolly, a track dolly, or a sliding dolly - depending on the size of the set and the amount of equipment being used. Wheeled and track dollies are great for heavy camera equipment which operators can sit or stand next to, while slider dollies are great for smaller cameras and shorter moves. Additionally, table-top dollies are useful for getting smooth shots from low to the ground or product shots that are placed on a smooth table surface. If you don't have access to a camera dolly, great shots can also be achieved using common items such as wheelchairs and carts.
For those camera moves where you don't want dolly tracks to be seen and where complex motion needs to occur, a sled and vest system is the best option. A sled and vest system usually consists of a weighted camera sled for counterbalance, an elastic arm that can absorb the shock of human movement, and lastly a vest to distribute the equipment's weight evenly over an operator's body. The film Snatch has a shot sequence that shows the kind of unique movement a sled and vest system can achieve. In the film, the camera is moved smoothly past each character giving viewers a unique insight into what each character is thinking or feeling before the tense battle that is about to begin. Even so, a camera and vest system can't eliminate all the shake of human movement. As a result, most operators bend their knees slightly, and walk carefully from heel to toe to dampen the vibration from their footsteps.
Another popular camera move is the boom. A boom is a device consisting of a camera that is attached to an arm that can pivot on a fixed point through space. This move is useful for many of the same reasons as a tilt or pan movement like this clip from the Dark Knight shows, with the added benefit of allowing for both low and high angle shots. A boom movement is useful for many other purposes too. For example, in the movie The Shawshank Redemption, a boom movement is used to represent the new-found freedom of the main character who had escaped from having been in jail for many years. Boom arms often require additional setup time as many pieces need to be joined together for it to work. Also, heavy weights are also needed to balance a camera at the other end of the boom arm which can make the unit very heavy. As a result, shots utilizing a boom arm need to be planned well ahead of time to make sure there is plenty of time and access to set up the equipment.
Clever camera movement is one of the best ways to add drama and information to a scene. That's why knowing how and when to use dollies, boom arms, sled and vest systems, and tripods in your story can give your production an engaging and emotional boost.