It’s amazing how small today’s camcorders are. They can easily fit in the palm of your hand, they’re comfortable to hold and they weigh next to nothing. In the old days, video cameras were so big and clunky that any movement required a great deal of effort. Today, moving your camcorder is as easy as twisting your wrist.
But just because you can move your camcorder easily, doesn’t mean you should move it willy-nilly, all over the place. Camera movement just for movement’s sake can detract from your shot. It’s also the hallmark of an amateur videographer, not to mention a major cause of viewer queasiness. In order to polish your camerawork, you’ll need a basic understanding of camera-move aesthetics. In other words, we’ll discuss good camera moves and how you can use them to your advantage.
You already may be familiar with the basic moves. Pan and tilt are common camera moves; you no doubt perform these moves already even if you aren’t familiar with their names. When you pan, for instance, you move the camcorder side to side. And when you tilt, you move the camcorder up and down. If you’re holding the camcorder to your eye, panning and tilting can be as easy as moving your head up and down or side to side. There’s little physical movement required of you to pan or tilt the camcorder because you are simply changing the angle of the camcorder with respect to the horizontal or vertical planes, without changing its location.
Dollying and trucking, however, are a different story. When you dolly, you physically move the camera forward or backward. Trucking also requires moving the camera from one spot to another but the movement is lateral, to the left or right. Unlike panning and tilting, where you only move the camera, dolly and truck moves require both you and the camcorder to move. You can dolly and truck on foot, in a car, on a bike, in a wheelchair, on a skateboard or by any other ingenious means you may think of. Some people use the terms dolly and truck interchangeably. This is because the hardware used to perform each of these moves is usually referred to as a dolly. A dolly can be a high-tech tripod with wheels or a simple platform with wheels. You can have a track so the dolly moves smoothly or you can roll free wheel.
When you dolly and truck at the same time you create a shot called an arc. You probably recognize the term as defining a semicircular shape. Likewise, when you perform an arc, you and the camcorder move in a semicircular fashion around your subject.
Finally, there is the pedestal. To pedestal, you raise or lower the camcorder with respect to the ground. As with dollying, this term is also derived from studio work. When camera operators raised and lowered the cameras on pedestals, they would refer to the move as a pedestal up or pedestal down.
Pan and Tilt for Scope and Size
Suppose you need to get a shot of a large subject – one that won’t easily fit within your camera’s frame. This might be a mountain range or it might be an office building. In any event, you can approach the shot with a variety of camera moves in mind. If you want to imply scope, you can use a simple pan. By slowing panning from one side of your subject to the other, you give your viewer a sense of your subject’s size. If your subject is tall, use a tilt to reveal its immensity, little by little.
Pedestal for Powerful Perspectives
Sometimes a shot from above your subject may be preferable. If you’re in the middle of a large crowd, for instance, panning and tilting probably won’t show too much to your viewer. A pedestal shot may be in order. You may want to begin by holding your camcorder at eye level and then slowly lift the camcorder as high as you can above your head. This move will make the viewer feel as if he is rising above the throng and getting a better view of the situation. You can get an even higher shot by first mounting the camcorder on a tripod and then lifting it along with the camcorder, above your head.
Move Your Audience with Dollys and Trucks
Physically moving the camera is sometimes the best way to connect your viewer to your shot, because it allows your viewer to walk through the location with you. In these cases, you’ll want to dolly or truck your camcorder through the shot. You can do this by simply walking with the camcorder. This is the Cops style of shooting. For smoother shots, find some wheels to make your camcorder glide through the scene.
In general, any device with wheels will work as a makeshift dolly. Office chairs work great in a pinch, as do wheelchairs, skateboards and shopping carts. Have a friend wheel you around on a hand truck. Put your inline skates on and roll all by yourself. Shooting out of your car’s window can also make a great dolly or truck move. Just make sure you’re the passenger and not the driver of the car.
As you can see, camera moves can range from very simple, hand-held techniques to more complex and involved methods. You probably don’t have professional equipment at your disposal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improvise. As you do so, just remember to keep your camera moves slow and controlled. The goal is to enhance your shot, not detract from it.
Too much unwarranted movement can ruin an otherwise good shot. Be sure to choose your camera moves wisely so they help convey your message. And if you are ever in doubt about a move, take a chance and see how it works. You might just discover your own style and techniques. There’s no limit to what you can do with camera moves. You can get as creative as you like. That means combining moves, innovating and using equipment to help with your camera moves.