As cameras have become smaller over time, new technology is constantly being invented to move them in every direction possible. Understanding the effects of the different types of camera movements in film is essential for every filmmaker to understand. It not only makes them better cinematographers or directors, but better storytellers. Using the right movement that best serves your story will help you make each shot as effective as possible.
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Camera movement definition
Different types of camera movement
Before we take a look at the complete list of the different types of camera movements in film, let’s first take a look at the camera movement definition. This will help us better understand the best camera movements and why filmmakers use them.
CAMERA MOVEMENT DEFINITION
What is camera movement?
Camera movement is a filmmaking technique that causes a change in frame or perspective through the movement of the camera. Camera movement allows cinematographers and directors to shift the audience's view without cutting. Specific types of camera movements in film also can create a psychological and emotional effect on the audience. These effects can be used to make a film more immersive and engaging.
Examples of types of camera movements in film:
- Push in
- Pull Out
When it comes time to create a shot list for your next project, which camera movements will you choose? There are many types of camera movements in film, each with their own storytelling value.
For future reference, follow the image link below to download a PDF of our custom shot list with each type of camera movement. Can you guess which movies these images are from? Follow the link for the answers.
Camera movement terms
The first on our list of the types of camera movements in film is the static shot. A static shot has no camera movement at all. It is achieved by locking a camera to a fixed-position typically with a tripod. The stability of a static shot makes it non-distracting. This makes it one of the best camera movements for shot-reverse-shot dialogue, precise composition, or showcasing an actors’ performance.
A key distinction to Martin Scorsese’s directing style is allowing room for improvisation from his actors. Static shots with multiple cameras are perfect for capturing these moments. Check out this video comparison by Screenplayed that compares the final cut and screenplay of this Wolf of Wall Street scene. Note how much improvisation is included.
To capture these moments where anything can happen, a static shot allows actors to work the scene together and produce something authentic. As great as static shots can be, deliberate and motivated camera movements can be incredibly effective storytelling devices.
Pan camera movement
Pans are often motivated by a character’s actions. They can also be used to reveal new information to the audience.
When done quickly with speed, the fast camera movement is known as a whip pan. Whip pans are one of the best camera movements to add energy to a shot. Whip pans can be used between two characters rather than cutting to establish a more energetic connection.
We analyzed the whip pans of La La Land in this video essay to see how they effectively energize the relationship between Sebastian and Mia.
Tilt camera movement
Camera tilts are just like pans, only vertical. Tilt camera movements direct a camera upward or downward. Camera tilts can be used to give a character dominance in a shot or to reveal new information to the audience. Tilts enable filmmakers to capture the verticality of a film in moments of awe and spectacle.
Steven Spielberg’s style uses the tilt often. In one of Spielberg’s best movies, Jurassic Park, he uses the tilt when first introducing the dinosaurs. The camera tilt perfectly captures the emotions of the film’s characters while eliciting awe in the audience.
Spielberg is known for his dynamic camera movement. This scene is a perfect example of how a tilt up camera movement can have an emotional response. Sir Steven is also known for the Spielberg oner — his uncanny ability to use different types of camera movements to shoot complete scenes in one shot.
Spielberg’s intentional camera movement can be found throughout some of his best work.
Dolly camera movement
A push-in moves the camera closer to a subject typically with a dolly camera movement or Steadicam. Push-ins can draw the audience's attention toward a specific detail. Filmmakers also push-in toward characters to try and infer what is occurring internally. This can be a reaction, thought process, or internal conflict.
Check out the analysis of this push-in shot from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Cinefix compares the use of the push-in with a dolly camera movement to a static shot to show its impact on the scene.
Consider this scene from The Godfather. As Sonny and Tom spar over how to handle the family business after Don Corleone's assassination attempt, the camera barely moves.
That is, until the moment Michael decides to step up and take control. The static camera leading up to that moment allows for even the slightest push in to Michael seem like a grand and powerful moment. Here's a breakdown of the scene and how Coppola uses camera movement with masterful purpose and precision.
Subtle push-ins like these can have an enormous impact on how we perceive characters. They can be the missing component that connects an audience to a character and what they are thinking.
Camera movement terms
The camera pull out is the exact opposite of the push in. A pull out is a smooth camera movement that moves the camera further away from a subject. This movement causes the subject to grow smaller while simultaneously revealing their surroundings.
Pull outs can be used to reveal setting and characters. Emotionally, pull outs can highlight a character’s isolation or loneliness. Stanley Kubrick uses this to detach us from Jack in this scene from The Shining.
As Jack descends into madness in the film, the pull out allows Kubrick to distance us from Jack, just as Wendy does. Kubrick demonstrates how to use the pull out to both reveal information and entice emotion.
Camera movements zoom
Although zooms are technically not a camera movement they do create movement within the image. Zooms change the focal length of a camera lens to either zoom in (magnify) or zoom out (de-magnify) the size of a subject in the frame.
Zooms are unique because there is no equivalent to it in the experience of the human eye. Zooms can feel artificial or even unnatural. For these reasons, zooms are one of the best camera movements to use in horrors and thrillers.
The zoom is commonly found in Stanley Kubrick’s directing style. By using it on specific characters, Kubrick makes us feel uneasy by them as they descend into madness like in this shot from Full Metal Jacket.
When watching Kubrick’s best films, keep an eye out for zoom shots. Although zooms may not be as prevalent in modern cinema, they can still be effective storytelling devices when used with intention. And the best way to understand the intention behind a shot is to study masters like Kubrick.
Types of camera movements in film
One of the more heavy-handed camera movements is the dolly zoom. A dolly zoom is achieved by dollying the camera away from or toward a subject while simultaneously zooming in the other direction. Dolly zooms are an incredibly intentional camera movement because they have such a specific effect.
The visual effect of a dolly zoom that is distinctive. In the fantasy and horror genre, it is used to portray a supernatural force. We break down an example of this from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in this video essay.
Filmmakers have used the dolly zoom to visually portray other conflicts as well. It is commonly used to capture the internal conflict of a character. The dolly zoom can also be used in a positive way. By making the background larger while maintaining foreground size, the dolly zoom can also establish a relationship between two characters.
Roll camera movement
The camera roll is a rotational camera movement that rotates the camera over its side on its long axis. Rolls can be dizzying and unnatural. For this reason, filmmakers use it to disorient the audience or create uneasiness. It’s specific effect makes it a very intentional camera movement that should only be used when wanting to elicit a discomfort in the audience.
Sometimes these effects tie in to a film’s theme, such as in this scene from one of the best Marvel movies, Black Panther. When Killmonger takes the throne, the sense of uneasiness in Wakanda is echoed to the audience through a slow camera roll.
Imagine if this scene had been shot with just a push in and no camera roll. The instability of Wakanda and the apprehension of the film’s characters would be felt less by the audience.
Tracking camera movement
A tracking shot is any shot that physically moves the camera through the scene for an extended amount of time. Tracking camera movement often follows a traveling subject, though they can be used to simply show off the scene. Check out our breakdown of the best tips to shooting better tracking shots.
Truck camera movement is a type of tracking shot that moves laterally left or right. Truck camera movement has historically been achieved with a dolly tracking camera movement. Modern Steadicams have allow complex shot movements that move the camera in all directions.
Steadicam camera movement has become more prevalent in modern films. Here's a breakdown of the camera, lenses, and camera movements Roger Deakins used to make 1917 look like a single tracking shot.
Tracking shots can be found in nearly every modern film. Analyzing how your favorite filmmakers use tracking shots will help you become a better filmmaker.
Camera movement terms
The arc shot orbits the camera around a subject in an arc pattern. Arc shots are typically used to add energy to a shot in which characters have minimal actions. Christopher Nolan uses the arc shot in The Dark Knight to add to the menacing energy of the Joker.
Imagine if the shot was captured statically on a tripod. Sure Heath Ledger’s performance would still make it engaging. However, the arc shot movements create uneasiness in the audience immediately just as Rachel feels. The result is an uneasy, yet incredible Joker finale in one of Christopher Nolan’s best films.
Pedestal camera movement
To move the camera vertically upward or downward, filmmakers turn to the boom shot. Boom shots are achieved by using boom crane camera movements, pedestal camera movement, and jibs. They can be small boom movements typically used for reveals and characters.
Other times, filmmakers use large boom movements to show off the setting of a scene. These shots are known as establishing shots. Check out our analysis of what makes great establishing shots great. Note which ones use boom camera movements.
Large boom movements immediately add production value to a film. The scale boom shots can create has drawn audiences to the theatre throughout cinematic history.
What is handheld camera movement?
Sometimes, camera movements are not motivated by character actions, but rather audience experience. Filmmakers often add random movement to a shot via camera shake through a handheld shot to heighten the intensity of a scene.
When used more subtly, the random movement can establish subjectivity for the audience. This is often used in films that are based on true events. In combination with arbitrary zooms, the random movement in The Big Short stylistically gives a subjective, documentary feel to the film.
Random movement can be over used, so be sure to use it with intention and restraint if necessary. Too much of it and the random movement will be ineffective. Too little and it will go unnoticed. The random movement should always serve the story.
Types of Camera Rigs and Gear
Once you decide what types of camera movements in film you want to use in your project, it is important to determine what equipment to use to achieve it. There are various types of camera rigs and gear that can accomplish nearly every camera movement. Understanding the function of each will help you get a better grasp of the cinematic tools at your disposal.