Although camera movements are often implemented to add dynamism to shots, their best appearances are when new information is revealed. At the beginning level, budding filmmakers sometimes tilt and pan without the proper motivation. Camera moves can be distracting and even annoying when overused or used without a reason.
During a pan, the camera is aimed sideways along a straight line. Note that the camera itself is not moving. It is often fixed on tripod, with the operator turning it either left or right. Panning is commonly utilized to capture images of moving objects like cars speeding or people walking; or to show sweeping vistas like an ocean or a cliff.
One of the earliest and best appearances of panning was in Edwin S. Porter’s 1903 movie Life of An American Fireman. While the camera follows the fire brigade approaching their destination, the operator pans to reveal it – a house burning. Remember: the best pans are used to reveal information.
A smooth pan with be slow enough to allow the audience to observe the scenery. A fast pan will create blur, in which case it will be called a Swish pan. Newsgathering etiquette demands panning from left to right, as to allow the viewer to read any text that may be captured on camera, like headlines or marquises.
Tilts refer to the up or down movement of the camera while the camera itself does not move. Tilts are often employed to reveal vertical objects like a building or a person.
When the entire camera is moved forward or backward, this move is called dolly. If the camera is on tripod, the tripod will also be moved. Dollies are often used when recording a subject that moves away or toward the camera, in which case the goal would probably be keeping the subject at the same distance from the camera. For an optimal dolly, the camera should be mounted on a wheeled-platform, such as an actual dolly, or a shopping cart, depending on the budget. Moving the camera forward is called dolly in. Moving the camera backward is called dolly out.
Tracking is similar to dolling. The main difference being that in dollies the camera is moved toward or away from the subject, whereas in a track shot, the camera is moved sideways, parallel to an object.
In a pedestal move, the camera body will physically be lowered or elevated. The difference between tilts and pedestals is that in the former, the camera lens is just being aimed up or down, whereas in the latter, the camera is being vertically moved.
Despite a common misconception, the terms “zoom” and “dolly” are not interchangeable. With dollies, the camera is being moved in a physical space. With zooms, the camera remains at a constant position, but the lens magnify or minimize the size of the subject.
Zooms happen at the push of a button. Zoom in refers to seemingly “approaching” the subject, thus making it look bigger in the frame. Zoom out refers to seemingly “distancing” the subject, thus making it look smaller.
Note that zooms change focal length, thus affecting depth of field. Zoom in transforms the lens into telephoto, while zoom out changes it into wide-angle. Zooming is considered amateurish and is not preferred by professional. An interesting exception is the opening shot of The Conversation (1974), in which Francis Ford Coppola elects zoom to articulate the film’s themes of espionage or voyeurism.
Note: Zooms are not really moves, for the camera doesn’t change position. But, in film studies and filmmaking courses, they have been traditionally combined with real camera moves.
Dolly Counter Zoom
A dolly counter zoom is a rare type of shot of great stylistic effect. To accomplish it, the camera must dolly closer or further away from the subject while the zoom is adjusted so the subject’s size remains the same. Notably, Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), and Scorsese’s Goodgellas (1990) used dolly counter zoom to demonstrate a character’s uneasiness.