Category: On The Set

Types of Camera Movement

On The Set | By: indie

There are some specific terms that are used to describe the different types of camera movement, and we’ll go over them here. Each of these terms relates to moving the camera along the horizontal, vertical, or depth axis (x, y, or z) in relation to your subject. Descriptions of other terminology can be found in our handy and helpful glossary.

The Pan is when the camera pivots horizontally while it stays otherwise stationary. Imagine an invisible, vertical line going down through the top of your camera, allowing it to spin left or right around this axis. Panning is used to slide a shot from one person to another, to add action to a tense scene, or to introduce a new element that was previously outside the frame.

Tilt is an up-down type of camera movement where the frame changes vertically as the camera stays in place. It can be thought of just the same as a pan, except that the camera moves along its horizontal x axis and the framed area moves from the “ground” to the “sky,” or vice versa. A tilt can show the base of a tree trunk all the way up to its tallest branches, or the foot of a giant, and extend up until you can see the top of the giant’s head.

A Dolly is physical camera movement toward or away from its subject. For example, there are scenes in movies that begin in outer space. The camera begins to dolly in and you see the galaxy, the solar system, the earth, the continent, the country, the city, the building, the person, etc. This would be an example of an extreme (and at least partially computer-generated) dolly. A normal dolly is just movement along the ground in relation to whatever is being filmed.

The Truck is the movement past or alongside an object. You might see a train moving at a high rate of speed with the camera trucking along beside it. A truck does not necessarily keep anything within a certain distance, but is simply the camera moving along a path while facing sideways. When you’re in the car and you look out the window, if your eyes were the camera they’d essentially be “trucking” along the scenery beside the road you’re on.

Pedestal shots are another movement of the camera in space, this time along the y axis. The same situations mentioned with the tilt movements above could be applied to the pedestal shot, except that instead of pivoting up and down to view the range of areas in the shot, the camera actually moves (rather than rotating) up and down from the bottom point to the top, or the opposite.

An Arc is a fairly difficult shot to pull off free-hand. This is when the camera rotates around its subject, keeping the same distance but changing the angle at which it views that subject. The slow-motion arcs in the Matrix movies are perhaps the best and most widely recognized example of this technique (although those were done with multiple cameras instead of just one).

Knowing Your Camera Movements

Knowing these terms is important, especially if you are not always behind the camera or if you’re working with multiple cameras on a shoot and thus multiple camerapersons. Incorporating a variety of different types of camera movement, or just choosing a few specific movements for your camera will allow you to make a stylized film that guides your viewers through the visual space you’ve created. For further reading on creating an effective visual space, take a look at film composition.

Smooth Camera Movement

On The Set | By: indie

Big budget film studios have professional rigs available to them that make it easy to move cameras around and capture sweeping, dynamic shots. A highly specialized piece of equipment such as a jib, dolly, or steadicam is going to be prohibitively expensive to buy, as you might imagine.

Unless you’re able to rent one, it’s unlikely that you’ll have access to any of these items. They are made to be used specifically for filmmaking, and therefore are in fairly limited supply. You’d be surprised though, at how many different motion rigs you can build out of objects that are substantially easier to find.

Controlling Camera Motion

Timing and jitter are the two main factors affecting any camera movement in filmmaking – in other words, how the camera covers the desired area in time with the action happening on-screen, and the degree of smoothness of that movement.

Motion is difficult to achieve successfully without the aid of some foreign device that allows the lens to maintain stability while the camera itself is rotated or moved in physical space in a variety of ways. Term definitions for the various basic camera movements are covered in our filmmaking glossary.

Motion Tips

Let’s move on from the overview now and get into some specific tips and ideas for working with camera movement from a technical standpoint.

Handheld Camera Movement

Pro-grade steadicams can cost thousands of dollars. They use sophisticated mechanisms to hold and balance the camera so that a person wearing one can literally jump up and down and cause minimal jitter in the shot. Pretty amazing stuff, but unfortunately you and I don’t necessarily have several grand that would be well-spent on one of these contraptions.

The biggest problem I come across with handheld shots is that it often looks like the cameraperson was having an epileptic seizure while they were recording. Consumer camcorders are small nowadays – sometimes ridiculously so – and you can’t expect to hold one of these things steady without at least some additional support. See our page on basic video camera techniques for tips on how to properly support a camera with only your hands.

There are two things that, if added to a camera, will immediately reduce jitter – good old fashioned weight, and a lowered center of gravity. The quickest and probably the most readily available method you can use to get both of these things is to attach your camera to a tripod, and then fold up the legs.

A tripod is great for side-to-side pans and up-down tilts. But if you pull up the legs and keep that extra couple of pounds beneath your camera, you’ve made yourself an instant pendulum. In other words, with additional weight concentrated toward the bottom of this rig, the unit is less prone to wiggling and being shaken than the camera alone. Try it sometime. Actually, your tripod should be attached nearly every time you get set up for filmmaking.

High Angle Shots

Now, with your closed-up tripod holding your camera, you can tighten up the adjusters and use this as a height extension. A ladder, stool, treehouse, or the top of your neighbor’s car (while they’re out, of course) are all great places to get high-angle shots from.

When you’re dealing with heights though, don’t be dumb. I mean that. It’s usually wise to find a way to get the shot you need without risking your life.

Low Angle Shots

This is one of those rare instances where you’ll probably need to remove your tripod. You can’t rightly have the thing sticking out the bottom and still get your camera right on the ground. With low-angle shots, the closer you can get to the ground, the better.

Dolly/Truck Shots

Ah, now this is probably the most asked-about type of camera movement there is, and it’s the main reason I’m writing this in the first place. Trying to walk, jog, run, or perform any other type of unaided bipedal movement tends to be a pretty bouncy endeavor, especially when cameras are involved.

If you want to dolly toward or away from a subject or truck along beside it, you’re going to need a smoother ride than that. The keyword here is ride, because there are so many things you can use to get smooth movement out of a camera that you may not have ever thought about.

Your use of any of the items below will depend on the surface you wish to use, the speed of movement you want to reach, and the level of noise interference you can afford to have in your shots.

A skateboard may be a good dolly, although they can be noisy unless you’re on a completely smooth surface – and you can’t really use them at all on carpet, dirt or grass.

A wheelchair will give you a smooth, relatively quiet ride. Don’t go down stairs with it though, and definitely don’t steal them from old ladies. Unless you really, really need one.

Your car can even serve as a fantastic dolly. With electric and hybrid automobiles in growing abundance, yours may have the benefit of emitting a relatively low level of noise. Hatchback and half-door vehicles are great at slow speeds because you can open the trunk and film out the back.

Any wagons, carts or rolling stands/desks you’d find in a home office or kitchen could find limited use as a dolly or truck. Watch items with casters on them that have rotating wheels, though – they may be somewhat unwieldy to manipulate.

Sporting equipment such as bicycles or rollerblades could prove useful, although the noise level may be prohibitive for some applications.

In most of these examples, arm yourself with a can of WD-40 and you may be able to eliminate a lot of the noise from your dolly. You’ll be best off if you can film shots where you’re able to remove the production sound and replace it with a combination of other sounds to get rid of dolly noise entirely.

Single Camera Filmmaking

On The Set | By: indie

Making a Video With One Camera

On network news channels, in major movie production studios, and even on reality TV shows, the segments you’ve become accustomed to seeing are shot using multiple cameras. Each camera is set in a different place to capture the action from a unique angle or perspective, providing the viewer with something new to look at.

Watch any television show, commercial, or movie, and pay attention to how quickly switches are made from one shot to another. We are so used to seeing this type of camera work that it’s one of the things that will quickly flag an Amateur Alert when we watch a video that consists of a single, shaky handheld shot that is used for more than a few seconds.

So I’m going to show you how to plan and shoot while you learn, so you end up with a final product that looks professional and consistent – and use only a single camera to do it.

Single Camera Basics

In order to get several shots of the same sequence when using a single camera, you’re going to have to do it multiple times. Otherwise, there’s no way to capture the action from a different angle. The best way to do this is to plan out a sequence and decide how many camera angles you want to use, then have your subjects or actors run through doing the same thing the same way a few times. This technique is called blocking a scene.

Continuity Matters

It can be kind of a pain, but you need to keep track of every little detail when you’re working on a shoot. Usually there’s a continuity person that gets paid to do this, but if you’re the director this responsibility might end up falling on your shoulders.

Especially if you film a single scene over the course of several meetings or days, things like whether the actors are wearing the same clothes or whether their hair has grown out significantly, is styled differently, or has been cut since the last time you filmed all need to be considered.

Don’t Cross the Axis!

Imagine that you’re filming a sequence in which two people stand still and talk to each other. Say they are facing one another and standing in front of a brick wall that stretches as high as the eye can see and into infinity on the left and right. Think of this brick wall as an imaginary axis of vision that you can never cross.

Click on any of the four cameras below to see how a shot would look from each location. Notice how switching between cameras 1 and 4, or between cameras 2 and 3 have the effect of “morphing” the subject with a jump cut.

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In-Camera Editing

On The Set | By: indie

In-camera editing is a method used to shoot sequences that requires the least amount of money, but also the largest amount of precision. Here’s how it works.

How In-Camera Editing Works

Even the most basic, low-level editing programs are pretty easy to come by these days; you can use Windows Movie Maker if you have a PC or iMovie if you’re a Mac user. But if the only means you have of putting your shots together is inside your camera, you will need to organize and film each shot in sequential order, so that the final scene makes sense when you play the footage back.

One of the ways to make your films look really amateurish and tourist-y is to simply hit record and grab your entire scene in one shot. This is what we call an Amateur Alert – it can be a good thing if that’s the style you’re going for, but in general it looks really bad unless you know what you’re doing. Complete with shaky camera work, quick jolts, bobs and flash pans, this style of filmmaking is sure to induce nausea in even your most hardy viewers.

Right now, you may be thinking about a scene from a major motion picture that looks exactly the way I’ve just told you not to film – an action sequence from a war movie, horror flick, or thriller,complete with quick action, blurry / shaky camera work, and fast-paced movement. But watch a scene like this closely and you’ll notice that there are often several quick cuts between each instant of the action.

Extreme, vibration-tastic close-ups of our intrepid hero’s face are interspersed with wide shots of his expensive, red, soon-to-be-ruined sports car sliding into a handbrake turn as it narrowly slips under a careening tractor trailer. So while they might be more shaky than a one-legged trapeze artist, these scenes aren’t filmed in a single shot, as you would if you were using in-camera editing.

Remember how often multiple shots are used the next time you’re tempted to press record and lean out the passenger side of your friend’s car while he does donuts through a muddy field. Not because it’s ridiculously unsafe; because you shouldn’t forget to take wide shots of the vehicle from a distance, too.

In-camera editing goes like this: you press record, something happens, you stop film. Move to the next shot, press record, capture the action, stop film, etc. In your in-camera videos, you need to practice both keeping a steady hand and framing your shots accordingly as you start and stop recording.

Timing is of utmost importance here, as every second captured on film ends up in the final product. In-camera editing is quite an antiquated method, and it usually doesn’t produce very satisfying results, so if at all possible you should try to get yourself a digital workstation. That way you can spend less time worrying about starting and stopping abruptly, and more time framing your shots appropriately.

Oh and by the way, if you have a computer, you’re not too far off from having a digital workstation, so don’t worry. You may not even need to use in-camera editing if that’s the case. But I’m not trying to throw out confusing buzzwords that deal with equipment that’s totally out of your grasp, so I’ve created another page on the topic of assembling a digital workstation. In fact if you’re interested right now, you can read more about digital workstations.

Directing Actors and Talent

On The Set | By: indie

Let’s face it – unless you’ve got some kind of budget to work with, you’re going to have to know how to be a director. You aren’t going to go out and look for professional actors to star in your next film; instead you’ll probably be grabbing your buddies and telling them how to behave on camera, with promises of the fame and fortune that will most certainly be theirs if they agree to appear in your movie.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter whether you’re working with Samuel L. Jackson or your next door neighbor Sam; your job as director is to lead, provoke, and inspire your talent.

Working With Acting Newbies

People who aren’t used to being on camera have a difficult time pretending it isn’t there and it isn’t pointed right at them, but that’s exactly what you have to get them to do if you want to bring out a believable performance in an inexperienced actor.

It’s true that the classic line, “what’s my motivation?” is often used satirically. Isn’t that what you should be offering to the people in front of your camera, though? You owe it to them to explain who their character is, what they’re like, where they come from and why they do what they do, regardless of whether your genre is comedy, drama, action or anything else.

Comfort Is Key

The typical reaction of a person who is put in a situation where they feel uncomfortable is to do something that breaks the tension they feel. Some people can’t stop smiling, or laugh uncontrollably and get red in the face. Others goof off and turn everything into a joke so nothing gets done. More shy people may clam up and feel like they aren’t able to express themselves in any way but by delivering quiet, monotone lines.

How can you, as a director, turn this behavior around into a productive filming session? Well, if you realize that each of these behaviors stems from discomfort, that means you need to do everything within your power to make your talent feel comfortable.

Start with the no-brainers – tell them to relax, stretch, take a deep breath. Tell them to jump up and down a few times, shake it off. Notice I say “tell,” not “ask.” There are some things you should ask your talent and crew, like to bring you a bottle of water or to rotate a light so that it hits the backdrop differently. But your talent will be made to feel more comfortable simply by virtue of you sounding like you know what you are doing – whether you actually do or not!

Think about it this way: if you’re flying in a plane for the first time, going whitewater rafting, or even getting a haircut, don’t you want to feel like you’re in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing? In these situations, it doesn’t matter if they tell you to buckle your seatbelt, put on your life vest, or tilt your head to the left – you do what you’re told because you believe they’re steering you in the right direction. Take the same approach when you’re working with inexperienced actors.

Keep the camera pointed at them regardless of whether it’s on or off. In fact, tell them that you’re going to do a practice run-through of the scene or shot just for the purposes of blocking the scene, but then actually record it.

Tips For Success

Word to the wise, here: if you have one of those camcorders with a red light on the front that tells people when you’re recording, find a piece of duct tape, electrical tape, or just sharpie over some masking tape. Stick a piece of your completely opaque tape over that light so it never sees the light of day again.

You know how to use a camera, don’t you? Right, so there’s no reason for that light to exist except to tell people on the other side of your camera when it is or isn’t recording. No one needs to know!

Make That Footage Count

Even if you don’t have world-class actors working for you, and you grab the seven-year-old kid from down the street to play the page boy in your medieval film on knightly valor and conquest, you can do a lot to improve the performance of your on-screen talent.

I’m not going to start with the believe in yourself crap here, because that’s not what I’m trying to say. Well not really. Don’t be afraid to tell an actor what you want out of them. Cut film for a minute and take them aside, or take a moment out to explain a line of dialogue or an action. Show them by acting it out yourself, if it helps.

The bottom line is that people who are on camera for fun need coaxing, guidance and direction. It’s helpful for them to be goaded into the embodiment of their character, so don’t be afraid to get vocal, to be assertive, and to give them every possible chance to bring their acting to a level that’s satisfactory and meets the level you want.


On The Set | By: indie

If filmmaking is an art, cinematography could be described as the science of that art. Essentially, cinematography encompasses every camera angle, every piece of equipment, and every technology and technique that affects the visual space within a film.

You may have heard someone describe a movie they’ve seen as ‘good-looking’ in reference to its visual quality. Or maybe you’ve watched one yourself and thought, “this looks amazing!” Since each of the choices that affect the final images in a film are held within the realm of cinematography, it’s important to understand the types of choices directors commonly need to make.


This is such an expansive area that even using the term “color” to talk about it is almost too generic. Production color is affected by your camera and your film stock if you are shooting on film, or by the capabilities of the color processing chip and the tape or other recording medium if you are shooting on video.

Digital devices use one or more CCD chips – which are basically light sensors – to create their images, while film uses a chemical process to create the impressions on each frame. In either case, the quality of both the camera and the final impressed medium is of utmost importance.

The goal of some filmmakers is to achieve accurate color reproduction; that is, a product that is as close as possible to what would appear in the real world. In some situation, however, the image is captured in a fashion that purposely alters it in some way.

For example, an image can be differentiated from the real-world through the use of lens filters to accentuate or cut out certain color frequencies in order to achieve a certain look. See Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000) for an excellent example of color filtering; in this case it is used in conjunction with varying film stocks to provide a visual differentiation between the three storylines in the film.


Many indie filmmakers in particular may not realize the importance of light – or downplay its importance due to inexperience. As a general observation, the more control you give yourself over your light sources, the better your level of manipulation can become in terms of your ability to create a unique and stylized look.

The nuances in how each individual camera handles varying levels of light, along with your f-stop and shutter speed settings, are probably the most important aspect of the end product.

Movement and Pacing

Along with the frequency between which you change shots is the physical movement of both the camera and the subjects in the frame. A herd of wild horses running across a field could be filmed from eye/ground level to increase the intensity or imminency of the stampede, or it could be shot from above from a sweeping crane or sky mount to convey the beauty of the horses, for instance.

For two extreme examples of movement in films, see Taken (2008) and Sling Blade (1996). Taken is an action film using lots of camera movement and faster-paced cuts in general, while Sling Blade is actually known for containing several one-camera, one-angle scenes consisting of a single long shot.


The way you present your ideas and display the focal point(s) of a shot are affected by how you frame your subject(s). Both depth of field and the rule of thirds are essential techniques/concepts to understand when it comes to framing along each of the X, Y, and Z axes.

In order to learn how to create a film that effectively shows the information necessary and pertinent not only for your story, but also for your visual style to take precedence, you need to have a firm grasp on framing techniques. You can be as conventional or as experimental as you want, but keep practicing the basic distance shots (wide, medium, close-up) and the variations thereof until you feel comfortable enough to branch out and try your own stuff.

Learn All You Can

Short of having a professional cinematographer working with you on-set, it’s going to be impossible to have every little detail planned in advance. Even if you spend tons time learning an incredible amount of information and planning out every little detail, it still might not turn out the way you expect. Every shoot is a learning experience. Steven Spielberg himself never stops learning, no matter how many films he makes.

Hopefully this article has given you at least an overview of the fundamentals of cinematography, and you’re on your way toward learning what kinds of things go into making a visually appealing film.

Blocking Out A Scene

On The Set | By: indie

When we talk about blocking a scene, it means that we’re basically rehearsing what we are going to do with the camera and the placement of the principals within the scene. It is a way of getting the rhythm and timing of a shot down so that you aren’t wasting footage while you stumble and bumble through it with your actors not knowing where to stand, how fast to walk, or what to say at specific points in the camera’s motion.

It may not be necessary to go through the steps of blocking out a scene if you’re using mostly still or single-motion camera shots, but for complicated shots that use several sequences of motion without cutting, blocking a scene is imperative if you want to get things looking really smooth and professional in your visuals.

You may have seen a movie at one time or another where there is a big party happening. Sometimes the director will use a very long shot, and hence one that has to be painstakingly blocked in great detail.

The camera comes in the door as music is loudly pumped throughout the house; crowds of people stand around talking to each other with red plastic cups in hand as the camera moves into the living room. A kid runs past the camera, being chased by someone else. The shot moves over to the stairs where a guy is carrying a girl or guiding her by the small of her back. We go down the hallway into the kitchen, and so on and so forth.

During each moment of a shot like the one described above, we may or may not hear snippets of conversation and noise happening as we move through the throngs of people. These might also be important parts of blocking if the voices and/or sounds are recorded live on the set, rather than added later in post-production.

The process of blocking a scene comes from the term used in theatrical productions to position the players on stage during a scene. In filmmaking it also encompasses their position within the frame of the camera, and thus the camera’s movement and position are affected by it as well. Its derivation comes from a director in the 19th century who used actual blocks to work out the positions of his actors on a miniature stage before the live rehearsals took place.