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.