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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Comment from Small God (from Uganda, E.Africa)
Time: June 20, 2009, 1:53 pm

Hi. All this is good stuff. Am enjoying it. Kind’o stumbled on this site, but it is truly resourceful especially for people like us who are just starting out in video production. I possess a Sony DCR-TRV900 camcorder, and can access a friend’s editing facilities, that’s all. The rest I have been wondering how to acquire, but with Indie film making courses, I now know, I can easily improvise. Thanks Indie! *** I can’t see the images to click on for cameras 1, 2,3,& 4.

Comment from indie
Time: June 30, 2009, 1:28 pm

Hey Small, you should be able to see the Flash demo now. I forgot to upload it when I transferred over from the old static site to the new WP blog format.

Comment from Faysal Jawwad
Time: May 20, 2010, 8:54 am

Great Stuff and information. Thank you very much Indie. I’m working on a project and i found what i looking for. Where can i find your demo work? I’ll be using sony vegas for video editing and frutiyloops for audio. Again thnx for such great stuff.

Comment from Siu-hay
Time: February 1, 2011, 8:14 am

Hi! I just discovered this website and the information here is really practical and useful. Thanks for sharing this. I really like the part where you talked about camera stabilizer!

Comment from nangai dav
Time: April 6, 2012, 5:49 pm

this kind of good stuff in africa especially in uganda we are struling with video using single cameras and man it is hard anyhow thanks for the tips

Comment from perry
Time: September 2, 2013, 12:28 pm

even big movies with continuity people have errors

Comment from Aliya
Time: September 11, 2013, 12:42 am

Hi! Thanks for the help, I had a question. If I am filming with one camera, should I do all of the scenes in chronological order of the script?

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