Single Camera Filmmaking
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.
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.