There are always two means of camera movement in a film or video: either an object moves in front of the camera, or the camera moves. These movement types can also be combined, whereby the object in front of the camera moves as does the camera.
Movement is a fundamental characteristic of the medium film. Nonetheless, a high degree of uncertainty frequently prevails as to how and when movement in communication with moving images should be applied, particularly in the image film and product videos or online videos.
Videothink sheds light on the topic of movement in film and video and the film-related means of expression from diverse perspectives in a four-part series:
Movement in front of the camera lens
During the period of film’s origins, movement was restricted to filming scenes with a camera on a rigid tripod. The fathers of cinema let the images run in the best literal sense and that until they had run out of film – yes, they really were insatiable in savouring this means of expression. The silent films characterised by the comedy of pursuit, for which Chaplin also earned his spurs, are still known to this day: people, frequently police and gangsters, chase each other to and fro in films from this period, get in each other’s way, tumble together wildly, slip and fall.
Movement in front of the camera expresses the physical restrictions of objects which require no impetus from the camera and are not subjected to any changing influence by the camera.Walter Dadek
These films concentrate on the people’s own motion or the movement of objects in front of the camera. The camera itself does not change its position. It remains static and observes, often without editing, without panning and therefore, at today’s standards, with unusually long-lasting identical perspectives.
The moving camera
The second means of movement in film or video is created by the movement of the camera. It is self-evident that in a shot it is not unimportant whether the object in front of the camera is also still in motion or not.
The different techniques of camera movement created new horizons for the cameraman as an artist (and this already during the era of the silent film). The movement of the camera enabled pioneers to use a wide range of interesting additional means of expression. The camera could approach objects or withdraw from them, and this at a constant tempo or changing speeds. Or, focused on the distance while driving in cars, the camera was now able to “butter” a setting (called panning) or even circling, a particularly interesting case from a dramaturgical view, which was later to become the “brand” of the ingenious camera man Michael Ballhaus.
Camera movement in front of the camera and a moving camera
If in a video both the camera and the object in front of it move too, this poses higher demands on all persons involved. Camera-related, because the movements of the camera normally need to be coordinated with those of the person in front of the camera. Content-related and dramaturgically because movement in a video opens a new dimensional aspect which must be equally well thought-out.
Shoots on water or during flight are viewed as a highly skilled and demanding combination of movement behind and in front of the camera. Whereas it is still possible to control the camera’s proper motion on water to a certain extent, flying cameras are subjected to varying turbulences and air currents which are sometimes virtually impossible to assess. If the flying camera follows another flying object, it is important to balance the movement of two objects (the camera platform and that of the object to be followed). Camera operators specialised in this such as David B. Nowell (whose works include Pearl Harbor, Iron Man and Zero Dark Thirty), therefore normally not only have extreme knowledge of camera guidance, but also often have completed technical flight and meteorological training.
In brief, the moved camera, which has become increasingly light and wieldy as a result of the technological advances of two World Wars, learnt to fly and hop or to hover in a calm curved course as if on rails. In order to achieve this, new terminology was required for camera movements. The corresponding specialist terms are integrated into parts 2 and 3 of this series, whilst part 4 then treats the question in detail as to when and why the camera actually needs to be moved at all.
Photo: Shooting the German monumental film “Metropolis” (1927) by Fritz Lang. Camera: Karl Freund.