Camera panning – movement in film and video (Part 2)

Horizontal or vertical axis?

Movement in Film and Video Movement in Film and Video

Camera movements around the camera’s horizontal or vertical axis are described as camera panning shots. On the technical side, there are a large number of highly specialised devices for taking vertical or horizontal panning shots and these enable all conceivable camera movements. How are panning shots used correctly in film and video communication?

During the pioneering years, movement happened in front of the camera. The camera itself rested on a platform in a stable, fixed position, whilst the actors hopped, tumbled and jumped in front of the lens in comedies characterised by the comedy of pursuit. When the camera began to move, still during the pioneering period of the silent film, this opened up new universes in film language. For commissioned films, the resulting film-related tools of the trade are generally only known at a highly superficial level. Part 1 of the four-part series therefore incorporates basic thoughts regarding movement in films and videos. Part 2 handles camera panning exclusively, part 3 deals with tracking shots, whilst part 4 poses the question as to why and when the camera actually needs to be moved.

Camera movements around its horizontal or its vertical axis are described as panning shots. On the technical side, there are a large number of highly specialised devices for taking vertical or horizontal panning shots and these enable all conceivable camera movements. Manual panning shots can also be taken with hand-held cameras, indeed – in the age of video recording with smartphones – they have already more or less become part of everyday life.

When is a panning shot justified?

Camera panning can occur for six functional reasons:

  1. To gain an overview
  2. To guide the audience’s view
  3. To follow moving objects
  4. As an organic transition between two settings
  5. To replace cutting (by changing objects)
  6. For rhythmical film reasons, whereby camera movement occurs as a partial element of a larger, dramaturgical whole.

The speed of the panning shot must therefore both harmonise with the movement of the film image and the editing as well as the frequency of the panning shot. Whatever happens, if image elements from two consecutive elements are in motion, they must be coordinated. However, the movement of the image elements must be designed not only in the interaction between them but also in combination with the camera panning shot, so that the transitions can diffuse. And, like all camera movements, panning shots must always [LINK ] be motivated by content.

Panning shots are not identical

The slow panning shot

Slow panning shots allow a perception of changes and precise viewing. They take away the audience’s sense of real time, therefore creating an atmosphere. The best-known means is with panoramas, where the camera slowly pans over a picturesque landscape. From a dramaturgical view, slow panning is mostly retarding, i.e. it delays the eagerly anticipated continuation of the story. If this is the case, slow panning should not be used as often as desired.

The searching panning shot

The searching panning shot edges towards something. It searches, selects and informs. Mostly, the searching panning shot follows moving objects. These may be people and animals, but also cars and aircraft. The tempo of the camera movement for the searching panning shot is always dependent on the movement of the object accompanied by the camera. However, the searching panning shot may be used without following an object. In such cases, the camera movement must be selected even more carefully. Normally, the camera then pans more slowly than during the pursuit of an object and the larger the focal length or the smaller the shooting angle, the more calmly the searching panning shot moves.

The fast panning shot

With its speed, the fast panning shot naturally causes surprises, which explains why it is also dramaturgically so important in editing. Sudden reactions by the protagonist or antagonist or the confrontation of contradictions, dramatic points in the dialogue or sudden turns in a film’s or video’s plot are typical cases in which the fast panning shot is applied. Fast camera movements must be even more strongly driven by content than slow camera movements. Equally, they must be coordinated with the object’s motion sequences in front of the camera and the cutting rhythm. Fast panning shots which knowingly contravene these specifications can also be applied deliberately in order to create special moods.

The swish panning shot

The swish panning shot is one of the panning shot’s more spectacular application types. It is created through the sudden, unexpected movement of the camera. The camera is panned so abruptly that details in the image can no longer be perceived. The swish panning shot can therefore also be described as a “swipe aperture” generated by the camera. A hard cut can be made to the next image from a swish panning shot without the cut having a disturbing effect or appearing to be visible.


Photo: Shooting the German monumental film “Metropolis” (1927) by Fritz Lang. Camera: Karl Freund.

About Videothink Team
Articles by the Videothink team are collaboratively-written by more than one member of the videothink publishing team.

Leave a comment

(Your email address will not be published.)


*