7 Types of Camera Movement

And When To Use Them

When we as filmmakers first start making movies, our cinematography technique is usually very limited. We tend to stick to what we know works, which often means a static camera. However, professional films use a mix of camera angles, shot types, and camera movement to tell a story.  This is part of the art of cinematography.

To make the most of the visuals in your film, try to schedule more time on creating a shot list during pre-production. This will allow you to do shot tests and hire out any specialist equipment you need before filming begins.  (If you need a shot list template, we’ve got you covered.)

Below you can find a list of 7 common types of camera movement, with detail on how each adds dramatic value to a scene.  We’ll also provide an example of how this camera movement was used in a classic film to enhance the cinematography.

7 Types of Camera Movement

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1. Zoom

A zoom is when you change the focal length of a zoom lens. You can zoom in or out of a shot. The zoom alone is rarely used in contemporary filmmaking but a more popular movement is the dolly zoom. This requires you to zoom whilst moving on a dolly track, which in turn creates a distorted effect.

Zoom Dolly Shot Storyboard from Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock
Vertigo (1958) directed by Alfred Hitchcock. This is the first film in which a dolly zoom was used. A Point of View (POV) dolly zoom shot is used to visually show the lead character’s dizziness and fear of heights. This allows the audience to see and feel the character’s fears.  Watch the shot.

2. Pan or Tilt

A pan occurs when the camera pivots left or right horizontally. Tilt is when the camera moves up or down vertically. These types of camera movement can be done either mounted on a tripod or handheld. The use of a pan or tilt allows you to reveal new information in real-time, without cutting away. A pedestal shot is similar to tilt and pan but is only used when referring to a TV broadcast camera.

Tilt Pan Shot Storyboard from Leon: The Professional by Luc Besson
Leon: The Professional (1994) directed by Luc Besson. A slow tilt-up is used to reveal the character, Matilda. She wears cartoon leggings, has a grown woman’s haircut, and smokes a cigarette. These contradictions are integral to her character and the story.  Watch the shot.

See also: How to Storyboard a Film For Beginners (With Free Template!)

3. Dolly or Track

A tracking shot occurs when a camera is mounted to a dolly and is pushed along a track. The names are used interchangeably. The use of a track allows the dolly to move smoothly much as if it was on train tracks. A dolly track can move forwards, or side to side (crabbing). The track can also be laid out in any length or shape.

Dolly Track Shot Storyboard from Reservoir Dogs by Quentin Tarantino
Reservoir Dogs (1992) Quentin Tarantino. A circular tracking shot is used in the opening scene to introduce multiply characters around a diner table. The film has many lead characters and this allows them all to have an even amount of introduction time.  Watch the shot.

4. Steadicam

The Steadicam is a camera stabilization mount invented in the 1970s. The use of Steadicam creates the feeling of being handheld but with the stability of a tripod. It allows the camera operator to move in and out of scenes with ease. This creates a smooth flow like movement which is why Steadicam shots are often used in dream and fantasy sequences.

Stedicam Camera Shot Storyboard from The Shining by Stanley Kubrick
The Shining (1980) directed by Stanley Kubrick. A Steadicam movement is used to follow the character Danny as he runs through a maze giving the impression that he being chased. In the famous shots where Danny rides his bike around hotel corridors a wheelchair was used to mount the camera on to. Watch the shot.

7 Types of Camera Movement

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5. Handheld

A handheld camera shot is simply when the camera is operated from the hand. It’s often used in documentary or home-style videos and gives an unstable effect. Often films will cut to a handheld movement during an action scene. The use of handheld has been used more frequently in modern filmmaking with the increased quality of digital cameras. If you are currently working on your own film project, check out our library of free production templates.

Storyboard of a handheld shot from the Blair Witch Project by Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick
Blair Witch Project (1999) directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick. The film is entirely made up of handheld shots to give the impression of found video footage. When the film was released it was marketed as being actual documentary footage.  Watch the shot.

6. Crane or Jib

A crane shot is created by attaching a camera to the arm of a crane allowing the camera to be raised or lowered. It’s often used to create a high angle shot that looks down onto a scene or gives details to a new location. A Jib is smaller than a crane but effectively creates a similar movement. As such the words crane and jib are often used interchangeably.

Storyboard of crane shot from Gone With The Wind by Victor Fleming
Gone With The Wind (1939) directed by Victor Fleming. A long crane shot is used to reveal hundreds of soldiers injured on a battleground. This shows the shocking scale of the war which would only be less impressive if shown on a single a low angle shot.  Watch the shot.

7. Aerial

Most aerial shots used to be captured from a plane or helicopter, but they are now usually shot using remote-controlled aerial drones. Aerial shots give a more dramatic and kinetic perspective than static wide shots do. Often this is used in the opening of films to show the setting. It can also be used to reveal something that could only be fully seen from a height. Unlike other types of camera movement, an aerial shot can provide you with a full 360 view of a scene.

Storyboard of aerial helicopter shot from The Sound of Music by Robert Wise
The Sound of Music (1965) directed by Robert Wise. The famous opening shot of Julie Andrews dancing on the hills was created with a helicopter aerial shot. In a few seconds, the audience is shown the films setting and also understands that this will be a musical feature. Watch the shot.

What types of camera movement you use is unique to every scene and story. Next time you make a film consider being more experimental with your cinematography choices. Here at SetHero, we can help you manage and organize your film projects, for starters we have a library of free production templates.

7 Types of Camera Movement

Professional Shot List Template

Professional Free Customizable

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Amy Clarke

Amy is a film blogger based in Liverpool UK. She worked on numerous productions, working her way up from independents to major budget feature films. Amy now works as a blogger writing about the film industry. You can follow her work at amyclarkefilms.com

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