February 12, 2017

The Visual and Emotional Effects of Using Dolly and Zoom Shots in Your Film

Martin Scorsese on the set of 'Taxi Driver'
How do dolly and zoom shots affect your audience differently as you move them through space? 

Changing perspectives and moving through diegetic space using dolly moves and zooms is an effective way of delivering visual messages to your audience, but their effects differ greatly in terms of how they make viewers feel. In this video from Film Riot, host Ryan Connolly breaks down the many differences between the two, explaining how each work not only visually, but emotionally as well. Check it out below:

Zooming used to be much more pervasive in the 60s and 70s, but soon became regarded as outdated and unfashionable. Though they've experienced a bit of a comeback as a retro throwback technique, zooms have taken a backseat to dolly moves, which are much more ubiquitous in modern cinema.

But the two techniques are not one in the same and in fact have very different effects on the audience's emotions and interpretation of events unfolding on-screen.

For example, using a dolly to push in, to move the camera closer to a subject, gives the viewer a sense of being in the same space as the subject, or within the diegesis. Connolly describes dollying in as the viewer walking toward a subject. This can allow them to feel a certain intimacy with a character, or feel more present in the scene.

'The Conversation' (1974)

Zooming, on the other hand, is a magnification of the frame rather than a camera move, so it has very different emotional and psychological effects. Because a zoom compresses the background and flattens the shot, it can cause the audience to feel claustrophobic or force them to fixate on a single subject. Zooming can also be used to give viewers a sense of paranoia. Francis Ford Coppola used zooms to this effect in his 1974 psychological thriller The Conversation—the camera became less an eye through which the audience could see events unfold and more a lens through which the audience could surveil each character.

The important lesson here is that every camera movement or technique can have a different emotional and psychological effect on your audience. Learning what each of them are can help you make informed decisions on how to tell your stories visually and produce the response you want from your viewer.      

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