Cinematography Tutorial: How Moving the Camera Can Help You Tell Stronger Stories
Simon Cade is at it again, this time with a helpful tutorial on the reasons why camera movement can take your cinematography to the next level.
Even though this video explores the reasons behind why filmmakers choose to move the camera, I want to start with a few reasons why you shouldn't move the camera. Reason one: because camera movement looks cool and adds production value. The main problem with this is that when there's no discernible reason or motivation for the camera to be moving, chances are that it will do little other than draw attention to itself and distract the audience.
Reason two: moving the camera just because you can. We live in a utopia of affordable camera movement tools, which is great, but it also puts people in a perpetual camera movement mindset. It's easy to think that owning a gimbal stabilizer means that you should use it all day every day. In truth, that will likely desensitize your audience to the moments when the camera movement is actually working well and serving your story. They'll be so used to seeing the camera move arbitrarily that they won't really care during moments when it moves purposefully.
As Simon mentions in the video, there are three basic reasons that a cinematographer chooses to move the camera.
- To follow on-screen movement. This is by far the most common reason. Think of tracking shots where the camera is moving alongside a character who is walking down the street. Or when a character sits or stands, and the camera moves to adjust the frame. If an important character or object is moving through a scene, a well thought out camera move that mimics that movement can make the scene more engaging and immersive for an audience.
- To reveal or hide pieces of visual information in the scene. You've probably seen examples of this thousands of times. The most common is when a character is framed in a medium closeup (or some similar framing) and the camera moves slightly to one side revealing another character standing behind them. Whenever there are important characters or objects that show up in the middle of a scene, using a well-designed camera movement can serve as an excellent dramatic device when it come revealing that new information to the audience.
- To highlight the emotional state of a character. This is probably the hardest camera movement concept to grasp because it's fairly intangible and up for interpretation. The two most common forms of this are push-ins and pull-outs with a dolly. The push-in often emphasizes a strong emotional moment or realization, while the pull-out is usually associated with loneliness and loss. It's important to remember that these movements are up for interpretation. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to visually portraying emotion. As long as you understand the emotion you're trying to convey, and you design your camera moves around that emotion, you'll be fine.
If you're interested in seeing some of the examples and inspirations that Simon talks about in the video, head on over to DSLRGuide and check them out. Also, be sure to check out the previous installments of Simon's "Storytelling with Cinematography" series, where he shared practical tips for telling stronger stories through both composition and lighting.
What are your favorite methods for motivating camera movement, and what are some examples of those methods in action? Share them with us down in the comments!