Camera Movement


The two most basic forms of camera movement are panning and tilting; both involve the rotation of the camera while it is attached to a fixed stand. A pan (from "panorama") moves the camera from side to side on a horizontal axis, providing the sense of looking to the left or the right. A tilt moves the camera up and down on a vertical axis. During panning and tilting, the camera is typically attached to a tripod, a three-legged stand topped with a camera mount and an arm to direct the rotation of the camera. The location of the tripod or other camera support does not change when panning or tilting; rather, the camera rotates on the mount attached to the support.

Because most early motion picture tripods had fixed camera mounts, panning and tilting were extremely rare before 1900, when more camera operators began using rotating tripod heads. Panning was initially established as a cinematic device after the turn of the century with the emergence of panoramas, documentary films that contained a slow pan providing an extended view of a single location. During the first decade of the 1900s, narrative films also began featuring pans to reveal offscreen space, while tilts were used in conjunction with pans to follow characters in motion. An example of an early pan occurs in The Great Train Robbery (1903), when the camera moves to the left to follow the bandits as they flee the train.

A tracking shot (also known as a dolly or trucking shot) propels the camera through space parallel to the ground and can travel forward, backward, from side to side, diagonally, or in a circle. Whereas a pan or a tilt reveals what one might see when standing still and rotating one's head, a track provides the impression of actually advancing into space. Tracking shots are often produced with the camera mounted on a dolly, a small, steerable platform with rubber tires. Tracking shots receive their name from the railroad-like tracks that are frequently laid on the ground to guide the dolly during long camera movements.

b. Tokyo, Japan, 16 May 1898, d. 24 August 1956

One of the most acclaimed directors of world cinema, Kenji Mizoguchi created elegant, precisely staged long takes in films that examined the circumscribed choices of women in Japanese society. His tightly controlled camera movement, recessed foregrounds, and depth staging served to subordinate characters to the overall composition, positioning the viewer as an observer to highly emotional yet distanced subject matter.

Having directed more than forty silent-era films, during the 1930s Mizoguchi began to develop a visual style of systematic long-shot long takes. Naniwa erejî ( Naniwa Elegy , 1936), considered his first masterpiece, selectively incorporates camera movement to shape the viewer's understanding of the protagonist, a young woman pressured into a series of ruinous indiscretions. When the heroine runs into her former boyfriend in a department store, other customers and objects in the foreground frequently block the couple from view during a long tracking shot, preventing the viewer from scanning their faces for emotion. Without direct access to the heroine's subjectivity, the viewer is forced to imagine her shame, embarrassment, and fear of discovery.

Throughout the rest of Mizoguchi's career, camera movement was a favored tool to define the rhythm of his scenes and the viewer's response to the narrative. The mobile camera is dominant in Zangiku monogatari ( The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums , 1939) and participates in segmenting narrative action. Camera movement is typically motivated by character movement, revealing new space and connecting static tableaux within the long take. Mizoguchi's use of camera movement within long takes has been linked to the rhythmic structure of other Japanese arts.

Although Mizoguchi's aesthetic of long-shot long takes tends to de-center characters within the frame and de-dramatize action, his use of camera movement encourages more active participation by the viewer. Denied direct access to his characters' subjectivities, we can only witness their suffering, and in witnessing it, imagine their pain. Saikaku ichidai onna ( The Life of Oharu , 1952) provides a key example of how Mizoguchi's camera offers viewers a perspective of narrative action that is objective yet at the same time full of emotion. When Oharu and her family cross a bridge on their way into exile, the camera looks up at them from a low-angle long shot below the bridge, panning to follow their progress and pausing as they bid their friends farewell. As the family turns out of sight behind the bridge, the camera tilts down and tracks in, revealing a glimpse of the family walking into the horizon through the arch of the bridge. The movement of the camera situates the viewer as an observer within the scene, initially content to watch the family retreat but ultimately so sorrowful as to be unwilling to relinquish sight of them.


Naniwa Elegy (1936), Gion no shimai ( Sisters of the Gion , 1936), The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939), Genroku chushingura ( The Loyal 47 Ronin, Parts 1 and 2 , 1941–1942), Utamaro o meguru gonin no onna ( Utamaro and His Five Women , 1946), The Life of Oharu (1952), Ugetsu Monogatari ( Tales of Ugetsu , 1953), Sanshô dayû ( Sansho the Bailiff , 1954)


Andrew, Dudley, and Paul Andrew. Kenji Mizoguchi: A Guide to References and Resources . Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981.

Kirihara, Donald. Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s . Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.

McDonald, Keiko. Mizoguchi . Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984.

O'Grady, Gerald, ed. Mizoguchi the Master . Toronto: Cinémathèque Ontario, 1997.

Lisa Dombrowski

Kenji Mizoguchi.

Tracking shots came into use at the end of the 1890s when filmmakers mounted cameras onto moving vehicles for "phantom rides" through actual locations. By 1903 narrative films started to incorporate parallel tracking shots, in which the camera moves at a fixed distance from and the same rate of speed as objects advancing in the same direction. During the next decade, a few films exhibited tracks into and out of a scene independent of movement within the frame, but nonparallel tracking shots did not become popular until after they were used to flaunt the sumptuous sets of the Italian epic Cabiria (1914). By the 1920s filmmakers expanded their use of the tracking shot and began exploring more adventurous means of moving the camera, including strapping it to the cinematographer's chest for Der Letzte Mann ( The Last Laugh , 1924) and swinging it on a pendulum for Napoléon (1927).

Although holding the camera allows for much greater freedom of movement than mounting it on a dolly, handheld shots were difficult to achieve during the first half of the twentieth century owing to the tremendous bulk and weight of professional 35mm cameras. After World War II, however, compact, lightweight 16mm cameras originally designed for training and combat use entered the market, leading a variety of filmmakers to embrace handheld shooting. Television news cameramen and direct cinema documentary filmmakers took advantage of the smaller, lighter cameras to record material spontaneously in close quarters. When shooting Primary (1960), the cinematographer Richard Leacock (b. 1921) held his camera above and behind John F. Kennedy while following him through a crowd at a campaign stop, providing the viewer with an intimate sense of actually "being there" and rubbing shoulders with the candidate.

Handheld shots often appear shakier and blurrier than those produced by a camera mounted on a support, and thus lack the level of perfection found in high-quality commercial cinema. Some young filmmakers of the 1960s "new cinemas" considered this visual distinction an advantage, however, as handheld camera movement challenged staid orthodoxy. The cinematographer Raoul Coutard (b. 1924) shot several scenes in À bout de souffle ( Breathless , 1960) while sitting in a moving wheelchair and one in Jules et Jim ( Jules and Jim , 1962) while running across a bridge; his unfettered camerawork identified the French New Wave with a spirit of freedom and vitality. Because of its early adoption by nonfiction filmmakers and its absence of visual polish, handheld camera movement is often associated with increased authenticity. Later use of the handheld camera, in movies such as Festen ( The Celebration , 1998) and The Blair Witch Project (1999) reinforce the suggestion of an unmediated filmed experience.

In the early 1970s the cameraman Garrett Brown, with engineers from Cinema Products, Inc., developed the Steadicam system to integrate the responsiveness of handheld camera movement with the smoothness of a dolly. The Steadicam features a camera mounted on a movable, spring-loaded arm that is attached to a weight-bearing harness worn on the upper body of the operator. A handgrip moves the camera up and down and side to side in front of the operator's body, while the camera itself can tilt and pan in any direction. An attached video monitor allows the operator to view the image without looking through the camera eyepiece, while zooming and focusing are remote-controlled. The Steadicam arm absorbs the shock of sudden movements, enabling operators to walk, run, jump, and climb stairs while still producing the level, bounce-free camera movements previously exclusive to dolly-mounted shots. Although Steadicam shots tend to act as tracking shots, they may also involve other support structures that carry the operator into the air.

The primary means of moving the camera above ground is with a crane. During crane shots, the camera

A tracking shot being filmed for the chariot race sequence in Ben-Hur (Fred Niblo, 1925).
rises and lowers on a platform connected to a mechanical arm, much like utility company cherry-pickers. A crane enables the camera to traverse great distances up and down, as well as forward and backward and from side to side. Although in use as early as Intolerance (1916), crane shots became a signature of the 1930s musicals of Busby Berkeley (1895–1976) and multiplied following technological improvements after World War II. In the late 1970s the introduction of the Louma crane further increased shooting options. The Louma operates like an oversized microphone boom, with a rotating arm and a remote-control camera mount at the end. The Louma transmits the image from the camera to the operator in another location, enabling the camera to move through very tight, narrow spaces that were previously inaccessible.

Aerial shots taken from a plane or helicopter are a variation of crane shots. A camera mounted on an aerial support can move into space in all directions while achieving much greater heights than can a crane. Filmmakers began exploring ways to mount a camera on a plane during the 1910s, and in the 1950s helicopter mounts created additional shooting possibilities. An aerial shot may frame another flying object, as during the Huey helicopter battle sequences of Apocalypse Now (1979), or it may provide a "bird's eye view" of the landscape, as in the swooping helicopter shot of Julie Andrews in the Alps at the opening of The Sound of Music (1965).

A cinematographic technique that is frequently mistaken for a form of camera movement is the zoom. Zooms are produced by a zoom lens, which can vary focal length during a single shot from wide angle to telephoto and back. Although rudimentary zoom lenses were available in the late 1920s, technological advances and increased location shooting encouraged filmmakers to use zooms more frequently beginning in the 1950s and 1960s.

Audiences often confuse a zoom shot with a track or crane shot, but careful viewing reveals distinct differences. A zoom in to an object will magnify it and decrease the apparent distance between the object and surrounding planes, whereas a zoom out from an object will demagnify it and increase the apparent distance between planes. As with zooming, tracking and craning can alter the size of objects within the frame, but the latter two will also affect spatial relationships; a zoom merely magnifies or demagnifies a portion of the image. For example, during the party sequence in Notorious (1946), a crane propels the camera down from the second-floor balcony and into the lobby for a close-up of the key in Alicia's (Ingrid Bergman) hand; in the opening of The Conversation (1974), a zoom slowly isolates Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) and enlarges him within the frame as he tries to escape a mime in the park. Both the crane shot and the zoom highlight a detail within the image, but where the crane physically moves the camera through space, the zoom creates only the illusion of movement.

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