Demystifying Camera Terms: 7 camera moves explained

Last week, I wrote about different camera shots. This week I’m going to cover language that describes how the camera moves.

Why the camera moves for a given shot is purely the director’s (and sometimes camera operator/director of photography’s) decision, depending on the reaction they want to elicit from the audience. I can’t tell you why they make those decisions, but I can tell you what each term means.

Pan: A pan is when the camera swivels sideways, showing a horizontal scene.

Whip pan: A very fast pan, usually from one character to another.

Tilt: A vertical pan (up and down, rather than side to side).

Dolly Shot: A dolly is a wheeled platform you mount a camera on so that it glides across the floor. Dolly In means wheeling the camera towards the subject. Dolly Out refers to wheeling away from the subject.

Tracking: You can also put the camera on tracks (usually set up by a grip), and tracking refers to when the camera moves along the tracks.

Crane Shot: You can also mount a camera on a crane (a wide variety of cranes, actually), and craning up and down refers to raising or lowering the camera on the crane.

Note: Dolly, tracking and crane shots require special equipment.

Zoom: Rather than the above, you can create the illusion of movement by using a zoom lens. The Crash Zoom is a very fast zoom – use with caution.

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Updated (02/19/10): I received this comment for a colleague, and it certainly clarifies some of the above terminology: A tracking shot is a shot where the camera is roughly perpendicular to the TRAVEL of the camera. It can be done with a dolly on tracks, without tracks, with a Steadicam…or even hand held. The other side of that is a dolly-in shot can also be done on tracks. The tracks actually have nothing to do with the CAMERA MOVE. Same goes for the fact that a DOLLY IN…can actually be done on a crane. The SuperTechno Crane can actually do almost everything without typical crane ARTIFACTS.

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I’m crafting these posts from a combination of my own knowledge and some documentation I found here at the NFB. If there’s anything specific you’d like to know more about, please ask!