It's time to start shooting. You know where you want to put the camera, the composition of the shot, the colors, what will be said, how many characters we will see...And what does the camera have to do?
It’s true that many times placing the tripod and leaving it static is the best option, but when is it not? The still shot has no force, it lacks meaning, dynamism... It lacks movement. Still, we have many camera movements to choose from. The camera can be still on its tripod, it can be moved over an imaginary line (or not so imaginary) or it can move freely. And within each of these movements we have several axis to choose from. To begin, only with the camera static in a point, we can move it horizontally, which is known as panoramic (or pan, to make it shorter and more universal); vertically, known as tilt; rotate or also known as roll and even use a zoom to get closer or away from the point of attention of the shot. We start by taking our tripod and placing it and, if we are going to use a good cinema camera, the tripod option that pleases anyone is the internationally recognized O'Connor [link Aclam], revered for its sturdiness, fluidity and resistance.
We start with horizontal or panoramic movements. It’s perhaps the movement most used in cinema (and throughout all media). It’s the most natural movement for the human being, since we are constantly turning our eyes one side to the other to see what’s surrounding us. Precisely for this reason, the panoramic movement is the one that has the most basic meanings in film narrative: when they are slow, they have a descriptive or landscaping function, they want to show us the world as it is or reveal little by little what’s happening; on the other hand, when they are fast they have a much more dynamic meaning, incited by the action-reaction. A classic example of this last type of camera movement is the whip shot used by P.T. Anderson, part of his repertoire of style in his films such as Boogie Nights or Magnolia (although he usually uses it with a free camera). The panoramic taken to the extreme, or 360º, is also worth mentioning for its meaning of community, especially when it is fixed in a single point like a table surrounded by people.
The next most used movement is the tilt. This movement, being slightly less natural than the horizontal panoramic, has a much more different meaning depending on where you start, where you finish, and the direction of the movement. The most important thing to keep in mind when making this movement is where the horizon is in your composition. When you move away from the horizon you create a sense of escape or change (normally upwards is positive and downwards is negative) and when you go to the horizon, from above or from below, it has connotations of return or entry. A classic example of this case, or even abuse, is to start a film with a camera movement starting in the sky and going down to the horizon and finish it with a shot in the horizon that rises up to see only the sky (at least in movies with a happy ending, if the end is catastrophic it is very likely that the camera will be tilted below the horizon, evoking death or descent). Even so, tilting the camera upwards is not always positive, it can also evoke a feeling of helplessness and insignificance in front of an immense element or character. A more experimental use of this movement is the jump from horizon to horizon, starting or ending with the camera face down.
Entering in less usual camera movements from a fixed point, especially due to its technical complication, we have the rotation or roll. Its use usually maintains a relationship with the emotional or mental stability of the protagonist. When we break the parallelism with the horizon it evokes instability or even madness. The world literally skews. However, when we start from an unstable situation to return to normality, tilting to end up with a straight horizon evokes this return. It’s already a classic use of the roll to combine it with a stage in special rigs that was popularized in 2001: a space odissey of Stanley Kubrick, where these movements generated the idea of weightlessness to the viewer, which then was imitated in films located in space or in dream scenes.
Finally, what perhaps can’t be described as camera movement, but as a shot movement, is the zoom. When the shot is zoomed in it encourages the viewer to concentrate on an element of the composition, especially if you want to surprise the viewer it will be done in a fast zoom. On the other hand, there is the zoom out, which is used to alienate a character or object in the middle of the scene or to reveal the surprising situation in which they are. The zoom is maybe one of the types of shot that has fallen more into disuse in the cinematic style, especially when it is clearly noticeable when making a fast zoom, as it was widely used in old films like the western genre. Little by little, it has been recovered thanks to the ressurgence of the genre by directors like Quentin Tarantino or the Coen Brothers but its unsubtlety makes it an ideal shot to be used in comedy to strengthen the punchline in a gag. Another common use of zoom is in the mockumentary or found-footage, which gives a more homemade style or closer to the documentary or reportage, very often found in films about alien invasions or monsters.
As you have already read, just by holding the camera at a single point, there are hundreds of meanings that can be given to your shots through motion, but this is only a small part of all the camera movements that exist. These can be combined and sequenced with other camera movements (either by keeping the camera at the same point or moving it). Later, in another post, we will explain more movements and how they can be complemented with these to achieve the best results.