Okay, we might be able to get beautiful and perfectly framed shots, but that’s not enough to make a video stand out. Our eyes will always notice the lighting, the colors, the contrast, and… the movement too! After all, a movie is nothing more than the illusion of movement, obtained through the fast reproduction of multiple frames.
Camera movement can have multiple purposes. And, according to what’s said, it should be used to transmit emotions to the audience. For example, during scenes of war, it’s common to see abrupt and shaky camera movement. It gives us the feeling of being on location, living that moment of tension. The scene becomes more real, bringing the audience closer to what’s happening on screen. We can also resort to the gradual pull back of the camera to portray a feeling of isolation, or, alternatively, to show the character’s surroundings. Or both at the same time! None of these interpretations are literal. It always depends on the context in which the shot exists.
Simon Cade explains in this video that camera movement works like punctuation in books. In these cases, the camera movement has a reason. In other words, there’s always a narrative purpose that is highlighted when the camera moves. The movement helps to tell the story and, according to experts, that’s what should always happen. But…
…Camera movement can also be used to create rhythm and dynamic
Instead of falling back on editing alone. Or even to give the shot more depth of field (parallax effect).
The way I see it, camera movement doesn’t need a reason to be. Especially if we are making a documentary, or a promotional video… Basically, if what we’re making isn’t a “narrative”. Of course there are always stories to be told and a message to portray in any audiovisual project. But not everything needs to be mathematical and mean something. Some things can simply be the director’s choice, unable to be considered right or wrong. Or they might even be the only option we have available to shoot in that moment.
In a documentary, if we have to follow someone to tell their story, we will do it. And we don’t have to justify that we filmed that shot because we want to give the idea that we’re following the story up close, or any other meanings that we like to come up with…
In movies, an example of how not all movements have narrative ends are sequence shots, which are a choice from the director.
The excerpt from the video mentioned above shows how this type of shot can be used just because. The camera clearly follows the character’s actions but… If there was a cut to the cups on top of the table, after the man finishes his drink, and then to the woman, the meaning of the shot wouldn’t have changed.
But, of course, all of this can also be a well thought out decision. Cinematography is an art, not science!
And mixing motivated movement with non-motivated movement we have this music video: “Spinning Top”. The camera follows the movement that people and objects make but… by choice. There’s no narrative purpose to it, but an aesthetic one. And if everything moves in a weird and out-of-the-ordinary way (the same technique that was used in this video) is there anything wrong with that?
In Frame Movement
Ok, how about we create movement in the shot without moving the camera? Confusing? Not at all!
This video explains how Akira Kurosawa uses movement to compose her shots. And plenty of times without moving the camera. For example, she has used weather conditions (rain, wind, snow) to create movement in the background. Not only does it create visual interest, but it also highlighted the mood of the characters. A completely different way to use movement: subtle, but with a reason to be.
The video “Ruth Finley’s Fashion Calendar” is a sort of documentary about the professional life of Ruth Finley, founder of Fashion Calendar. The novelty in this is… the movement! But it isn’t the camera’s. The camera barely moves throughout these 3 and a half minutes (except for some pull backs and push ins) but everything around Ruth does. It’s the way all the objects around her move that make the video interesting and out of the ordinary. This rhythm, along with the appearance of objects from different eras, help show the passage of time and tell us where we are in regards to time.
No complex camera movements were necessary to tell the story. The movement was all in frame. And we can agree that it was an intelligent and out of the box choice!
It’s easy to resort to movement to create an interesting scene,
even when that movement isn’t essential to tell a story. But the fact that it isn’t essential doesn’t mean we can’t use it. We all agree that movement should have a purpose and it can help us highlight what we want to show but, in my opinion, there are no rules to when we can or can’t use it. (Okay, let’s not start doing some wooow movements with the camera in every shot just because it looks good.)
One shouldn’t blindly follow the rules of “x movement means y, so I’m going to use it”. No! We all have our own sensibility (some more than others, of course) and that’s what we should work with. Follow our instinct and do what seems to be the best choice, the most beautiful, the most efficient.
Because sometimes there might not be any movement, but…
… when there is, the story changes in seconds!