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5 Basic Camera Movements Every Filmmaker Should Know

camera movement cinematic documentaries documentary filmmaking filmmaking
Sebastian Solberg - Documentary Filmmaking - Camera Movement

Camera movement is an incredibly powerful way to make your film feel more cinematic, add emotion and give a perspective or point of view to your documentary. So, with that in mind, here are my five favourite filmmaking tools that I use to create cinematic camera movements and why I use them.


5 Essential Camera Movements for Cinematic Documentaries


1. Shoulder Rig or Easy Rig

Shoulder rigs or Easy rigs are great if you want to create a handheld movement that places the audience into the scene and lets them experience it from a voyeuristic point of view. The shoulder rig allows you to create this handheld look without making the audience feel seasick as it reduces a lot of the tiny shakes that come about when holding a small camera.


2. Tripod

I’d mainly use a tripod when filming an interview, as you might be filming for an hour or two and you don’t want to have to be holding the camera that whole time. Also, if you’re both filming and asking the questions it’s much easier to have your hands free. I’d also use a tripod if I was capturing a long lens shot where I want to get close to the subject. This is because a long lens magnifies movement so you need a stable foundation to film from, and a tripod is great for this.


3. Slider

A slider is a set of tracks that can be mounted to a tripod or placed on a flat surface such as a table or directly on the ground. Attached to the tracks is a movable "carriage" that you can attach directly to your camera, or you can attach a tripod head between your camera and the carriage for more panning and angle options.


4. Gimbal

A gimbal is my favourite tool when creating camera movements as it’s the most versatile and you’re able to achieve some incredibly creative camera movements with this tool.


5. Drone 

Drones have been a huge game-changer for filmmakers and have meant us Documentary Filmmakers can achieve cinematic aerial shots that once costs thousands, on a small budget. Drones are excellent for wide shots used to establish a scene or to show the environment your character is in. 


Something else to remember with camera movement is to always prioritise telling your character’s journey authentically over having interesting and dynamic camera movements.

For example, in my short One Breath when the main characters are attempting to dive in tandem to 100m on a single breath, the scene was filmed from multiple angles each with different camera movements. But when it came to editing the film we realised it was a lot more powerful to just show the scene unfolding from one angle, with no camera movement, so the audience could focus on the character’s face, and because the camera was attached to the sled, the background is moving as the characters go deeper and deeper into the depths of the ocean. Because of this decision to focus on the characters’ emotions and not use fancy camera work, it’s one of the most powerful scenes in the film and it makes the audience lean-in, wanting to know whether or not the characters are going to make it out alive.


Cinematic Movements and Authentic Storytelling

In the realm of documentary filmmaking, the power of camera movement cannot be understated. From the intimacy of a handheld shot to the grandeur of aerial drone footage, each movement offers a unique lens through which to tell your story. But remember, while these tools can elevate your film's cinematic quality, the heart of any documentary lies in its authentic portrayal of characters and their journeys. So, as you experiment with these five essential camera movements, always prioritize the genuine narrative over the allure of dynamic shots. After all, it's the balance of compelling storytelling and masterful cinematography that truly captivates an audience


Written by Sebastian Solberg

Sebastian is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose credits include One Breath and the BAFTA-nominated film The Eagle HuntressHis passion for fostering emerging talent led to the creation of the Documentary Film Academy, an online community and educational platform designed to empower the next generation of filmmakers.

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