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5 basic camera movements (and why they matter)

camera movement cinematic documentaries documentary filmmaking
Sebastian Solberg - Documentary Filmmaker

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:


1. Shoulder Rig

Shoulder rigs are great if you want to create a handheld movement which 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 sea sick 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.

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