Topic 6: Camera Movement

Conscientious directors impact the audience's viewing experience through the use of motivated camera movement, in which camera movement is motivated by the following:
  • the action that preceded it
  • the need to usher an audience through the setting
  • the necessity to reveal or hide something important
  • the intent to elicit an emotional response from the audience
Unmotivated camera movement employs conventional cinematic techniques for camera movement, but it lacks a sense of purpose and fails to connect with the audience. 

The Pan

Imagine a scene in which the new sheriff in town enters a saloon. He looks from left to right, taking in potential dangers that might be waiting. In this case, a director would choose to pan the camera across the saloon and show viewers everything the sheriff sees. 

A pan places the audience in the action, experiencing the surroundings with the character. In this case, the audience knows this sheriff is in trouble.

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Now, watch this discussion of a scene from Breaking Bad. Pay close attention to the pan shot at the start of the scene and the effect of the dolly shot at the end of the scene. Record your observations of the effects of these camera movements in your Elements of Film handout.

The Push

Monologues permit characters to share their thoughts, at times reflecting on their past or future or providing insight into the present. Directors push the camera in and out to heighten the impact of characters’ monologues.

Watch this video (warning: mature content — language) that speaks insightfully about the effect of camera movement on character monologues in a variety of films, such as Citizen Kane, Forrest Gump, Poltergeist, and Good Will Hunting. As you watch, note the various effects of different camera movements (e.g., push-in, push-out, and tracking in and out) in your Elements of Film handout. 


Familiarize yourself with the cinematic technique definitions in the “Camera Movement” section of the Elements of Film handout.

Use the Elements of Film Tutorial to explore the remaining types of camera movement. Be sure to review the YouTube link that accompanies each term in the tutorial to understand the effect of each technique. Record your impressions regarding the effect of different types of camera movement in your Elements of Film handout.

Fill in the Gaps

Cue up this video to 9:49 and watch it until 10:48 to see additional examples of pan, zoom in and out, and dolly (tracking) shots.

Extend Your Understanding

The Roll
Read this clever blog post in which Forrest Wickman discusses Christopher Nolan’s purposeful use of the roll in these films: The Dark Knight, Memento, The Prestige, Inception, and Interstellar.

In your Elements of Film handout, add your definition of the roll and record your observations of the effects of its use in the films discussed in the blog post.