Advanced Shooting Techniques: Tips on Camera Movement, Lighting and More
Shoot to Edit
One of the first mistakes I ever made when shooting a video was ignoring the 180-degree rule and not understanding the rules of following eye-lines. We shot a scene I thought was brilliant but, when I sat down to edit the scene, it looked wrong and did not work at all. Somehow, by moving the camera, I made it look like the actors were facing the wrong direction when they never moved.
The 180-degree rule is an imaginary line the camera should never, ever cross when shooting a scene. The line connects the main actors or action in a scene. The camera should shoot all action from one side of the line. When the shooting starts, Actor A is on the left and Actor B is on the right. If the camera crosses the line, suddenly it looks like Actor A is now on the right. This takes the audience out of the scene and the audience should never be taken out of the story due to sloppy camera work or editing.
Another tip when shooting to edit is to make sure the subjects make the exact same movements every shot of the scene. It is always better to cut with movement, so if a person lifts a cup for a drink in one shot, make sure they lift it at the exact same moment in the next shot. If they do not replicate their movements, it limits your editing possibilities and makes some shots unusable when in the editing room.
Moving the Camera
When I went to film school, I had a professor tell me to not move the camera so much. He wanted the camera to remain stationary to allow the actors to tell the story. This seems to be a rule ignored a lot in recent big budget movies. Whether it is a handheld camera, such as in “The Bourne Identity,” or smooth movements, such as in the opening of “The Shining,” there are reasons to move the camera.
“The Shining” is a great example of a moving camera. The movie uses a long Steadicam shot as Jack Torrance walks into the hotel and makes his way to the job interview. This is used for the purpose of introducing the hotel as a character in the story. However, the shot is used with a smooth Steadicam and is not jarring or jolting to the audience, which would have caused the scene to fail in its attempt at subtle storytelling.
Here are various techniques for moving the camera and why:
- Panning: This advanced shooting technique moves the camera from the left to the right and is usually used to show more of the scenery. The best way to use a pan shot is to start with a still shot, pan over and then end with a still shot.
- Tilt: This method is to keep the camera at the same height and move the angle up or down on a shot. This is used to follow a subject or show them from top to bottom. When you tilt bottom to top, the object looks larger. Conversely, when you tilt top to bottom, the object looks smaller.
- Dolly Shot: This is a shot done on a dolly track, on a skateboard, cart or other object with wheels. This is normally used to follow a subject and should be able to move backwards if needed as well.
- Handheld: This is used to allow the camera operator to move wherever he needs to go to get a shot. Do not use a zoom while using a handheld shot because it makes the subject look shaky. Instead, just move closer to the subject.
Know How to Light a Scene
None of these advanced shooting techniques matter if you don’t light your scene properly. Most beginner filmmakers will use the typical 3-light setup but, after a while, it is important to use additional lights to make sure everything is lit properly. Regardless of whether you use three lights or eight, you still use the 3-light setup of fill lights, key lights and back lights.
- Key Light: The Key Light provides the subject’s main illumination. This light represents the sun or other dominant light source. Offset this light about 15-45 degrees to the side of the camera and about 15-45 degrees above the camera.
- Fill Light(s): The Fill Light softens and extends the illumination provided by the Key Light. The Fill Lights should come from the opposite direction than the Key Light. They are also lower than the Key Light, usually at the subject’s head level. It is also important to have the Fill Light(s) about half as bright as the Key Light. You can use more than one Fill Light in a shot.
- Back Light: This is behind the subject and provides a line around the subject to make them appear more three-dimensional. It should sit above the subject and provide a bright ring around the subject.
Source: author’s professional experience working in the film industry.
Images courtesy of author’s private collection.