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3 Basic Camera Moves

Learn how to execute and when to use the three most common camera moves that can enhance your videos:  The pan, the tilt, and the locked down/static shots.  This video is full of great tips!

There are three simple camera moves that can fit into just about any video. They are the pan, tilt, and static. (Okay, we know static isn’t a “move” but it sure is useful!) Now, we’ll take a look at how to create each of these moves and discuss a few things that you should look out for when you’re doing them. 

Move 1

THE PAN

The first move that we’ll look at is the trusty pan. To pan just means that you keep your camera at the same height and turn along the x-axis – like this. Now, that part you probably already knew, right? So let’s dive a bit deeper into the pan. 

A common question we get is, how long should a pan be? It’s a good question with different answers depending on who you talk to. Our answer is to start recording and hold your shot at the starting point for at least a count of five (more if you plan to dissolve in and out of the shot you’re recording). Then slowly begin your pan. Let your movement last for somewhere between five to seven seconds, and then stop again and hold that last position for at least five seconds.

This five-five-five or five-seven-five second recommendation is so that when you are editing you have enough of a tail at either end of your video to do a fade or another transition between clips.

If you’re using your phone, you probably don’t have a tripod that you can just swivel back and forth — but don’t worry! Here’s how you can pan by just holding your phone. First, hold the phone in both hands — either with or without a phone holder — then start your recording. Tuck your elbows to the sides of your body and begin your move after five seconds of being still. Count off the five to seven second move in your head, and then hold your final position for five seconds. Then stop your recording. 

Ok, so now you know how to pan. But when do you use a pan? It can be a great way to bring some life to an inanimate object — like a product or a photograph. But when I’m telling a story, I really like to use the pan as a method to reveal something: a person, a place, an object. If you have a place in your A/V script where you’re going to transition from one subject to another, a pan can be a nice way to facilitate that transition visually. 

Move 2

THE TILT

The tilt is the same as the pan, except it goes up and down instead of left and right.  In the Easy to Remember department, the same five-five-five or five-seven-five recommendation we had for the pan applies to the tilt, too. 

Now, if you have a tripod, the tilt is pretty easy, you just lock down the pan and move the camera up or down. However, if you have a phone it can be a little trickier — mostly because people want to hold the phone with their elbows out. Instead, tuck those elbows in, and even if you’re using a phone holder that has a handle, use both hands. 

TIP FOR MOVING ON INANIMATE OBJECTS 

Landing smoothly on the object in the frame where you want the shot to end can sometimes be a challenge. You might bounce or move wrong and just end up with framing that you don’t want. One handy trick that eliminates this problem is to start on the object you ultimately want the shot to land on, hold that shot for five seconds and then pan away from the object. Then, in the edit, you can reverse that footage to magically create the perfect move that lands exactly where you want it to! 

GIF showing this

But is it always a good idea to move your camera? Does every shot in your video need to move? No.

Move 3

THE STATIC or LOCKDOWN SHOT

For instructional or direct-to-camera videos like a lecture, pans and tilts don’t help anymore. Instead, in these videos, the movement or lively feeling is provided by the variety of images you add in the edit. And that means that if you’re going to do a lockdown shot, make sure that you have additional visuals to insert into the video — slides, photos, stock video, or B-Roll that you shoot. 

If you are planning to demonstrate how to use something, I suggest recording the explanation in a lockdown shot and going back to grab pickup shots — closeups and mediums — of the device that you’re demonstrating. Then you can insert those shots at the appropriate time during your edit. 


RECAP

You have your pan and tilt moves, and lockdown or static non-moving shots. Here’s a breakdown of what to do for those moving shots:

  1. Start Recording
  2. Hold still for 5 seconds (restart your count if you bounce or move)
  3. Slowly begin your move
  4. Move for 5-7 seconds
  5. Slowly stop your move
  6. Hold for 5 seconds
  7. Stop recording

And remember, you don’t always need to move the way you want your shot to end up. With inanimate objects, you can start on them and reverse the footage in the edit. 

Snappy ending?