Camera Movement Motivation

I just wish to share something that I have spoken to our students quite extensively about and I came across the best example of its use: hand-held camera shake.

Often times, at the level of student filmmaker, hand-held camera use is predominant in productions, usually out of sheer laziness and the need to film quickly before a deadline that is the next day.

I certainly understand its use in these productions but that does not mean I excuse it and will turn a blind eye when grading these projects.

As I have explained, I am not advocating the complete elimination of all hand-held camera moves but I have stated such movement adds its own emotion and meaning to a shot or a scene.  So, I challenge if a student is going to fail to lock down the camera and, instead, use the shakiness of hand-held, then he/she should be able to explain its purpose and impact in that scene.

Subsequent conversations have not convinced all of our students but I have a good video example that should add more clarity.

The example is the love scene from Atonement.

I have to give all credit for “finding” this scene to Vincent Laforet.  I had the pleasure of attending his Directing Motion Tour two weeks ago and he spoke directly about this same concept of when to use hand-held versus other camera movement or locking it down.

[By the way, it really was an impressive workshop and I would have recommended it on this blog but I saw the next to last stop on the tour and it was over before you would have had a chance to attend; however, I would recommend following Vincent on his own blog and through his own work.  He is a talented filmmaker with many great ideas.]

The reason this scene is such a great illustration is because it begins very still and progresses into a hand-held movement.  The two characters are very stiff as their upper class lives form a wall between their emotions and so, therefore, the camera is stiff too.  However, as their feelings begin to melt away the obstacles of their class status and their prudish expectations, the camera begins to move more freely.  At this point, however, it is still a fluid movement.

Then, when they are completely overcome with passion, and begin to kiss, the camera movement goes to completely hand-held, with a lot of shake and out of focus shots.

The use of the camera is done in a deliberate way for the audience to feel the same restraints and, then, freedom through which the characters are journeying.

Take a look:


First test shot from RED Epic camera

As I mentioned in our previous post, we have a new camera that will impact our future video production courses here at Woodbridge.

For those that have not had an opportunity to work extensively with professional cameras, I just wanted to put up a teaser to get an idea of what this camera can do…at a minimum.

Just to make sure everything is working, I put everything together, slapped on a  lens (Zeiss ZF.2 21mm) and recorded for about one minute.

Nothing glamorous.  I did not set up the shot, just simply recorded what was near me.

Then, I did nothing in post-production except to white balance the still image I took form the RAW video.

Here is the result:




I should also state that the still I took was a TIFF, which is a format that is not friendly to this blog site, so I had to convert it to JPG instead.  Then, because it was shot at 5K, I had to reduce the image size by 75% because of the file size.

So, above you will see a non-staged (no added lights, simply done under the fluorescents of the room), still taken from video that is converted to a worse picture format in JPG and the file size constricted by three-fourths and the image is still interesting to note the quality.

If the image is large enough on your computer, you can notice the scratches on top of the book case.  You can see the texture of the wall behind it.  You can notice the dust residue at the base of the paper holder (the small slotted blackish grey things between the stapler and tape dispenser).  You can notice the teeth of the tape dispenser shining through the extended tape at the end of the roll.  But I think the most telling part of this image is in the details of what is in focus: the pencil sharpener.

You can actually see the reflection of the hole punch in the base of the pencil sharpener, adding a highlight to the shine of the name of the sharpener.  Also, and this is something very important I share with my students, you can see the detail in the “blacks.”  The head of the pencil sharpener (round rotating disc with six different pencil size options) is the same dark black color as the supply cabinet in the background, yet they do not merge into a blob of darkness; rather you can see the entire shape of the pencil sharpener against this background, giving each black and shadowy area its own depth of “color.”

Now, just imagine what you can do with this professional equipment if you actually take the time to plan your shot and make sure you are using it to its fullest.

Hopefully, we will publish test shots we do in the near future and, also, look out for a promotional video we will be doing in the coming months.

EDIT: I just published this post and the picture looks even worse now that I have published it.  I guess the Site has to compress the file even more in the process, so I apologize if a lot of the quality I have mentioned has been lost.

However, if you ever wish to stop by room 328 here on campus and talk about film and look at the original image, I would be more than happy to show you.

A New Video Revolution at NOVA Woodbridge


The Woodbridge campus of Northern Virginia Community College proudly introduces the newest member of our filmmaking team: a RED Epic camera.

For those that know, you realize what a great tool to learn and work with as you expand your filmmaking knowledge.  The RED Epic camera is a professional cinema camera that is used to film many Hollywood blockbusters and great television shows.

Take a look:

There are very few colleges and universities across the nation that can boast the introduction of this technology and, yet, you can take classes here on our campus and get a film school education, including understanding RED, and all at a community college price!

For those that don’t know what this camera can do, please take a look:

(watch the 5K resolution video to get a great idea of the endless creative possibilities you now have).

It is time to move beyond your backyard video shoots and step into a role as a serious filmmaker.

Email me with more questions and get enrolled today for the fall classes, including PHT 130, which will introduce this technology.

Chris Stallings