Camera Movement

The most common forms of camera movement that you’ll be inclined to do are:

  • Handheld
  • Zooming (the camera is moved toward or away from the subject)
  • Panning (the camera is moved sideways or parallel to the subject)

The phone camera almost invites you to zoom, pan and handhold. But each of these should be a conscious aesthetic choice for the creative purpose of your poetry film.

Let’s look at each in turn, and then look at keeping the camera static.

Handheld vs static imagery

Handheld movement may seem like it is more natural. But in fact, it is the opposite. Think about this: when you are moving around, everything you see is smooth, when you are walking, the world in front of you doesn’t appear to be unsteady or moving up and down. Therefore, keeping footage smooth brings the audience with you – it looks realistic and is not distracting. The difference can be seen in this short video:


Static film is best achieved by using a tripod. It keeps the camera still and records the movement in front of it.

But it depends what story you are wanting to tell.

The use of handheld camera movement developed during the cinéma vérité style of the 60’s French New Wave. It is used to increase intensity and heighten tension and feels raw. Done well and with intention it can create great results. Look at it here in ‘(If) Grief (were) Briefly (to) Disappear’ by Marc Neys and Stevie Ronnie. The handheld movement heightens anxiety and adds to the disorientation we imagine the woman to feel. It’s a deliberate decision by the filmmaker to convey that sense to the audience.

(If) Grief (were) Briefly (to) Disappear ©MarcNeys


Camera phones invite you to zoom in. And a closer shot does add interest and give a different perspective. But as phone cameras aren’t designed to sophisticated film gear, there are better ways to achieve this.

The first clip is a bird and a zoom.

The next is the same clip but the zoom movement has been edited out.

The second clip is less distracting. We get the same story but in a smoother way.


Panning and tilting

Pans and tilts are connecting movements. This is to say that they connect images.

Panning is moving a camera horizontally from a fixed position. It is often fixed on a tripod, with the filmmaker turning the tripod head either left or right.

Panning is often used to follow something moving across the screen, like vehicles or people; or to show wide vistas, like a land or seascape. Panning can be used to reveal more information.

Tilts are like panning but refer to the up or down movement of the camera. Tilts are often used to reveal vertical objects or to move from ground to sky.

The old adage less is more, applies to panning and tilting.

When panning, think about whether it should be from left to right. A pan moving toward the right is a naturally expected forward movement.

Observe what happens when panning goes left to right then right to left. What effect does it achieve? Is it distracting? Pans moving toward the left often feel uneasy.

iMovie adds movement to still images automatically in Ken Burns. It can be confusing – where does the viewer look next. Whenever something is in motion on the screen, the audience automatically tracks and predicts its trajectory. If the object is not following its anticipated path, or if the path keeps changing, then it becomes disruptive and disorientating and can pull the audience out of the scene.


Your Decision

Camera movement should not be a random decision. Ask yourself: why am I taking this shot? Camera movement should serve the story. If you are filming something calm, then handheld movement will detract; better to use a tripod and subtle pans.

Focus on composition rather than movement.