Creating Camera Movement When Filming Video

Earlier today I had an email come into the office from a photojournalist requesting some information that was video related. In my reply I provided some information about creating camera movement while filming video. 

It occurred to me that many readers may also have an interest in shooting video with their cameras. I thought it may be helpful to publish a short article on this subject, using the information contained in my email reply to him…which you will find below.

“I don’t typically do much shooting with a stabilizer. Much of my work is done with my cameras mounted on a tripod with a fluid head for simple pans etc. I do add quite a bit of camera movement to my productions as these really add a lot of production value to my projects. I use five specific pieces of gear for these camera movement techniques which are outlined below, as well as a couple of other options.

1) Camera slider.
This is a great tool for shorter length camera movements and can be very effective when doing ‘reveal’ types of video clips. I use an older model made by Cinevate.

2) Skater dolly.
This is a small, wheeled micro-cart that you can mount a camera on to get video footage taken along a boardroom table or similar kind of situation. These can be adjusted to shoot in a curved motion. I use one made by Konova.

3) Camera jib.
These come in very handy to create a broad panorama type of video clip where you want your camera up high and panning from that position. For example, to shoot up over a crowd. These are often used to create a lead-in ‘context’ video clip. I have a small one-man rig made by Kessler.

4) Shoulder rig.
I don’t use this type of gear as I have never found the need for one but many folks use them extensively for ‘run and gun’ video clips. Typically you would be moving around in a crowd or something like that, then stopping to do one-on-one interviews or have your voice on camera recorded in front of different backgrounds. The key purpose of a shoulder rig is to be able to move your gear around in a crowd, then shoot reasonably stable footage without the need for a bulky tripod. This may, or may not, be your intention. Since I don’t use this type of gear I’m unable to make any brand recommendation on it. The advantage of a shoulder rig is that you can see the back screen of your camera while shooting so you know exactly what you are capturing.

5) Stabilizer.
A camera stabilizer is used when you want to create the feeling of your camera ‘flying’ through the air. These can be tricky to get balanced and they do take quite a bit of practice to be able to use effectively. Also, it is not realistic to think that you can use one of these rigs for extended periods of time. Even the small, compact ones do put a lot of strain on your forearms and wrist and most people tire very quickly.

From a journalist’s perspective they are best used when conducting interviews when people are walking and you want to create a feeling of urgency or intimacy. I use a Blackbird made by CMR and it suits my needs quite well. There are many quite cheap stabilizers on the market and most that I’ve see are not worth buying. Without a good balancing system and a gimbal mechanism it is doubtful that you’ll get quality footage.

A stabilizer can also be difficult to use in outdoor, windy conditions. If you’re shooting outside be sure to buy a model that has some kind of torque adjustment on the gimbal as this will help reduce camera sway. All of my use is indoors so I’ve not had the need to adjust the torque on my Blackbird although it does have one.

If you go the stabilizer route I’d suggest using some kind of quick release mounting plate that you can affix to the stabilizer. Then you can just snap your camera onto it.

You also need to keep in mind that when using a stabilizer if you change lenses you will need to re-balance the camera on the stabilizer. Most folks use wide angle, prime lenses with a stabilizer since changing the focal length with a zoom lens can sometimes require re-balancing of the stabilizer as well. Another challenge with a stabilizer is that there will be times when you are ‘shooting blind’ with it, i.e. you will be recording but not able to watch the screen while you are walking with it…otherwise you risk tripping and falling while recording.

6) Tripod dollies.
Depending on the tripod you use you should be able to buy a dolly for it. These usually have three wheels and your tripod just fastens to it. They only work decently on very smooth floors as any small surface imperfections will be transmitted onto your video footage. The cheap ones have hard wheels which make recording while moving them pretty much useless. The better quality ones have pneumatic wheels and can be quite pricey.

7) Custom built dolly.
I couldn’t find a tripod dolly that was good enough to use on industrial concrete floors that I could afford so I ended up building my own using some plywood and large 6″ pneumatic wheels I bought from an industrial supply outlet. I don’t use this very often but is does the trick when I need fluid camera motion on smooth floors and I don’t want to go to the trouble of using my stabilizer.”

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6 thoughts on “Creating Camera Movement When Filming Video”

  1. Many years ago I saw a program about a guy flew his homebuilt aircraft (with the controls of the aircraft moved to his legs and knees) around the scenic views of Arizona, flying at sunset, as the light was best then. His camera, a DSLR, was stabilised by two gyros, spinning at very high rpms, at right angles, to dampen out the vibrations. Excellent image quality. So a very inertia-based stabilising system, quite different from todays. as there were no moving parts, apart from the spinning gyros.

    1. Hi Tord,
      That amount of ‘camera movement’ is well beyond my meagre capabilities! I have looked at drones a little bit but I don’t have any specific commercial justification for the investment in terms of clients/work so I haven’t bothering pursuing it at all. While not always successful, I do try to look at my gear from an ROI perspective and do the best I can to make it pay for itself.

      1. But the principle is quite interesting: two well-balanced, high rpm (that is: high inertia) motors (I guess those used in drones would be just fine, or such used in RC race cars) , mounted on a right-angle bracket to the bottom of the camera (like an upside down V) with battery packs carried on your belt, if too heavy to mount to the camera.

        As there is no load on the motors very little power is needed, and they will suffer very little wear.

        It would be difficult to have noiseless operation. No electronics needed if the motors are brushed, just an on-off switch!

        Have not tried it myself, yet!

  2. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for putting this content together, I had recommended the photojournalist contacted you for guidance, and your response was brilliant!

    Regards, Dave R

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