The Art of the Tracking Shot

This was great to find today. Don’t think all the movies in this link can all be considered exclusively tracking shots in my opinion. But an amazing list of memorable moving shots…whether be a tracking, dolly or steadycam shots in general. A couple of the links got taken down…but it’s still a great reminder of how powerful the camera becomes in following the narrative/actors around in some cases.

Some things to think about from what I’ve noticed over the years:

  • The camera should never call attention to itself. It’ll take an audience out of a film. It should bring people inside the film based on the storypoints.
  • Regardless of the medium, the camera still has weight, and if it moves too light and flips around 20 times, chances are, the audience may not be into that as much. I loved the camera work on Incredibles, because even though it was in a CG world, it always moved and felt live-action to me. Very real cinematic feel in how it was animated.
  • Always keep in mind composition. Even though the camera is moving, it’s re-composing shots in every frame. It’s a constant choreography of elements around screen. So when you go and move the camera from one place to another, the audience should still know where to look at, and storypoints should be clear after the camera move. The camera should always help the story, not fight it.
  • What lenses are used will obviously affect the composition of the moving camera. Wider lenses tend to be used in steadycams and/or when following people around and are easier to follow focus as well. Longer lenses are move difficult to track people in my opinion. However, longer lenses are always a lot more personal to a character.
  • Camera level matters. Not the same to go eye level, that low level. Why and how the camera is placed again should be based on what’s being told.
  • The camera should work with the actors, and follow them and the story. Don’t move the camera exactly at the same time the character starts to move. Usually follows afterwards. Study films to see how this is done differently. Be careful if you anticipate the camera to the actor, as if there is not reason for the move, it can make things look too staged and not as spontaneous. Watch Hitchcock’s Notorious to see how he used the camera in different ways throughout the film. Again, some of these things are regardless the medium.
  • Don’t move the camera just to move it. Keep it still if you are unsure what to do. It’s always the best way to start learning, but don’t move it for the sake of moving it.
  • No rules to any of this, but a good practice is to always ask yourself why to using camera moves.