Saturday, 16 November 2013

Film Techniques

1. Over-the-shoulder shots

Over-the-shoulder shots are just what the name says: a shot with an actor’s shoulder in the foreground, out of focus. A good over-the-shoulder shots are some of the most time-consuming to shoot correctly, because you need to make sure that there is neither too much nor too little shoulder in the frame. However, in my opinion no serious filmmaker can afford not to learn this technique because it is narratively essential in many cases. Some directors openly say that they never shoot over-the-shoulder shots precisely because it takes ages to get the look they want and frequently can’t do it at all, but in my opinion they are missing out.
From a narrative point of view, over-the-shoulder shots draw the viewer in by creating a sense of intimacy, depending on how much of the screen area the shoulder in the foreground occupies. As I wrote above, the key to making the shot work is to get exactly the right amount of shoulder in the shot. The way to do this is to work with the actor over whose shoulder you are shooting to make sure that he/she is leaning into the shot by exactly the right amount. It takes practice, and is one of those uncelebrated but essential film techniques that even the most experienced directors don’t always have. I always take my time to frame the perfect over-the-shoulder shot in my work and it is worth the effort, and the actors appreciate the final results. Read my detailed guide on how to frame over-the-shoulder shots.
2. Tilt shots

Tilting up or down is one of the simplest camera techniques there are. Due to its simplicity it tends to be overused and/or poorly executed. The truth is that well-executed tilting, combined with some interesting action and with perfect coordination between the camera operator and the action, can be incredibly elegant in their simplicity. If you want to see further examples of tilt shots and the circumstances that make them appropriate, check out pretty much any film by Steven Spielberg, especially “Schindler’s list.”
Recommended best practices for the execution of good tilt shots:
- Set up the shot in such a way that you can tilt straight up or down, without mixing it with panning. If you can set up the shot in this way, you can lock off the panning axis of your fluid head so that it can only tilt and not pan. This will make the tilt shot very pure and elegant. Obviously there are certain circumstances in which tilting combined with panning — a diagonal movement — is the best option. What I’m saying here is that you should not mix tilting with panning just because you failed to set up the shot properly. If you are tilting up or down to move from one subject to another along the vertical axis, set up the shot in such a way that you can execute it with the panning axis completely locked off.
- Tilt shots (and panning shots) should be executed smoothly and confidently, without overshooting the final frame and then backtracking clumsily to re-establish framing, unless of course you actually want that look. It is perfectly possible to do a whip-tilt — a very fast tilt from one framing to another — with an instant lock-off and very precise framing, but you will need a highly competent and experienced camera operator. For ambitious film work, experienced camera operators are worth every penny and essential to realizing the director’s vision.
3. Panning shots

Panning the shot is the horizontal equivalent of tilt shots. Like tilt shots, panning shots are conceptually simple and therefore usually overused and/or poorly executed. Exactly the same best-practice considerations made for the tilt shots apply to panning shots: try and design them in such a way that you can lock off the tilt axis in order to keep the panning pure, and hire a competent camera operator, especially if your shots require precise timing and framing accuracy. Once again I will refer you to any of Steven Spielberg’s films as an excellent source of well-executed panning shots, that are so well-motivated and well-executed as to be almost unnoticeable (because they draw you into the story as opposed to distracting you from it).

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