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By Eduardo Angel | Saturday, August 02, 2014

Camera Movement: Tripod or Monopod?

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Unlike still photography, filmmaking is a medium defined by motion. Motion is the action within the frame—but it’s also the motion of the frame itself. Even a series of well-lit and well-composed shots can be perceived as a slideshow rather than a story in motion if the shots remain “stagnant.”

Nowadays we’re so used to seeing camera movement in Hollywood films that we expect to see movement in all the videos we watch—even if we don’t know much about filmmaking.

Here are the primary tools for accomplishing camera movement—and when to use which:

Tripods

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A tripod is an ideal tool for the basic types of camera movement: pans and tilts. The tripod operates much like the human neck, so you’ll often see pans and tilts used in a manner that mimics a character’s point of view or establishes a sense that the action on screen is being observed by others.

Because pans and tilts mimic how we view the world, it’s important to consider the height of the camera when plotting your shots. The tripod’s height determines the perspective from which the audience views your subject.

Interestingly, the speed of the pans and tilts also has an effect on the viewer: A slow pan forces viewers to take in all the visual information of the scene as we enters the frame, while a fast pan or tilt can disorient viewers and switch their attention to a new point of focus.

Monopods

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Like the tripod, the monopod can accomplish many types of motion—but it’s much more portable than the tripod and you’ll find it much easier to adjust the height. Because of its small footprint and portable nature, the monopod lends itself well to run-and-gun camera work, such as documentary and event productions.

The key difference between tripods and monpods is that a monopod will never be perfectly still. Because the camera is being supported by a human hand, it’s impossible for it to be completely static; as a result, it can never truly replicate the precision of the tripod. But if you’re shooting without an assistant, quickly adjusting the height of a tripod can prove cumbersome, and a monopod could be an attractive option.

So tripod or monopod? Every decision you make as a filmmaker will affect the way an audience interprets and reacts to your scene. Try not to incorporate movement for the sake of movement; rather, understand and appreciate the dramatic effects of each type of movement and how it can enhance your project.

To learn more, watch my new lynda.com course Camera Movement for Video Production, including the free video Tripod vs. monopod.

 

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