basis camera operations


Framing the Shots: Angle, Level, Height and Distance

On the film set, a film director will make choices about where to position the camera in relation to the action, that is, how to frame the shot. We can speak of “camera angle”, “camera height”, and “camera distance” to describe some of these choices of “framing”. The framing of the shot creates what we see on the screen. Choices about the framing of a shot change the shot’s meaning.


This refers to the angle of framing. In practice, we typically refer to three general types: the straight-on angle, the high angle and the low angle. The straight-on angle is the most common. The high angle shot positions us ‘looking down’ on the material in the frame. This can be used to make a character appear small and powerless. The low angle framing positions us as ‘looking up’ at the framed material. This can be used to make characters very large and powerful.


This refers to the degree to which the frame is either ‘level’ or ‘wonky’. Imagine that you are filming telegraph poles. If the framing is level, the poles will be vertical in the frame (straight up and down), and the horizon will be horizontal (straight side-to-side). If the horizon and poles are at diagonal angles, we say that the frame is ‘canted’ (wonky). You can use the camera level to create the effect of a sloping hillside or to make the material in the frame appear strange or weird.


Sometimes it is important to frame a shot from different heights to change the audience’s perspective on the material. The camera could be positioned close to the floor, shooting straight-on to give the impression of a low height. Perhaps this would be used to signify the view of a child or small creature. Alternatively, the camera could be positioned high up in the room or very high up in the sky to signify the view of a bird or a pilot.


Camera Distance

Changing the camera distance supplies a sense of us being close-to or far-away from the material of the shot. The standard measure of camera distance is the scale of the human body. Some typical examples of camera distances are given below:

Camera Distance Used For

Extreme long shot (ELS) Framing landscapes. Human figure is barely visible.

Long shot (LS) A shot that shows a character at a distance, spanning their whole height but leaving an area above and below them. This focuses the audience’s attention on the character and his/her surroundings.

Medium shot (MS) Also known as a mid shot, this shows a character from the knees or waist up or a full-length seated figure. Most effective for showing the interplay between two characters and bridging the gap between a wide shot and a close-up. This shot can also be adapted to a medium long shot or a medium close-up.

Close-up (CU) Used to show extreme detail or facial expressions. A character is framed from just beneath the shoulders with space left above the head. This shot is effective for showing an audience a character’s emotions and reactions because it focuses their concentration on only one thing on the screen.

Extreme close-up (ECU) This shows only part of the head, the area from the lips to the eyes, and is often used for highly emotional shots to increase dramatic effect.

Over-the-shoulder shot A shot made from over-the-shoulder of a character, focusing on what he or she is seeing.

Point-of-view shot (POV) Seen from the character’s point of view

Two shot Shot with two characters in it.



Most good videographers or filmmakers will use line and movement within the frame instead of physical moving the camera. When framing a shot, think of a still camera that has movement within your still picture.

Movement comes in two forms:

• The Object of Focus Moving: When the object of focus moves, you either try to keep it in the same relative position (using pan or tilt) and lead it (keeping empty space in front of the movement), or you let the object of focus move through your frame (side-to-side or front-to-back) using the Rule of Thirds to contain that movement.

• Movement of the Viewer’s eye to the Point of Focus: Here the object moves very little, or not at all, and you are trying to get the audience to see the object of focus. Although you always want to try and use the Rule of Thirds for your focus position, you also use natural objects to:

˗ Place a frame around it (doorway, tree branch, etc), or

˗ Pull the eye to the spot by using natural objects that go diagonally through the picture to, or past, the point of focus (limbs, roads, rails, etc.).

Movement through the Frame

Just as the name implies, you let the object of focus move through the frame or move it through the frame using a dolly or rail system.


The screen (TV or movie) is two-dimensional, and you must always try to set your image (the frame you shot) to point out the depth of the environment you are shooting.

• Foreground/Background: Place things in the foreground and background that show the depth but do not distract.

• Environments: Use the above concept of environmental framing, especially the use of diagonals (leading from the screen) to enhance the perception of depth.


Single camera film style (using reverse angles)

Point-of-view (the camera is the eye of the talent)

Documentary (third-party observation)

Shot Composition

180-Degree Rule

This is the technique used to help keep viewers from getting lost in film world space by keeping the camera on one side of a line drawn across the space.

Here are some guidelines for working with the 180-degree rule:

1. Draw a circle (360 degrees) around an overhead sketch of the space where your actors are, set pieces, and important objects will be placed.

2. Figure out the best place to put your camera.

3. Find the dividing line (180 degrees) with your camera on one side of the line and the subjects you are shooting on the line or on the other side of the line.

4. Moving the camera over this line may confuse people, especially during two-shot, conversation-type scenes. Shots obtained from just one side of this line will feel more consistent to viewers.

Eye-Line Match

Cameras often follow the eyes of characters in a scene. Eye-line match cuts are used to show us what a character is looking at off-screen. A character looks up and to the right in one shot. In the next shot, the subject the character was watching appears in the upper right of the screen to match the direction of the look.

Plan your eye-line match cuts into the storyboard level to make sure your shots are going to look good together. This will become even more apparent when you do a rough animatic. If a character looks left, your next shot needs to match the direction of that look with a subject on screen to the left. Character looks down, and you then show what the character is looking at below. If a character suddenly looks up, the next shot shows us a mouse crawling across the character’s toes; the audience will wonder what the character is looking at above and gets confused. Watch films to see how they cut on these looks and where the objects in the next shot are placed.

If your eye-line match cut lines are even a little off, your editing will be a nightmare, and the shots will be a nightmare. The shots will feel like they do not go together. Audiences have been trained to expect these cuts, even though most viewers are not even aware of the concept. At this point, just note with arrows in the thumbnails which direction the character is supposed to look during eye-line match cuts to make sure you match these look lines when you plan your next shot.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a compositional technique filmmakers use to help frame shots. The rule of thirds can sometimes enable you to improve the composition of your shots dramatically. The idea behind this rule is to break the screen up into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. You then frame your scene elements and subjects along the lines.


Angle or diagonal shots give a sense of depth, dimension, and interesting perspective lines. Too many flat, straight-on shots start to look boring. It is good to plan your angles as much as possible during the storyboarding process to make sure they go together in the final shot sequences.


Each shot needs to be balanced properly for the composition to work well. When planning balance for narrative impact, remember that our eyes move to the side of the frame with the most weight. The real size of the objects is not as important as the size they appear in the frame.

Leading Looks

Another aspect of balance is leading looks, meaning that you have allowed for the compositional weight of the look. If you have a side view of a person looking to the left, put this person on the right half of the frame to allow room for the look to occur. Objects such as TV sets, vehicles in motion, and subjects with slanted compositions also need to have room ahead of them for good balance.

Leading Lines

Designing shots with strong graphical lines will lead the viewer’s eyes to specific areas of the frame. Once you know what subjects or objects are important to show in each shot, you will be able to design set elements around them to point at those important areas.



The tripod remains in place, but the camera swivels from left to right or right to left. The resulting shot duplicates a person surveying a situation by standing in one place and turning his or her head. A pan (short for “panorama”) is used in film, as in reality, to survey a scene or to follow a moving object.


A tilt shot is a vertical (up and down) pan. The tripod remains in place while the camera pivots up or down. This seldom-used movement gives viewers a trip up or down a building, a person, or other tall object.


The camera rolls smoothly toward or away from the subject. In professional films, the heavy camera is mounted on a special cart called a dolly. In amateur filmmaking, the same effect can be obtained by moving the camera on a wagon, skateboard, or any wheeled platform. The ground must be smooth for this shot to work.


Also called a traveling shot or a follow shot, this is a variation of the dolly. If you want to move the camera parallel to a fast-moving car, the camera can be mounted on a second car and moved alongside the car that is being filmed. If the camera is to move smoothly along rough or sandy ground (to follow two people walking on a beach, for example), a special wooden track is laid down, and the dolly “tracks” along it for a smooth shot. (Note that in television film production, the universally used term for tracking shot is trunk left or trunk right.)


This shot involves mounting the camera on a special crane on the end of a hydraulic arm. The camera mounted on this “boom” can be moved very fluidly in almost any direction.


This shot is used for a dramatic or shocking effect. A zoom lens is manipulated while the camera remains stationary. The effect created is similar to looking through a telescope or binoculars and moving from the least to the greatest magnification (zoom-in) or the reverse (zoom-out). A zoom can be very fast or gradual. A zoom lens is available for home movie cameras and is much overused by amateurs. It is seldom used in professional films because there is no comparison to this kind of “seeing” in reality. Our eyes are not equipped with zoom eyeballs.

Hand – Held

All the previous techniques of camera movement depend on the fact that cameras are usually mounted on a tripod. But newer cameras are light enough to be carried by hand so that a film can be made by picking up a camera and walking around with it. This is most often done in documentary films and in filming for news.


A tripod will always provide you with a steady picture, especially when you are using the zoom. This wonderful devise, however, will not be helpful if not used correctly. It is made up of the head, handle, pedestal, legs and dolly.


Heads are either fluid or tension (fluid is the best), but both must be adjusted to the weight of the camera. You do this by adjusting the pan and the tilt pressure controls found on the head until the movement is smooth (not loose). When correct, the camera should stay exactly where you stopped.

Most good heads use a “quick connect” plate that attaches to the mounting plate of the camera. Quick connect heads have a spring load lever that must be cocked so that when the camera plate is slid in at the correct angle, it snaps closed (you should always check to see if it is locked before letting go of the camera). It might sound silly, but when mounting the camera be sure the handles are at the rear of the camera.


Pedestals are used to move the camera higher or lower without adjusting the legs. WARNING: If you raise the pedestal too high, you will lose stability on the camera.


You should always try to use the biggest leg section first, and then use the next smaller section until you are at the correct height. You also use the legs to level the tripod head (some have levels built into them to help you). The tripod should always have its head level. Most legs have both a rubber and steel tip on the bottom – spinning the rubber will expose the steel tip. Use the correct tip for the surface.


Here are some words of advice as you begin to shoot your DV project.

• Make sure to tell your viewers where they are or where they were. In other words, remember to begin with some sort of establishing shot (LS or MS).

• Shots should not be perfectly symmetrical (either vertical or horizontal). The rule of thirds must be applied in nearly all shots.

• If you do a side face shot (profile), you must establish eye space.

• If you film a motion shot, you must leave space for the movement.

• Avoid the “deadly jump”. This is when there is a radical transition from one camera shot to another (i.e., LS to ECU). Not only does it confuse your viewers, but also it draws attention to the technology. Remember, you want to convince your viewers that what they are watching is reality.

• Cut-ins and cut-aways consist of two shots (the ES and the cut-in/cut-away).

• Watch your lighting! Stay away from windows and doors (when possible). You need to control your lighting as much as possible.

• Be consistent! If in one shot your talent is standing to the left of a bookcase, make sure that in the next shot he/she is standing in the same spot. Also, maintain consistent perspective. Don’t cross over your viewers’ line of vision.

• Use a tripod whenever possible. It is difficult to hold a camera steady—especially when the camera person is laughing because your film is funny.

• Be prepared for problems. Batteries that run out, cameras that get jammed, talent who refuse to cooperate, confusing editing machines, and weird sound are all common occurrences for which you must be ready. Filming always seems to take longer than planned (even “big wig” filmmakers experience this). Just remember not to get too frustrated.

• Finally, have fun! Don’t be afraid to experiment and be creative.



Filmmaking is a deliberate event. You plan your visuals not only to show the story unfold but also to help the audience get a sense of time, place, emotion, and empathy for the characters. To do this, filmmakers have developed a variety of camera techniques. This unit is an attempt to help you get a grasp of the techniques and the reason and place within a script to use them. It is important to understand that camera work and editing go hand-in-hand. I cannot use parallel editing unless I shoot that way. I need shots that work together to do cross-dissolves and shots that have continuity to avoid jump cuts.

All visuals are designed to do one or more of the following: provide or support emotion, advance or enhance the story development, create a rhythm, help the audience follow or focus on the object of focus, “eye trace”, and compensate for the two-dimensionality of the media.

When and Why: It is as important to understand the when and why of each of the following as it is to understand what it is and how to do it.

Moving the Camera

• Pan – relationship of scene and totality
• Tilt – reveal and drama
• Dolly/Rail/Truck – avoid parallel and use foreground objects
• Crane – drama, relationship, and perspective
• Pull Focus – “eye trace”
• Zoom – framing, depth and “eye trace”

The Effect of Composition on Content, Emotion and Editing

• Relationship of the eye to the lens:

□ Even – equality
□ Below – submission – viewer has power
□ Above – dominance – viewer is submissive
□ POV – empathy, drama (tension) and “eye trace”
□ Dutch – drama and humor

• Relationship to subject:

□ Wide – establish relationships
□ Medium – focus
□ Close-up – emotions
□ Extreme close-up – extreme drama

• Movement

□ Within the frame – relationships and focus
□ As the frame moves with it – dramatic action
□ Through the frame – depth, drama, and reveal

Continuity of Form and Thought

• Shooting for sequence and continuity:

□ Establishing shot – Where are we?
□ Master shot – whole sequence from one angle
□ Insert shot – reverse for insert into master
□ Cutaway shot – environment of master
□ Reaction shot – like “insert”
□ Buffer shot – like “cutaway”

• Editing for sequence and continuity:

□ Match cut – continuity
□ Straight cut – on beat or action
□ Jump cut – neither of the above
□ Object or form cut – using a shape as the cut mask (heart for love)
□ L-Cut/Split cut – audio and video not cut together (audio leads video)
□ Split screen – parallel or duel action
□ Superimposition – adding a dramatic element as thought

□ Clearing the frame – way to do the following:

─ Continuity of time – cross dissolve
─ Change of time – fade to black
─ Cross the line – effect or fade to black

□ Parallel sequence – cross cut, back-and-forth action, tension, and foreshadow

□ Montage sequence – images mixed to show (all films are technically a montage)

─ Sequential – story (Notting Hill, Gladiator)
─ Complex – emotion ( Potemkin ship and steps)
─ Thematic – music video or commercial

□ Thematic sequence – long version of the montage

□ Rhythm and pace – moving the sequence along by use of:

─ Duration of shot
─ Speed of movement within the frame
─ Real or perceived movement of the camera
─ Pace of the plot
─ Pace of dialogue
─ Pace of music score

Questions to Ask during Creation, Shooting, Editing and Reviewing

1. What is the purpose of any shot or edit.

2. Does the beginning of my story have a visual hook that helps the focus?

3. Do the visuals and edits help keep my story focused as it progresses?

4. Do the visuals and edits promote a clear and strong ending? This can form the basis of the rough-cut review session as well as self-review.

5. Are there any edited sequences that are not clear as to the intended meaning of the sequence (flow of thought or idea)?

6. Are there any visuals or edits that prevent or do not lead my target audience to the established goals for this piece?


Camcorders/Digital Video

Camcorders use photocells that generate electrical signals that respond to the brightness and color of light. Electrical circuitry in the camcorder converts these digital signals into digital data and records it on the magnetic tape of the DV cassette.

Controlling Contrast

Video is more difficult to light correctly. The problem is the limited contrast range of the CCDs in video cameras. No matter how good your camcorder is, you’ll never be able to show detail in both the light and dark areas of the image in the same frame. So you go for lighting that is either bright or dim overall. The artistic goal of lighting is to direct the viewer’s eye.


Exposure controls the amount of light that reaches the CCD clip. When you shoot a picture with a camera, it is created by focusing on an image through the camera lens onto the area within the camera where the image is recorded. The trouble is getting the image looking just right. There needs to be just the right amount of light—too much light and the image will start to bleach out; too little light and the image will start to get dark and lose detail.

Aperture or Iris

The amount of light getting into the camera can be controlled by the aperture on the camera. Mechanically, the aperture is a lot like the iris in your eye. When it is dark, the iris opens up to let more light in. When it is bright, the iris closes down to restrict the light entering the eye. The same is true with the camera. The aperture is a ring on the camera lens and is usually marked with numbers called “F stops”. When the aperture is open wide, the F stop number is small. When the aperture is closed down, the F stop number is larger.

Simple Lighting Set-up

Even the simplest of shots needs to be lit properly, or it will look like your average home movie. This simple mid shot of an actress required four lights – key light, fill light, rim light and a background light.

• Key Light

The key light models the subject and is often the most important light in the scene. It is often the foundation on which all other lights are based. In this case, it is a light placed to the left of the actress, perhaps representing a window light source (in the story of the shot).

• Fill Light

This light is designed to “fill” the harsh shadows created by the “key” light to create a more natural and rounded look. It will pick out detail and texture where otherwise there would be only dark shadows.

• Back Light

To add another dimension, a light source is mounted behind the subject. It hits the back of objects and the actress and gives a nice impression of three dimensionality.

• Background Light

The light has been positioned to illuminate the background of the scene to create a more natural look. Without it, there would be a fully lit actress sitting against a very dark background.


The choice of lighting style is one of the things that can significantly impact the speed at which you shoot. For instance, complicated, glossy lighting can take a great deal of time. Are you aiming for a film noir look or social realism? Or Ridley Scott’s “shafts of light” look or harsh, bright primary colors as used by Pedro Almodóvar or the dark and mood look of Se7en?

The choice of operating style will be the domain of the camera operator. It’s essentially a discussion about framing and camera movement. Are you going to shoot images that are “sat back”, static and symmetrical in a Kubrick-esqe style, or are you going to go for a shoot-from-the-hip wobbly cam style like The Insider, or are there going to be lots of slick track and dolly camera movements like your average American action movie, or will there be super fast track and dolly Scorsese style, or even Steadicam overload, again, Kubrick inspired?

Of course, on a low budget movie, you’re going to struggle to achieve any consistent look of excellence because there simply isn’t time or resources, but as long as everyone is talking the same language, then the on-set short hand between DP, AD and director will speed things up.

Artistic Lighting Touches

Good lighting technique aims to illustrate the subject from three sources: key light, fill, and backlight.

You may also add other light sources for effect.

Eyelight aims a bright light directly into an actor’s eyes. It creates a sparkle in the eye that audiences find appealing and warm. Traditionally, movie star heroes always get eyelight, and their villainous opponents don’t, giving the “bad guy” or soulless look.

Kicker is an extra highlight located above or to the side of a subject to emphasize its contours. A kicker can make an actor’s hair appear lustrous or can emphasize her jaw line to make her seem more forceful or resolute.

Spotlight is a high-intensity beam on a small area, often in marked contrast to a darker area. For example, a light spilling from a doorway into a dark hallway could be created by a spotlight located behind the door.

Rim Light is focused on the subject directly from behind to highlight its edges. It can make an actor literally appear to glow. In effect, it is a more intense type of backlight.

Background Light throws extra illumination on the wall or scenery in back of the subject. Its purpose is usually to bring out details that would otherwise be lost in the shadows. Lighting involves the single most important set of decisions that will affect the quality of the video or film image. It determines what the audience sees, where they focus their attention, and the mood of the scene.

To control lighting on the set:

• Motivate the key light—make the audiences think key light comes from a window or a lamp they can see.

• Keep contrast low—tone down highlights and add fill lighting to shadow areas.

• White balance manually each time you change the lighting source.

• Make adjustments as light changes during the day.

• Consider how highlights could add artistic touches and interests to your video imagery.


Color Temperature

Color temperature is the relative reddish or blue quality of the light source. We measure this in degrees of Kelvin.

• Incandescent bulb, 3200 degrees K (yellowish)

• Quarts Bulb, 3500 degrees K (reddish)

• Florescent bulb, 4000 degrees K (blue or greenish)

• Sun, 5500-7500 degrees K (how much cloud and time of day – blue-white)

When you “White Balance” a camera, the camera is always comparing the color temperature to the “white standard” and deciding the correct filters it needs to correct the incoming light to “White”.

It is always best to use the manual white balance and a white card. The problem with the Full Auto White is that its range is only good up to about 5000 degrees. When shooting outdoors at noon on a clear day, this can affect your colors. This is not so true on the newer cameras but, given the choice and the right conditions, it is best to use the manual when you can.

Last, remember that lighting on TV serves the same 6 objectives that it does on a theater stage:

1. Fulfilling technical requirements (Visibility)

2. Provide 3-D perspective (perceived depth, TV screen is only 2-D)

3. Direct attention to important elements in the scene

4. Establish mood (casual, professional, dreamlike)

5. Establish the time of day and season

6. Contribute to the overall aesthetic feel and composition of a shot while providing continuity with the following scene


The following material is basic film concepts, and when the principles are applied to digital video, the results can be striking. Film (because of its makeup) has a specific look – softer, warmer, and richer – it provides a specific aesthetic look. Digital video (all video) normally looks sharper, cooler, and more real than film, especially if you use a standard “positive” lighting technique.

If you use “negative” lighting (using shadow to shape, take light away, and work from the camera lens’ most open position for our DV cameras 1.4), you can use a standard “positive” lighting technique.


Basic light source or sun

Reflectors, including diffuser

Flags (light masking objects)

Light meter or trustable color monitor (the LCD on the VX 2000) meter settings (ISO = 320, FPS = 30, lens 1.4)


The soft look comes from a lower “depth of field” (the amount of area in focus). Therefore, it is necessary to use the open iris setting as much as possible (f – 1.4).

The reduction or elimination of “flat” light. The richness comes, in part, as a result of lighting the subject in such a way as to get modeling of the subject as well as background separation. This is different than normal lighting, which floods or fills the subject while providing background separation. In addition, reduction of the “flat” light effect demands the use of masking or “flagging” part or all of the background or elements that can cause distraction to the subject.

Providing depth and shape to the subject through the use of foreground objects and selected background objects. The lighting of these objects is very subjective and is based on a soft backlit or bounce lit concept.

Possible use of lighting textures – “cookies” or “gobos” used in front of a light source to break up, model, or even give a sense of location to the scene through the light.


Understand lighting ratios, in order to get detail and short depth of field, good lighting requires the lowest level and highest level requiring visible detail to be set within a five f-stop window.

Normal F-Stops: 1, 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 11, 16, 22 ,32

BVW-300A open (1.4), 2.8, 3.4, 4, 4.8, 5.6, 6.8, 8, 9.6, 11

BVW-300A closed 1.7 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16

This means that if you are shooting with your lens wide open (f-1.4), then your highest light should not exceed a 5.6 or 4.8 on your BVW-200 A, if it is to retain any detail information. Use this window of exposure to create as much variety in light as possible through key, bounced, diffused, or filtered sources.

To keep your key light source down, use the “ND” filters 1 and 2 on the camera to lower bright light to the lowest acceptable “key” you can, trying to keep the iris as open as possible. This is a balancing act between filters and F-stop. Using a diffuser can help as well. Once you have set the maximum “key” level at the lowest F-stop setting you can get, use the same within 5 stop window.

Note: Your LCD monitors are very good at seeing where you lose white and black detail. It will also show you the “depth of field”, so trust and use them but don’t reset the brightness control or they will lie to you. It should be set midway in its window.

If you want to add a bit of grain to your look, you may want to add a small amount of gain to the open setting. When you reach “open”, you will move into the gain mode by continuing to turn the wheel. This artificially creates light but adds grain as well. You may want to experiment with it firsts to see what you like and don’t like.

If you need even less “depth of field”, you may want to try to move back from your subject and use the zoom to frame your shot. Moving away and zooming in on a subject to create the same frame at less or no zoom will diminish your “depth of field”. For an even greater result, add an extender to the lens. The focal length of the extender and its demand for light will decrease your “depth of field” even more.