In this post we’ll talk about simple, but extremely effective camera move. As you can see in the video above, the camera is pivoting around the actor. This results in heavy back parallax (background is moving really fast).
This effect is further enhanced by using telephoto lens. The longer the focal length, the faster the background will move.
This move becomes extremely effective, when the director knows why to use it. One of the great opportunities for using this camera move is when we want to symbolize character’s train of thoughts. This usually happens when the character:
reveals new information
P.S. This camera move became one of the signatures in Michael Bay’s movies. (The other one is teal and orange look. Click here to read more about this color grading “virus” and here for a tutorial by Stu Maschwitz, where he explains how to achieve this look.)
“The truth is the best stuff evolves when I don’t really think about it. The good ones just come naturally…” [Andrew Mohrer]
Few weeks ago I received through email inspiration several photos by Dj Poe (Andrew Mohrer, New York based photographer). And I was absolutely amazed. Usually, I move the emails right away to my email inspiration folder, but not this one. I couldn’t stop looking at the pictures. They were absolutely stunning, they looked like they were taken from a movie! In other words, they felt really cinematic.
Recently I was wondering, how would you actually define the word cinematic? (I guess I should know, since I’m writing a blog about cinematic storytelling.) So I decided to go back to that email and tried to answer, what does the word cinematic really mean to me.
Looking at the picture above, we can see that there is a shallow depth of field, the image has widescreen aspect ratio (plus the black bars at the top and bottom), the colors are desaturated, the lighting is great and the composition is perfect as well.
The problem is that you can find thousands of pictures like this on the internet, books or magazines with shallow depth of filed, desaturated colors etc. And yet, most of them won’t feel cinematic at all.
So what I think makes the photos by Dj Poe really cinematic is their ability to make you ask questions. The most obvious question in this case would be: Where is she looking at and why? You can come up certainly with many other more or less relevant questions like:
What car is she driving?
Is it her car? Is she a driver by occupation?
Is she waiting at a crossroad for a green light?
Is she waiting for someone?
What is going to happen next etc.?
But the point here is not what kind of questions makes the image ask you, but the fact itself, that it DOES make you ask those questions.
Making the viewer ask questions is a very powerful cinematic technique, because it makes the viewer involved, and that happens when there is a certain kind of mystery, a space for your (viewer) interpretation.
That’s the difference between evening news (basically random shots, no need for interpretation) and movies by Stanley Kubrick (every shot is a very well composed shot with layers of meaning).
What I think is great about this definition of the word cinematic, that is
adding additional layers of meaning
making viewer involved by asking questions
ability to create a story in viewer’s mind
is that it’s applicable not only to photos, but to music, visual effects, sound design, you name it. The point is: Great art poses questions. So leave a space for an interpretation of your work, would you? 🙂
The fact, moment and light are 3 zones he thinks about when taking a photo. He firstly describes each zone individually and then concludes, that best photos occupy the intersection of all three zones. At the end, he shows an example of such photo (FML shot).
But here comes the best part! Not only it is a FML shot, but it made Stu ask questions!
Is that a joint in his hand?
Is it so important that he keep it lit that he’s tied a lighter to his wrist?