And now for a much overdo reflection on the 3rd month—March—of my documentary project.
There are 4 types of film shots. So explained film professor Dean Duncan during my first semester of college. And one of them I have never used. Let me explain by going through the shots and giving examples from the month of March.
1. Movement within the frame + still camera
This is the most traditional shot—the original shot, perhaps. It’s the shot found in early Lumiere films from 1895. It is the essence of a motion picture, a still picture with movement inside it, as shocking in the 1890s as moving portraits were to Harry Potter at age 11.
This is the approach taken in most of the shots in the month of March. One that I particularly like, because of the depth of movement within the frame, is the one I took of a vegetable pinewood derby car. I’m also rather fond of the one of cars and balloons in motion—the motion itself is so captivating, nothing else is needed.
2. No movement within the frame + movement of the camera
This shot in some ways is like taking a photograph and moving a camera across it, but it’s the types movement that make this both more complicated and interesting. Panning, tracking, zooming, helicopter and crane shots—there really are countless possibilities.
For example, I did a handheld tracking shot of the soda aisle at Target. My goal with using this moving shot was to create a sense of the endlessness of soda in our culture, and perhaps to make some point about consumerism or soda consumption.
Another shot I did with a relatively static image was that of a snowy spring morning. Of course, there is lots of sound in this shot which is a topic for another day. The point of the camera movement is to explore, as the eyes might, some of the morning splendor.
3. Movement within the frame + movement of the camera
This type of shot has the risk of being overwhelming because of the amount of movement, but it is powerful. I was asked by one viewer if perhaps I was cheating at my own rules because I allowed for camera movement, while my rules state that “no editing” is allowed.
Some have talked of cinematography as editing within the frame. Making choices and connections and juxtapositions based off of camera movement. Take, for example, the shot I did of shoes hanging from the telephone wire. I really have two shots here—a close up of the shoes so you can take pleasure in the detail, and then a long shot to provide the context, so you can see what it is they are hanging on. And honestly, I’m not too fond of zooms. I really wanted two shots here—a close up, and then a cut to a long shot. But because of the rules I’ve set myself, I’m not allowed to do that. So I “edited within the frame” so to speak, and used camera movement (lens movement, to be more exact) to do the edit for me.
Yes, strictly speaking, camera movement is a type of editing. But so is camera placement. By simply deciding what is revealed within the frame and what is not, or when to start and stop the shot, I am making choices, edits, that focus the viewer on the particular. To me, that is one of the greatest pleasures of film.
4. No movement within the frame + still camera
The final type of shot that exists consists of no movement within the frame and a still camera. In a sense, this is a photograph that the viewer is forced to look at for a certain length of time.
In a sense, this defies the idea of film, or motion pictures. What makes film different than photography is that something is in motion, that a certain number of frames per second projected onto (or viewed on) a screen can create the illusion of life.
When is this type of shot commonly used? It’s often an extreme long shot, used to set up a landscape or locale in a narrative film. And when you have editing and can cut between a shot devoid of a movement, and a shot with movement, then it works. There is purpose to looking at stillness for a certain length of time. And it can work really well.
For my project, however, it doesn’t really work. There’s a lot of really cool things that I see, and I think, “That would make a really cool photograph.” And so I snap a picture, but don’t have anything to use for my Days of Film project. So far this year, I have not yet found a reason to use this type of shot—I have not found one that would be “compelling” or “interesting.” Maybe I’ll do one this year sometime, just for kicks. After all, it is one of the four types of film shots.
And now, for a list of my favorite shots of the month of March:
1. The shots I already linked to as examples above.
5. The night shadow of a flag.