Exercise 3.2 – Camera movement

Most of the course paper examples show the camera moving, rather than the subject. Broadly, these movements fall into two categories, accidental and deliberate.

The Robert Capa image from Omaha Beach on D-Day is an example of accidental camera movement. Capa’s famous maxim, ‘If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough’ (Magnum 2014) was, perhaps taken to extremes by joining the invading forces in the landing craft. Slideshow of images here. Several of his images have blur and/or tilted horizons. As viewers, we understand that the photographer was really there, dodging bullets and having nothing to shoot back with but a camera, and we share his experience vicariously. In this case, the imperfections contribute to the sense of authenticity and involvement.


FRANCE. Normandy. June 6th, 1944. US troops assault Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings.

The traffic image by an un-named OCA student (course notes p65) also shows accidental camera movements resulting from the circumstances in which it was taken. In this case, the relevant circumstance is that the photographer suffers from Parkinson’s disease and the image is at least as much about her involuntary hand movements as it is ostensibly about the traffic on Kings Road.

In most cases, however, accidental camera movements are caused by photographer error, setting a shutter speed too slow to hand-hold securely.

Deliberate camera movement is likely to be some form of panning. With a moving subject and a static background, the photographer moves the camera to match the subject movement, resulting in a sharp subject and blurred background. This technique is common in sports photography, particularly motor sport, but has been used in other contexts. In another of Robert Capa’s images a woman runs for shelter during an air raid on Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War. The background shows movement blur, as do her legs, giving us a sense of hurry, if not of panic.


SPAIN. Barcelona. January 1939. Running for shelter during the air raid alarm. The city was being heavily bombed by Fascist planes as General Franco’s troops rapidly approached the city.

The opening chase sequence of Chungking Express (YouTube clip here) uses a similar technique, particularly in the chase sequence between 1:25 and 1:45. The camera, with a slow shutter, follows the cop and the fugitive, leaving the background and extras blurred. Combined with frequent cuts (no clip is more than a couple of seconds long) this gives a sense of movement, confusion and involvement. This is similar to the ‘hand-held action’ sequences that have become a cliche in action movies such as the Bourne and later Bond films, but is handled well in our example.

We are also directed toward Chris Marker’s La Jeteé (opening sequence) (balance of movie) which is told as a sequence of still images. My own reaction is to view the film as an AV sequence; in some parts there is a sense of time passing, but not of movement.

Deliberate camera movements are used in other ways, for instance the camera club and magazine cliche of vertical panning in a forest, described by Steve Gubin (2013) among others. Although it does not convey movement (at least, not to me) it does give an impressionistic view and vertical emphasis to forest scenes.


Gubin, S. (2013) How to use the Vertical Pan Technique for Special Effects [online] at: http://stevegubin.com/blog/2013/12/how-to-use-a-vertical-pan-for-special-effects (accessed 13 May 2016)

Magnum Photos (2014) Robert Capa [online] at:http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_9_VForm&ERID=24KL535353 (accessed 13 May 2016)


5 thoughts on “Exercise 3.2 – Camera movement

    • I think that what we capture is a notion of the places the subject has been during the time the shutter is open (slightly complicated when the camera is moving but the principle remains). If it was static we see it sharply; if it was moving significantly then we see a blur, being the amalgam of all the places the subject was during the relevant period. Schrodinger’s long-exposure, perhaps?

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