3 Things Students in Film Production Courses Should Know About Handheld Camerawork

Posted on October 14th, 2016 - Written by: Trebas Toronto

Grads of Film Production Courses Know Handheld Camerawork Adds Realism

Getting steady shots is essential for professional quality productions. While this is usually best accomplished with a tripod, dolly, or shoulder rig, sometimes convenience, economics, or artistic preference will motivate you to use handheld camera techniques. Fortunately, modern video cameras have come a long way in terms of weight, flexibility, and stabilizing functions, but even so the deciding factor in handheld camera success will be the techniques you employ.

“Being quick on your feet at producing quality film and video work is what employers require,” notes Kalman Szegvary, director of Trebas Institute’s Film and TV Production program. In the program, students gain extensive hands-on experience in everything from screenwriting to post-production, including best practices in cinematography.

Here are some things to keep in mind to get great handheld camera shots.

1. Grads of Film Production Courses Know Handheld Camerawork Adds Realism

If you don’t have a tripod, forgot it at home, or your subject matter lends itself to moving shots, handheld shooting may be necessary. It’s an essential skill for all camera operators to develop and an important artistic concept for film directors to understand. It’s often used in television news and documentaries to capture urgent or demanding situations when speed and flexibility are top priorities.

Handheld camerawork is also an increasingly popular technique in film and television, easily adaptable for unpredictable conditions and adding an element of immediacy and realism. Commonly used in music videos and reality TV, it can be a powerful way to grip an audience and pull them into the action, enhancing emotional content like violence and chase scenes.

2. Students in Film Production School Know Good Posture is Important to Handheld Camerawork

Students in film production courses know that while shaky camerawork can be effective for certain artistic purposes, attaining a steady view is the more challenging issue at hand. Start with a steady stance, legs shoulder-length apart and slightly bent to act as a natural shock-absorber for your camera. Make your body like a tripod by keeping your balance, leaning against a tree or building for support if possible.

Keep the camera close to your body for stabilization

Keep the camera close to your body for stabilization

Gloves and lumbar support belts can help for long handheld shots, and two hands are better than one when holding the camera. Do some pre-shot stretching and deep breathing to be relaxed and limber. Keep your elbow tucked in close to your chest, with the camera tight to your body, or firmly on your shoulders for heavier cameras.

3. Handheld Camerawork Can Be Used to Create Different Effects

When working on your final project at film production school, you might want to experiment with different shots and effects, such as the “zolly effect,” through handheld camerawork. The zolly effect, also known as the dolly zoom effect, gives a vertigo-like illusion to your shots. That’s because the zolly effect makes it appear as if the subject in your shot is being pulled toward the camera while the surroundings are being pushed back, or vice versa.

Here’s an example of the zolly effect in action:


To achieve this look using a handheld camera, begin your shot close to your subject with your camera fully zoomed out. Then, slowly walk away from the subject while zooming in. The result will be a surreal look perfect for dramatic moments of realisation or other dizzying instants in your movie.

Would you like to learn camera techniques at film school in Toronto?

Contact Trebas Institute to find out more about our Film & TV Production program.

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