5.3.4 The Camera Operator

First the cameraman must know what the camera variables are, in addition to filters and lenses.

He must also know shot sizes and framing.

Some of the variables are discussed briefly in the previous chapter. The other aspects are discussed in related Chapters.

In this Chapter the Operator will train on basic panning, zooming and focusing skills. Panning and Tilting with the Subject

In this first set of exercises you will learn how to follow the subject correctly.

Exercise 1: The Pendalum (10hrs)

Hang some weight by a 50cm light rope. Put the camera on a tripod, 1m away facing the weight.

Now move the weight such that it behaves as a pendulum. Then move the camera (panning and titling) with the weight. Use a wide frame at first. You must be able to keep the weight centered in the shot.

Exercise 2: Tightening the shot by zooming in (10hrs)

There are two ways to tighten a shot: Zooming in or moving the camera closer.

Zooming in is easier because panning angles are small. However, the more you zoom in the better the tripod fluid head needs to be and vibrations are more pronounced. This will train your precision and stability at shooting long ranges, just like the sniper.

Put the camera several meters away and zoom in at the hanging weight. Keep tightening the shot until you complete the training hours.

Exercise 3: Tightening the shot by moving in (10hrs)

Go back to the normal angle (wider zooming) of exercise 1, and put the camera 50cm infront of the pendulum weight. Now the panning and tilting speed and angle have increased. This will train your flexibility.

Panning large angles can be challenging for it involves your body turning with the camera.

As more you speed up your pendulum the harder it gets, depending on what outcome you need to become.

It is also essential to practice the moves in the final exercise at crouching, kneeling at one knee, and standing positions. Since camera height above ground is a variation that the director calls for.

The pendulum movement mimics a humans' sitting and standing up (Fig 1), which is one of the trickiest to follow.

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Fig 1: (Rachael Taylor, Shutter) A Human's Standing Up Panning and Tilting to a Different Subject

When moving to a different subject always take care to move according to the line of sight vector (Fig 2) and never to over-pan and recorrect.

Novice cameramen usually pan first then tilt later when they see the subject. The effect is shown in Figure 3.

Tilting down at a subject suggests humility and is not allowed.

Inorder to know the line of sight you must take your eye away from the viewfinder to see.

Exercise 1: (10hrs)Go to your balcony, zoom in at people and start panning among them. Choose the ones standing still at first.

Exercise 2: (10hrs)Once your transitions have become perfect start practicing it with moving people.This involves:

  1. Tracking the subject
  2. Removing your eye to scan for another person
  3. Keeping the camera moving according to the anticipated movement
  4. Anticipating what line of sight will form the next second
  5. Panning according to the anticipated site.

Of course you may find it really difficult, especially for close shots, but the skill you get from such an exercise is unmatched.

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Fig 2: (Rachael with Joshua Jackson in Shutter)
Correct Camera Movement
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Fig 3: Tilting Down from Red Frame Is Wrong Pan, Tilt and Zoom Combinations

Panning and Zooming simultaneously requires advanced skills, that you must have learnt through the previous exercises.

In these movements, the zooming and panning must be equivalent to each other (Fig 4).

The most important rules to remember are:

  1. Never let your zooming be faster than panning; you will lose your subject quickly.
  2. Never do any operation alone.
  3. Always calibrate your focus on the tighter shot.

However, it is acceptable to use the alternative shown in Figure 5.

Rachael Taylor See No Evil

Fig 4: (Still from See No Evil) Panning and Zooming Simultaneously

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Fig 5: Panning and Delayed Zooming

In Figure 5, zooming is delayed for a second and starts as soon as the operator sees part of the second subject. This way he/she can zoom safely.

Exercise 1: (5hrs)

Practice the combination for a target picture that is inside the first one.

Exercise 2: (5hrs)

Practice the combination for a target picture that is outside the first one, like the one shown above, using the delayed technique.

Finally, start zooming with the pan. Rack Focusing

This technique involves moving the focus from one subject to the other (Figs 6 & 7).

Exercise: 5 hrs

Practice this technique using a telephoto lens for a shorter depth of field.

You will be able to sense when the subject becomes sharp focused.

This is not directly seen through the small viewfinder.

At first, the focus might surpass the second subject, but eventually you will become accustomed to transitioning it the right amount.

You can continue practicing moving the focus at greater speeds.

Some shots might require that you transition a focus along with both panning and zooming, but they are extremely rare.

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Fig 6: Rack Focusing to Background

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Fig 7: Rack Focusing to Background Final Comments

Always roll the camera and say "rolling" when it starts recording, before the Director says "Action".

When the Director cuts, keep the camera rolling for three seconds. These are essential in editing.

Always wear a hat under the sun and some pouches to carry tapes, filters and accessories.

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