What’s the point of shooting video if the frame never moves? A sequence of locked off shots is really not all that different from a slide show and does not take advantage of one of the most powerful cinematic tools: Motion.
Infusing your work with camera movement can often seem like a daunting task. But you don’t always need a slider, dolly, jib, or crane to take your work to the next level in terms of production value. A solid fluid head tripod or monopod can go a long way in enhancing your video productions with cinematic style.
A tripod or monopod can do a lot more than just help you follow a character or subject in motion. These moves can infuse your scene with drama, direct the viewer’s attention, reveal key details, or help you transition between shots in a sequence. A lot of shooters find it hard to choose between a tripod or monopod.
Making the right choice comes down to the type of story that you are trying to tell. You don’t want to be caught filming a two hour long interview on a single leg or exhaust yourself by shooting a run and gun style documentary on a heavy set of sticks. Consider your budget, crew size, time constraints, and ability to direct the action before you make a decision.
Let’s take a look at two potential situations where the choice between a monopod and tripod is quite clear:
Imagine you are working by yourself as the behind-the-scenes videographer for an event. You are backstage and don’t have the ability to direct your characters as the action is happening in real-time. It’s a fast-paced environment and you can’t risk missing an important shot when adjusting the height of your camera. In a situation such as this the best choice is to go with the monopod. When combined with a versatile zoom lens and an onboard shotgun mic, this setup can go a long way in delivering quality results. Tripods can be incredibly cumbersome to manage without the help of an assistant. In addition, tripods need a considerable amount of space to set up.
Let’s take a look at this same situation, but from a different perspective. You are filming the same event except this time from the perspective of the audience. You are working with a heavy telephoto lens from a fixed position. In this case using a monopod would be ill-advised. Because a monopod is not free standing and requires the support of a human hand, the camera is perpetually in motion. This motion can provide a sense of kinetic energy in certain situations, but it will also comes across as very distracting and amateurish in this instance. This becomes even more evident when working at long focal lengths and shot durations.
Camera movement is a lot more than just capturing the action or following a character. In the case of handheld cinematography, it inherently provides a kinetic energy to your scenes that might or might not work for the story you are trying to tell.
Eduardo Angel is an independent Technology Consultant, Educator, and Visual Storyteller based in Brooklyn, NY. He currently teaches at The School of Visual Arts and the International Center of Photography, and mentors the photography program at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
He is a co-founder of the idea production company The Digital Distillery, author of popular filmmaking courses on Lynda.com, and regularly shares his thoughts on technology, photography, and cinema on his website eduardoangel.com.