Camera Movement: Understanding the Pan

One of the most basic camera movements is the pan. In the early days of cinema, the pan shot did not come about until the 1900s when rotational tripod heads were first introduced. Stemming from the word panorama, the pan is used to horizontally move the camera from side to side from a fixed point, usually to show more of the scenery. Imagine standing still and simply looking left and right by rotating your head, this is the same movement as the pan.

How to Do a Pan Shot

It's possible to do a pan shot with a handheld camera. The best way is to hold the camera as close to your body as possible, and simply swivel along your waist to pan from left to right. Though this will yield the same result, it's still most advisable to use a tripod. A pan shot is most effective only if the camera is stable, and the pan shot is as smooth as possible.

Mount your camera to a tripod and keep the rotational head loose. Swivel the camera left to right in order to perform your pan shot. Make sure that your movement is consistent. Don't rush a pan if it's not necessary.

When to Use the Pan Shot

The pan shot has many uses and is a very versatile camera movement. The pan can be used to track movement along a horizontal surface. If you're shooting a race for instance, you can pan runners from left to right along the track. You can also use the pan to shoot characters moving to and fro in a room.

Pan shots can also be used to establish a scene or location. For outdoor shoots, this is most useful if you want to capture a whole lot without resorting to wide angle lenses. Simply pan along the horizon, or pan throughout the location, to capture and show everything. This establishing technique can also be used as a point-of-view shot. If your character has just entered a room, you can cut to a complete pan shot of the room to see through your character's eyes.

Successfully Using the Pan Shot

Practice makes perfect, and this is also true of pan shots. The best way to ensure a successful pan shot is by doing several takes. Pan shots have to be smooth and stable. Often during the pan, something can cause the camera to shake, jerk, or stop mid-way. It's best to first practice your pan shot before rolling the camera. And remember to do several safety takes.

The pan shot often starts with a still frame, and ends with a still frame. Choose your beginning and ending frame wisely, as these will serve as bookends to your pan shot.

Another tip for successfully using the pan shot is to use stable equipment. Make sure that your tripod is in good working order and is smooth and fluid. This, and having a good camera operator, is the key to successfully doing a pan shot.

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