Movies are filled with them, most of the time just following our characters around sets, locations etc. These movements may seem to have no meaning behind them at first, but the camera itself can speak, figuratively, of course. They can show emotion, or even bring up tension, which is what I’m going to talk about in this article.
In the opening scene of the recently, critically acclaimed “La La Land”, you can really see what I mean. What the camera’s filming is sprouting from colorful things, and the camera itself is “dancing” to the music, by swinging around in a rapid tempo, showing everything in a joyful manner: the movements match what’s showing on screen. The camera itself exudes joy. But also the fact that they make the scene look like it was done in one take helps with this. The quick turn of the camera hides cuts, but these are handled very well. An example where the hidden edits, weren’t really hidden is the first person film called “Hardcore Henry”.
But I’ve also said that camera movemnts can create tension. This can be done by slowly creeping up to the main character, or by the camera perspective. You can create the feeling the main character is being watched, by having a camera standing a couple of meters away from him or her and having the camera follow them. As an example for the previous named things I’ve chosen “It Follows”. An independent horror film about a young girl who’s followed by a supernatural being, which she alone can see. But she can’t know who it is, because the thing can be anyone in her surroundings. It can change who it is and it can only walk. Not run, not sprint, but only walk at a slow pace.
In “It Follows”, the cinematographer has chosen to let the camera move at a slow pace as well, fitting in perfectly with one of the weaknesses of the antagonist of the film. The slow movements of the camera slowly build up tension. But also by using wide shots, we know that the antagonist is always watching. Lurking behind a corner, always seems to be ready to strike.
That cinematographer has also gone on to film this years “Split” directed by M. Night Shyamalan, in which he has also done this.
The slow creeping pace of a camera doesn’t always have to generate tension. It often tries to make you focus on the thoughts of the character it’s focusing at, so you can, if the actors good, you are really abele to see their emotion springing from their faces.
As you can see from reading these examples there are plenty of ways a camera can help express emotion, or even do it themselves. There are still ways, but these were the ones I could come up with.