Shaky cams.

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  • #215744

      Dear All,

      I love Roger’s “natural approach” to cinematography. I remember a Team Deakins podcast episode on lenses, where Roger was contrasting the choice of 40/50mm standard focal lengths to how he thinks his eyes view the world. He also had a similar natural approach for constructing motivated lighting designs with practicals etc.,.

      Like many, I have noticed the rapid increase in deliberate shaky cam footage in movies. If I take the “natural approach” like Roger and wonder if my own eyes have been strained with shaky cam footage/vision in real life, the answer is a clear no. Yes, this includes when I drive my car and scan the environment, or when I am in a bus/train.

      Why is shaky cam used in movies?  Whenever I see such footage, I don’t feel “in the moment”/”build up of tension”. I only feel nauseous. Searching around the internet, it seems like there are many others who share this view. What makes even seasoned directors & cinematographers use the technique? Deakins-Villeneuve movies like Sicario/Prisoners are excellent examples, which prove that we don’t need to shake the camera to achieve in-the-moment/tension effects.

      I am super confused.

      Thank you Roger for not using shaky cams.

      PS: I searched in the forums to check if the topic was discussed before , but couldn’t find any. So I decided to start a thread.

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    • #215746

        I wouldn’t agree that it’s always a bad tool. For example it helps uphold the constant stress level in “Uncut Gems” or “Good Times” by the Safdie brothers, which is an important part of their story telling and the experience. The camera always moves and often it’s handheld and shaky. There are also director’s and cinematographers who use a handheld, shaky camera only once or twice in a film, at very specific moments, and that can work very well, too.

        I agree it’s often a bad option though, especially if it doesn’t serve a purpose or it’s only done for time and budget reasons (TV shows come to mind).


          Thank you for the insight @Stip. I will check out the Safdie brothers movies.



            The handheld effect perhaps is fine for action scenes and in general  it’s more natural to the eye, but the abuse of it is a problem to me too. There are  movies with camera movements so confused  that make the audience really sick at a point that it’s impossible to understand what’s happening on screen. Same for the orange and teal palette: for each fine example of it you find many terrible scenes with that palette. Why? I think because both things (the handheld skaky camera and the palette) are a cheap and quick way to look “cool and modern”.

            My humble opinion is that the camera movement (or lack of) should be motivated by the story narration, but different directors could tell the same story in different ways.  First minutes of “Saving Private Ryan”, for example, have a documentary like approach and they would be way less effective – on me –  without the shakiness of the camera. While “1917” has a steadier look and it’s perfect the way it is. There’s no a perfect rule that could work for each movie but just the right cinematography for a given scene, as Roger said many times.  And then there are cheap copies of it.

            On the other side, I was watching “Fargo” the other day and i had to re-watch a scene a couple of times, since the camera  got closer to the actor so gently and slowly that the first time i didn’t even notice it (I just realized that suddenly a smaller portion of the background was visible). I think you need talent and a bit of courage to use such an elegant and classy approach!


              since the camera  got closer to the actor so gently and slowly that the first time i didn’t even notice it

              I love the very slow and subtle push-in.

              There is a great version of it, albeit more noticeable, in “Good Will Hunting”, where Will has a job interview at the NSA and he starts a long monologue, forecasting a list of consequences if he took the job. The camera slowly pushes in on him and stops at the climax of his forecast,  then pulls back out again when Will summarizes what all this would mean for him personally. It goes uncut for 2 minutes and is powerful, intriguing and serves the story.


                @LucaM, I have noticed the clean Fargo push in as well; this was also discussed in a Deakins podcast. These were quite enjoyable indeed.

                , I had completely failed to notice that move in Good Will Hunting! Thank you!

                I am hoping that @dmullenasc can chime in here as well! 🙂



                  For me, the abuse of shaky cam is often the result of lack of clear vision. Its often very difficult to break away from the shaky cam aesthetic in a project (once you’ve started it) if you don’t have a clear understanding or vision of why you started using it in the first place. So for the filmmakers that overuse shaky cam, there may be an unjustified fear that the transition from shaky to steady feels out of place or inconsistent with the story. As a result, they may unintentionally find themselves leaning more into the shaky cam in scenes that don’t call for it. Again, if you don’t really have a good reason for using shaky cam in a story, then you’re likely not going to have a good reason for transitioning out of it.


                    Thank you @ThisGuy321.

                    All, this month’s issue of American Cinematographer seems to be talking about camera movements. I am searching if there is anything on Shaky cams. So far no luck. 🙂



                      They do talk about “handheld” and here is a relevant paragraph, and of course, the usual example of Bourne series.

                      “Though it’s generally advised that too much handheld can
                      induce nausea in some viewers, there are examples of hand-
                      held-heavy productions that have been quite successful. Paul
                      Greengrass’ The Bourne Ultimatum (AC Sept. ‘07) was shot by
                      Oliver Wood with a great deal of handheld — sometimes aggres-
                      sively so — and this gives the action thriller a documentary-like
                      immediacy. Indeed, the Bourne films are known for this look.”  : – AC, April 2024.



                        IMO, “shaky cam” is just a tool for enhancing the viewer’s emotions and provide the right “feeling” of the moment. Personally, I don’t have a problem with it as long as it’s someon’s “point of view” or just logically valid and not overused. Same as shallow depth of field: not for a “style” or “beauty”, but another tool for telling a story.

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