What is handheld camera movement?

Since the dawn of cinema, cinematographers and directors have relied on camera support devices. 

The mechanisms for supporting a camera have evolved with tripods, dollies, and cranes. One technique, on the other hand, does not rely on any of these systems and has only become more relevant over time. The shot was taken with a handheld camera.

It’s crucial to understand how filmmakers have used the handheld shot to generate a psychological effect rather than merely a stylised aesthetic. 

Let’s start with the what before we get into the why and how. 

You may Like:-

Let’s start with a definition of a handheld shot

Let's start with a definition of a handheld camera shot
handheld camera shot

In recent action movies, the handheld shot is known for being unnecessarily unsteady. 

However, filmmakers have adapted and altered the shot to enable them to convey their stories in new ways. 

The handheld shot is a kind of shooting that does not rely on a fixed camera location and includes everything from shaky cameras to shoulder mounts and simple rigs.

In film, there are many different sorts of camera motions. The handheld shot is just one of them. 

Here’s a rundown of each style, as well as their storytelling qualities and how they’ve influenced some of cinema’s most memorable moments.

A handheld shot is one in which the camera is held by the operator’s hands and shoulders alone. 

The operator’s actions cause the camera to wobble when working with a handheld camera. According to the definition of a handheld camera, the shot is solely dependent on the operator’s body. Operators have used a few setups to produce the same effects as a handheld shot as cameras have changed and improved through time.

Related:-10 best camera tripod under $100 (Updated List)

The history of the handheld shot

The history of the handheld shot

There is some talk in handheld camera history. Today, handheld shots can be found in a plethora of major films. Earlier films relied on steady, immobile shots taken with cameras set on tripods. The handheld shot has been seen as an aesthetic endeavor by many reviewers and filmmakers.

As early as 1925, filmmakers experimented with handheld shots. Handheld camera movies did not become popular in the United States until the 1960s.

Jonas Mekas, an experimental filmmaker, advocated the handheld shot as a method that gave him more artistic and economic freedom. The handheld shot was made popular by Jean-Luc Godard, a pioneer of the French New Wave, who used it at a time when it was deemed unconventional.

Breathless is Godard’s most famous film and an outstanding example of a handheld shot. Godard’s use of hand-held shots, as well as jump cuts, drew both criticism and acclaim. A generation of filmmakers would be influenced by the film.

While Godard’s handheld camera work in Breathless is considered a classic example of handheld camera work in film history, the technique began to evolve in the 1980s.

Related:-What is the Slowest Shutter Speed Without a Tripod?

Why is a handheld shot used?

Why is a handheld shot used
handheld shot used

When people are editing video, they may use a handheld shot for the sake of adding variety to their movie.

Green screens provide an excellent opportunity for those who have never done any type of video production before because it gives them relatively easy access and makes post-production possible in many cases.

The handheld camera is a staple of current cinema. It’s not just the shaky, amateur style that we see in horror films and some sci-fi movies anymore: it can be used to give viewers an immersive experience on what feels like it could really happen. 

When watching someone walking around with one hand holding up their phone or filming something from waist level as though you were right there next to them, your brain will fill in all sorts of details about this person’s story for themselves since they are so close and easy enough to relate to without any more information needed!

Related:-Travel Photography: Do I Need a Travel Tripod?



1. Handheld shots heighten intensity

Some action films show how to avoid using handheld shots. 

However, some directors have discovered ways to heighten emotion and intensity. 

The camera wobble of a managed picture visually adds to the drama of a chaotic scene of panic, activity, or haste. Saving Private Ryan, one of Spielberg’s best films, makes superb use of this method.

To emphasize the intensity and confusion of conflict, Spielberg and his cinematographer Janusz Kaminski used handheld shots.

Many historians and veterans of the actual Normandy invasion consider Saving Private Ryan to be one of the great World War II films of all time because of its ability to replicate the craziness. There are numerous shots in this opening fighting scene that can be considered among the best handheld shots ever seen in a film.

If the scene had been shot on a static tripod or even a smooth stabilizer, it would have been less effective. This video delves deeper into the elements that contributed to the scene’s realism as a war scenario.

The storytelling potential of a handheld shot is exemplified in this opening scene. Understanding the emotions of a situation and how the tools you use can help evoke those emotions is critical.

What are handheld camera movements in less intense scenes? While Saving Private Ryan called for fear and turmoil, what are handheld camera movements in less intense scenes? Filmmakers have discovered that handheld camera work may also be utilized to establish intimacy on the opposite extreme of the emotional spectrum.

2. Handheld shots create intimacy

For a filmmaker, intimacy is one of the most important techniques for connecting the audience to a character and story. They can use speech, lens choices, and the camera to weave it into the narrative. Tripods are frequently employed for static pictures with just minor pans and tilts.

While these images have a purpose, they do not reflect how we actually see the world. Stabilizers, Steadicams, and gimbals are all the same.

This movie compares and contrasts a stabilized shot with a handheld shot, demonstrating how both are appropriate tools for eliciting two distinct feelings.

The handheld shot is a terrific tool for creating a more natural, almost breathing-like movement from the camera’s perspective by utilizing minimal camera wobble. Operators nowadays use support systems such as shoulder rigs and simple rigs to help carry the weight of cameras while also providing them more control over the degree of camera wobble.

Even in low-budget films, handheld shots add to the intimacy of a scene. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an excellent illustration of this. Director Michel Gondry had to find a method to complement Charlie Kaufman’s best screenplay with cinematography since it generates closeness and passion so easily.

Take a look at how one of the film’s most memorable scenes is shot handheld, which adds to the intimacy of the moment.

Related:-Do Tripods Make a Difference in Photography?


The conclusion is that handheld camera movement has many different meanings to people and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. It should not be used as a crutch for video production, but rather incorporated strategically into the piece. Camera movements are an important part of telling your story – just make sure you’re using them right!

Leave a Reply