WHAT it is…

A Tracking (or Dolly or Travelling) Shot is any shot where the camera is mounted on a platform which moves on rails laid out on location. The camera, by itself, is static in such a setup. It is only the mobility of the platform that renders it mobile. The basic Tracking Shot, therefore, unfolds completely on a single horizontal plane, usually the ground.

WHY it is special…

Detached from context and subject matter, the Tracking Shot is one of the most beautiful camera movements. Unlike the Zoom, the Tracking Shot continually preserves the depth of space that the camera captures, since it works with a lens of a fixed focal length. This results in a sublime, “gliding effect” in which the camera seems to float close to ground.

WHEN it is deployed…

The Tracking Shot is one of the most widely used camera movements in commercial cinema. A rudimentary lateral Tracking Shot registers a sense of awe while a perpendicular variation conveys feelings of attraction or separation. A vast range of emotions are evoked by just tweaking its parameters, such as camera tilt, speed and distance from action.

WHERE to find it…

A very inventive Tracking Shot can be found in the Korean film Oldboy (2003), where the protagonist must make his way through dozens of inept thugs. The action takes place from left to right on a single plane. The camera gently tracks to and fro to keep up with him to create the impression of a Beat-em-up arcade game, befitting the film's overall style.

HOW it is used…

Revealing Space…

A lateral Tracking Shot is often used to follow a character or a prop that is moving. Alternately, the object of interest may be stationary and it is only the camera that tracks along – like visually scanning a wide painting – revealing and hiding the object as it moves. A perpendicular Tracking Shot, where the camera keeps traversing “into” or “out of” the screen, is generally employed to move towards or away from a character and to unveil hitherto hidden spaces.

Pitfalls…

Because its use is inextricably tied to the issue of aestheticisation of misery, violence and horror, the Tracking Shot has been the object of much criticism. Jean-Luc Godard called it a moral question, Jacques Rivette found one instance “worthy of profound contempt” and Serge Daney wrote a landmark critical essay around it. Many times, the line between art and exploitation, between ethics and aesthetics, lies in a single miscalculated Tracking Shot.

Keywords: Tracking Shot