Pros And Cons Of Filming Handheld

pros and cons of handheld camera used to shoot movies

As an independent filmmaker, one of the most common excuses I hear people use to not pursue their projects is that they do not have the right gear. And let’s be honest, when it comes to stabilizing gear, like fluid-head tripods and gimbals, they can be expensive. But should this stop you? In this article, we explore the pros and cons of shooting handheld.

Pros

Cheap

One of the biggest advantages of shooting handheld is that it is free. As long as you have a camera, you are good to go.

Instead of spending hundreds, or even thousands, on stabilizing gear, you are able to instead:

(a) use this money on the project you are working on; or

(b) save this money for a larger project.

Especially if you are trying to shoot a short film for as little as possible.

For more tips on how to keep the costs to a minimum while filming, click here.

Efficient

When considering the pros and cons of shooting handheld, one thing that cannot be overlooked is how efficient the technique is.

This is especially important if you are a documentary filmmaker who needs to be able to shoot changing landscapes incredibly quickly.

Even if you shooting a narrative film, there will be instances where you need to be efficient. For example, if you only have a limited amount of time on location. Alternatively if you working to a budget, you may need to ensure that your scene is recorded quickly.

Easy

This is an underrated advantage of shooting handheld.

People don’t always realize, but there is a learning curve to using different filmmaking equipment. You will not get smooth and stable images the first time you use a gimbal.

With handheld shooting, you can master the basics pretty quickly and start creating. The most important thing as a filmmaker is to just get started, and with handheld shooting, you are able to do that.

Versatile

Handheld shoots are the very definition of versatile. Unlike tripods, which can be fixed or only able to move in certain directions, there is no such limitation to handheld shooting.

With handheld shoots, you can easily pan, tilt, go around corners, go up or down stairs, circle your subject etc.

Take a look at this beautiful shot in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Notice how shooting handheld meant that the cinematographer Michael Ballhaus was able to walk through varying environments easily and quickly.

If you haven’t this the film, check it out here. It’s a masterpiece.

More Discrete

Sometimes, as an independent filmmaker, you have to get shots with don’t draw attention to themselves.

For instance, during the shooting of Terminator, James Cameron had to film discretely and quickly as he was working on a budget and therefore didn’t have the necessary permits to be able to shoot in a certain area. Shooting handheld is an easy way to shoot a scene low-key.

Terminator: The Story of a Movie Franchise – VFXwire
Orion Pictures: James Cameron on the set of The Terminator

With handheld shots, as long as you are not shooting on a beast of a camera like the Red, you can be very discrete.

Suit The Theme

Shooting on handheld can give the audience a certain feeling, such as the film being more raw, authentic and gritty.

As long as this suits the theme of the film, it can be incredibly effective.

Click here to see a list of 10 movies which were shot mainly with handheld cameras.

For example, consider how the shaky footage achieved by Paranormal Activity compliments the idea that the house is haunted and that something is not quite right in the atmosphere:

Cons

Shaky Footage

While shaky footage worked in the example above for Paranormal Activity, it will not work for every type of shot you are trying to achieve.

Sometimes shaky footage works for an entire movie, such as Christopher Nolan’s debut film, Following. But this is rare, most films look unprofessional if the footage is constantly shaking. Consider David Fincher’s films for example, where he rarely uses handheld and almost always films using a tripod.

If you are going to use shaky footage throughout the entire film, you have to make sure that the audience knows that this is a stylistic choice.

Less Control

With a tripod, slider, dolly etc. you are able to control the footage much easier. This is because you can replicate the same movement time and time again with almost pinpoint accuracy relatively easily.

Compare this to a handheld shot where the composition or framing may change slightly each time you shoot. Especially if your shots are done with a significant time lapse in between.

This is something that needs to be considered if you are planning a shoot over several days or you are doing any re-shoots after principal photography has been finalized.

Perception

Whilst this may not seem like the most important factor when you are first starting out, it will make a difference.

If you are a filmmaker without much gear and you are trying to convince other actors or crew to join your project, they may see you as an amateur. This may result in less of your peers deciding to work with you if they perceive you as a hobbyist rather than someone who is dedicated to their craft.

Of course if you are passionate and able to inject this passion into your peers, like a good director ought to, you will not run into this problem. But it is worth considering.

Conclusion

We believe the pros far outweigh the cons and filming handheld is a fantastic way to shoot quickly, efficiently and on a budget. As long as you have the right vision and ensure the shots fit with your film’s theme, the end result can be incredibly professional and artistic.

If you want to make a short film for FREE, but aren’t sure how – check out our guide here.

For similar content, please click here.

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