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Cranes and Jibs

Cranes and Jibs

Some moving image makers are reluctant to include a jib or crane in their toolbox of essential camera support equipment and this may be partially due to the fact that they may not be able to fit one in! Fortunately, in these days of miniaturisation, there are a lot of manufacturers who are producing affordable portable or mini cranes which, once packed down, will fit into a bag not much larger than one of the larger tripod bags.

Why bother with a crane?

Ever admired a beautifully smooth and continuous sweeping shot or the type of camera movement that leaves you wondering how they did that…..well there’s a good possibility that it was achieved with a crane. This relatively simple piece of kit, once paired up with a good quality, sturdy tripod can offer the possibility of a huge range of cinematic camera movement and take you and your audience to places they’ve never dreamt of. Excellent examples of innovative and highly creative crane work can be seen here (thank you Dimitris Mavromatis :)

Crane shots from movies! from Dimitris Mavromatis on Vimeo.

 Reason 1: Terrific tracking

Nothing beats a crane for providing both simple and highly sophisticated fluid tracking. It is perfect for following a moving object without the need for a steadicam or drone.

Reason 2: Adds creativity and visual interest

What might be an ordinary shot can be turned into something extraordinary through the addition of smooth vertical and horizontal camera movement. Having a crane provides you, as a filmmaker, with an additional and essential creative challenge as your combine the aesthetic with the technical.

Reason 3: Highs and lows

Extremities in terms of height can provide huge visual impact or emphasis to a scene. An angry crowd scene shot from the floor, sweeping up to 15 feet above and over the crowd will offer a greater sense of scale and drama.

Reason 4: Portable and easy to set up

The current range of mini cranes are relatively lightweight, easy to carry and pretty quick to rig and balance. I’ve taken them onto long haul flights as hold luggage and iFootage have even dispensed with the heavy metal counterweights by supplying an inflatable plastic weight which you can fill with sand or water when you reach your location… handy is that!

Reason 5: Just get one!

Once you’ve incorporated the crane into your filmmaking you will wonder how you’ve managed without one up til now!! Creating amazing shots with a crane is actually great fun and will extend your current camera and production skills.

What’s available? 

A huge choice is available to you and prices start at around £60 - this will get you an action jib kit which converts your monopod into a basic mini crane. You can expect to fork out between £350 and £600 for a decent mini crane and more if you wish to add a remote head system which would allow you further control of the camera via a handset. Quality of design and build vary, so choose carefully when you spend your ‘hard earns’. For this article we have used the iFootage Minicrane M1 III which is great on price and, in my humble opinion, is one of the best around.


So, what can I do?

Vertical movement

 At it most basic, a crane will offer movement up and down, from ground level to around 15ft and reverse. This is a great way to introduce or follow a character and provides a greater perspective on their surroundings. It can also make a great establishing shot.

Horizontal movement

This is another option in terms of following a character or leading the viewer to a subject. Simple, but highly effective. It can also add a sense of pace or drama.

Combination movement 

Incorporating both vertical and horizontal movement will provide sophisticated camera moves which will need to be both planned and rehearsed. Smooth continuous movement and timings are everything, so allow time for getting this right. Again, this type of continuous and fluid movement will add aesthetic interest. A shot might start with horizontal movement forward, then diagonally move upwards and finish vertical movement downwards.


Point of view

A well balanced crane with a pan and tilt head is ideal for creating POV shots simply because it has been rigged to be so fluid in its movement. Using a little imagination and innovation can create yet more interesting and relevant video content. Turning the camera around so that it is pointing to the opposite end and replacing the camera ops with an actor opens all sorts of possibilities. Try it.

Having the actor manipulate the camera on the crane by simply grabbing it and moving it for you also creates yet more creative possibilities. This type of shot heightens emotions and is highly engaging for the viewer.

Heavens above

Used with imagination the mini crane can access spaces other camera support equipment will struggle to do. Recording from above your actor, looking directly down on them offers all sorts of possibilities. You could start off close and ascend to full height showing the physical or emotional isolation of an individual or you could descend from full height to close up of your actor falling asleep and out of focus for the start of a dream scene.

 Eight important tips

 As with most location recording, recce first and sort out the logistics and feasibility as well as whether the crane shot which you’ve scripted will actually work for you in reality. If not, find another location or lose the crane.

 I’ve mentioned in other blogs that ‘practice makes perfect’ and using the crane effectively is no exception. You need to practice assembly and disassembly as well as balancing and recording with the crane. Start off with simple shots and build up from there.

 As with time-lapse recording, crane shots are best with a foreground. This could be animal, vegetable or mineral-but the point is that they should visually extend the sense of movement eg the side of a building in the foreground which remains in shot as the camera descends to the floor.

Crane shots seem to work best as wide shots, but close up shots can work too as they will follow important movement and action such as the passing of an object.

 Make the very most of the camera movement by looking carefully at what is around you and building it into the shot. Moving from behind or through objects can be extremely effective as can complex movements from one object to another. Think about how to exploit available lighting and how this will change as the camera moves eg sun reflecting off the water or sun flare from behind the edge of a building.

Vary the speed of movement so that your editor has a choice of shots to work with. It’s also worth trying several different type of shots whilst you are set up and don’t forget to check the quality of the shots prior to moving on to your next setup.

 If you should fall in love with what you and your crane can produce you may want to think about enlisting the help of a portable monitor and perhaps, if budget allows, a remote head (such as the iFootage X2 Mini) for your camera which will test your skills even further. You will, inevitably, also need the help of a larger crew!

 Finally, as with most creative shots, you should be able to justify their use. Ask yourself; what is the shot trying to achieve emotionally and how does this support the narrative or the action at this point in time? In other other words ‘what am I trying to say with this crane camera shot and does it achieve its goal?’ If if doesn’t, then the best bet is to probably drop it, not the camera….the shot.

So, thought you could manage without a crane did you? Not any more. Compact, lightweight, portable, well designed and competitively priced cranes are readily available… just have to decide which one you want. If you want to take it up a level, then get yourself a remote head too. So get out there and create some awesome content!

You can watch all videos via the playlist below.

📷 xavier_vince , michaelthomas_bigheadfilms

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