What is a tracking shot?

A tracking shot is any shot where the camera follows one or more subjects backward, forward, or to the side. This is often achieved with a dolly shot on a railroad track, a handheld Steadicam or gimbal, or even with motorized vehicles. It’s also known as the following shot as the camera follows the actors or action on the screen. A tracking shot is often done in a long take, allowing the audience to really immerse themselves into the action.

As film technology evolved, so did the definition of this shot. According to the strict, somewhat outdated definition, the camera has to move parallel to the action or orbit around it, or at least stay at a constant distance away. Some definitions specify that tracking shots must use physical tracks, while others are more lenient, and include hand-held walking shots as well.

Effects of the tracking shot

A tracking shot requires a lot of planning and can be tricky to get right. Why do filmmakers bother?

A tracking shot is an extremely effective way to emotionally involve your viewers in your story as it plays out “real-time” and keeps them on the edge of their seats. It can provide breath-taking visuals as well! The shot lets the audience be present right in the middle of the action, shows off the environment in rich detail, and makes it easy to relate to the characters in the scene. Read more about how tracking shots immerse viewers in the narrative.

Panning and tilting

Panning and tilting are not considered tracking shots, because they don’t require the camera to physically change location. They can be used together with a tracking shot to explore a wide range of effects and visuals, however.

Explore the 13 basic camera movement types on Masterclass.