October 12, 2023

How to do a Dolly Zoom With No Dolly or Zoom Lens

How to do a Dolly Zoom With No Dolly or Zoom Lens

Most of us can relate to the fear of falling from a high altitude. We all know that, unlike Super Mario, if we take a tumble from far enough, there isn’t an extra life waiting for us; we just get the game over screen. In film, cinematographers are always looking for new ways to play with the audience’s senses by using camera angles, lighting, and sound. This effect on our senses draws us in and makes us feel more connected to the characters and environments on screen. One technique we are looking to explore with this article is the Dolly Zoom. 

The Dolly Zoom, also known as the Vertigo Effect, is a classic camera technique that is used to create a disorienting and unsettling effect in a film. It was first popularized in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo (1958), and has since been used in countless other films. The idea is simple in a scene with a good amount of depth using a dolly; the camera will move toward or away from its subject while the zoom lens moves in the opposite direction. As a result, the background expands or contracts in this warped perspective while the subject stays the same size. This action creates an uncomfortable feeling for the viewer as their eyes and mind are given mixed signals. 

Now to pull off the Dolly Zoom in the traditional manner, you would need a professional film Dolly and Zoom lens, which can both range in cost from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Not to mention you would also need to hire a crew of people to pull off this one shot. However, we know of a way where with just a simple gimbal and a camera, you would be able to make this happen without a crazy financial investment. Now if you do not have a gimbal, there are still other ways to make this happen. You can still pull off this mind-numbing shot by using a skateboard, office chair, or even a car. You could also use any camera that offers in-body stabilization, like a GoPro.

Now enough with the history lesson. Let’s break down how to pull this bad boy off:


Setting up Your Shot For The Dolly Zoom

As mentioned before, you should place your subject in an area with alot of depth. Since we are shooting in 4k, we can double the size of our image in post and still export at 1080p. This tells us that our subject should be no more than twice the size at the end of our shot as they are at the beginning. Don’t worry, this will make sense later. 

Screenshot 2023 10 12 at 11.53.29 AM

For our shot, we chose an outdoor area with trees spread over different distances in our example. We then set our subject a few feet before our camera operator. Once everyone is in position and the subject is in focus, we have our camera op move towards our subject smoothly. We could’ve also had him move away if we wanted a different view of the effect. 


Editing your Dolly Zoom Footage 

After taking our time to make sure we got the right shot, we dumped our footage into Adobe Premier. If you don’t have Premier, you can use any video editing software that allows you to scale footage. Which is all of them. We recommend setting up visible rulers to frame our subject’s face to ease the process. 

Dolly Zoom Screenshot

Once your frame is set place a keyframe for scale and drag the timeline to the end of the shot. Then we’ll increase the scale until the subject’s face fills the frame we created with our guides. 

Screenshot 2023 10 12 at 11.57.15 AM

Once you’ve done all that, put your director’s cap on and prepare your acceptance speech for the Oscars. Ok, that might be jumping ahead, but now you’re on your way to creating stunning visuals on a budget. If you are interested in stepping up your cinematography game and building a career off of your creativity, we invite you to tour our Film and Video program