I first learned about the vertigo effect in a media class back in high school. That I can still remember how to create the effect after more than a decade is a testament to the fact that this idea profoundly changed the way I see film making. With this concept I realized how using in camera special effect techniques could help to convey the story and influence audience’s emotions. From that point on, I became intrigued by the different ways cinematographers use visual effects to tell a story more creatively.
The vertigo effect not only applies to standard film but also to photographs as well. French photographer, Micaël Reynaud, who specializes in timelapse gifs used the vertigo effect to take a series of photos and produced the below image:
So what is the vertigo effect?
It’s commonly called the Hitchock Vertigo zoom effect because the technique was first used in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo. In the thriller, the effect was used to emphasize the character’s disoriented feeling of vertigo when looking down a stair case.
This effect can also go by other names such as dolly zoom, zolly, contra-zoom, trombone shot, push-pull zoom, optical compression, tracking zoom, and zido. Whatever you call it, it creates an eerie feeling as viewers see the background compressing or expanding. Often there will be a subject in the foreground that remains in a relatively static position as the background compresses or stretches in order to create an unsettling feeling.
How to Create the Vertigo Effect?
There’s a reason the effect is also called a dolly zoom effect. Because well, what you’re basically doing is a simultaneous dolly and zoom.
To have the background appear to expand:
1. Start with the camera zoomed in to the subject but physically distant from the subject.
2. At the same time that you physically move the camera toward the subject (dolly) you should also be zooming out of the subject.
To have the background appear to compress:
1. Start with the camera zoomed out from the subject but physically near the subject.
2. Simultaneously move the camera away from the subject while zooming in to the subject.
Ideally the dolly and zoom should be adjusted at the same rate. If using a subject in the foreground try to keep the subject at relatively the same size and position as you zoom and dolly.
Watch the effect in action: