What is the Vertigo Effect? How to Use Hitchcock Zoom?

Hello dear readers. In this article, we will talk about a method called Hitchcock Zoom, Vertigo Effect or Dolly Doom, which is a groundbreaking and very different effect in the history of cinema.

It was first used by Alfred Hitchcock in the 1958 film Vertigo (fear of death). With this effect used when the male character looks down while climbing the stairs, it was quickly understood by the audience that things were not going well for the character. Hitchcock was probably impressed by the fact that he was confused while drunk and wanted to apply it on the big screen. Although it becomes commonplace when it is encountered in many and even the simplest programs in 2023, it is obvious that the world of cinema in the 1900s applauded by saying wooww.

Application of Hitchcock zoom:

The main purpose of the Vertigo effect in the cinema; It is the reflection of the differences in the background to the audience depending on the changing focal length. As the focal length changes, the perspective effect will also change. With the changing perspective effect, while the main object will remain in the same dimensions, convergence or divergence will occur in the background. The converging-away background will create a different perception from reality to the audience.

The Implementation of Dolly Zoom is briefly as follows: It is obtained by zooming out when the camera is zooming in or entering the zooming while the camera is zooming out. Obtained using zoom out or zoom in. However, the most important point to note is that the camera moves away or gets closer to the main character during these zoom changes. The distance here must be adjusted well, otherwise a distorted image may be created.

The lenses to be used are therefore very important. Prime lenses are generally used for cinema shooting. However, if the dolly effect will occur, a zoom lens should be used. (Or prime lenses with dozens of different focal lengths 🙂 ). The focus of Prime lenses at certain foci cannot be changed.

It is necessary to use a sled or slider for better quality steel. Dolly is king for this job and the carriage works. Today, even drones can be made easily.

Making both zoom and focus at the same time, physical movement to the front or back is not as easy as it seems. For simple home or Youtube videos, jitters can be ignored. But if the production is to be watched on the movie screen, fixing it becomes much more important and the zoom and horizontal displacement movements to be made become much more important.

Background in Hitchcock Zoom

One of the most important arguments in the vertigo effect is the background where the event will take place. The background will move closer or further away from the subject with the changing focal length. Therefore, the background can be selected, that is, it should be clear. The effect cannot stand out on extremely blurred backgrounds. Background is important, Blur is not preferred.

Again, apart from the clear background, the objects that will enter the frame are also very important. In order to avoid camera errors, there should be no nonsense in the background. Despite the possibility of using very wide angles, it should be positioned so that the decors of the background, if any, are not visible.


So why use such a technically difficult effect? The answer to the question is the same as in all the techniques used. To strengthen the subject expression. Maybe add a little difference. Where this technique is used, the emotion is usually uneasiness. It is desired to arouse extra excitement and uneasiness in the audience. Since there will be a perspective change without a change in dimension in the vertigo effect, the feelings are strengthened in the emotional context and the viewer is disturbed.

Since the eye and mind see differently than normal, this effect can create the feeling that something is wrong. Similarly, it has a tension-increasing feature. It can escalate anxiety.

It is used to amplify depth of field, as well as amplify the sense of confusion, tension, and uneasiness. In this application, if the background is created from rhythmic elements, the sense of the viewer is strengthened with the different depth of field that will occur when the focal length is changed.

When the Vertigo or Dolly effect is supported by striking music, it is not possible to make a difference in the audience. That’s why directors have always used the Hitchcock zoom effect with tension music.

Films using the Vertigo effect:

This effect has been used in many major post productions. It is not possible to count individually. The films that have made certain premiums and used the vertigo effect can be listed as follows.

It has been used in many scenes in famous movies and TV series such as Lord of the Rings, Jaws, The Fast and the Dead, Apollo 13, Mr Bean, La Haine, Pulp Fiction, Marnie, Scarface, Ghost Pains, Breaking Bad.

In the past, the vertigo effect was done physically and optically, but today it can also be done in advanced video programs such as Adobe Premiere. Frankly, I don’t know exactly what level of quality work is being done. In my opinion, for better quality results, I recommend that it be created with optical shifts in numerical interventions.Effectively, I think they will not have as robust or quality output as optical ones. At least let’s not turn Hitchcock upside down in his grave…

The adaptation of this method, which we call Hitchcock zoom, in photography is the zoom in-zoom out technique. We will not write it here because we have discussed this subject in detail. Click to access the topic.

May your light be of good quality…

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