How to move the camera in Blender

It hit me that to get started, how to move the camera in Blender is the most essential thing you will have to learn. In Blender there are two different entities we could refer to when talking about the camera. The viewport navigation and the camera objects within our scene. Both are important. The viewport navigation though, is the first of the two hiccups.

Navigate the viewport by holding the middle mouse button (scroll wheel) and moving the mouse. Holding ctrl will zoom and shift will pan. For camera object movement, the easiest way is to press “N” find the view section and check “lock camera to view”. Then press “number pad 0” to go into camera view, move as with viewport navigation. 

Viewport is what we see through into the 3D world. A camera object shows how and what we render in our final image. The camera is a much more advanced concept compared to viewport navigation.

If you are looking for something more advanced, check out:

5 cool camera tricks in Blender 2.80

How do we control viewport navigation?

To move around in the 3D world, we use rotate, pan, and zoom. Hold the middle mouse button while the mouse is in the 3D viewport and move the mouse to rotate around. Hold ctrl for zooming and shift for panning.

When zooming and rotating, we do so in relation to an invisible point in space. We zoom in and out in relation to a point and rotate around that same point.

Panning allows us to move the position we are viewing from, but it also moves the invisible point with the camera as we pan.

There are other ways to move the invisible point. For instance, we can hold both shift+ctrl together with the middle mouse button pressed and move the mouse. This will move us through the viewport like zooming. But in this way the distance between the view and the invisible point will stay constant. We are not zooming towards a point, instead, pushing the point forward as we move the view back and forth.

Sometimes we want to move the invisible point into a specific location where we want to work. This is easiest done by selecting an object and press the period on the number pad. This will zoom the view to the selection and move the point we zoom and rotate in relation to.

A similar operation is shift+c. This shortcut will zoom the view so that the entire scene is in focus and the median point of the scene will be the invisible point. This is very helpful when your scene is concentrated in one location and not scattered around. If it is, or you have stray objects far away in your scene, you will get much further zoomed out.

Sometimes we want to have a perfect view from an angle. For instance, a front view, top view, or side view. You can do this with the number pad. The number 1,3 and 7 will move us to these specific angles. Using these hot keys Blender will also put us in an orthographic view. Orthographic is a perfect head on view without the perspective. Similar to how you would view a blueprint.

As we rotate our view out of one of these views, Blender will turn perspective back on automatically. We can toggle orthographic and perspective view with number pad 5 as well.

With Blender 2.80, we can also hold ALT and drag our mouse up, down, left, or right. This will bring us into the closest perfect viewing angle and switch to an orthographic view. Continue to hold ALT and drag the mouse to switch between views with 90-degree increments.

In the top right corner of the 3D viewport, there is also a gizmo and a handful of icons. We can use these for navigation. If you ever forget a shortcut key, or perhaps you are using a touchscreen, click or click and drag to use the widgets.

The last two options for viewport navigation are fly and walk mode. These are not usually useful for your general moving around action, but they can come in handy when positioning a camera object later.

The walk and fly navigation modes have no shortcuts pre-assigned. Instead, we will have to use the search menu. You may have it set as your space bar, but if you don’t, you can reach it with “F3”. Type in “walk” or “fly” for the corresponding navigation types. I will not cover fly navigation since the only benefit I can see is that you could animate some camera motion with it. If you disagree or know some secret I don’t, please let me know in the comments below!

Ok, over to walk navigation. When selecting walk navigation from the search bar, you will get into a kind of walk mode. You use the classical fps game style navigation of WSAD to move around, change direction by moving the mouse. We also use Q and E to move straight up and straight down. We can hold SHIFT to increase the speed.

Next up, a handful of settings for movement.

Settings related to navigation

We can find the settings in the edit menu. Go to user preferences and find the navigation section.

There are quite a few settings related to navigation. However, there is only a couple I think is useful. “Orbit around selection” is the first one, and the name speaks for itself. Instead of using an invisible point, our selection will be that point.
To change this behaviour, tick the “Orbit around selection” checkbox. Blender save automatically. Now try to select something in the scene and you should be orbiting around it when you rotate the view.

The second setting is in the same place. Just a little lower in the zoom subsection, you will find “zoom to mouse position”. This will zoom to wherever your mouse is instead of just towards the middle.

I normally don’t use either of these settings but I know that many people find them useful, try it out and make your own decision.

How do we solve navigation issues?

We may work at our project and suddenly out of nowhere we cannot move the camera as we expect or we just can’t see what we are doing. There are some common scenarios you might stumble upon in the beginning. We will try to pick out a few and come up with solutions.

The first one is clipping. The viewport camera will display nothing to close or far away from the camera. We can change these distances. If you come across this problem, hit “N” to bring up the n-panel (what is it called really?). You may have multiple tabs just to the right of the menu if you have some add-ons enabled. In that case, go to the “view” tab. It should be the default one, but you never know. Go to the “view” section and find the clipping settings.

There are two values. Clipping start and end. Adjust these until you see as much as you need to see. For me, the clipping value is too high by default, so I normally change this to 1 centimeter or even 1 millimeter.

An even more common problem for beginners is that you navigate yourself away from your scene and get lost in space literally. When this happens, use shift+c as we talked about earlier. It will zoom you back to where your objects are.

The third and last problem we will cover is that you may come to a point where you can no longer zoom. This is because you are too close to the invisible point you zoom towards. Here, shift+c will save you again. You can also select an object and hit number pad period to zoom in on that specific object. This also works in edit mode if you want to zoom in on a specific edge, face or vertex, or collection of elements.

How do we control the camera object?

If viewport navigation is just at the beginning of the learning process, controlling a camera object comes at the end. At least in a workflow sense. It is not until we hit render and have Blender calculate our final image we use the camera object.
Now that is a shallow viewpoint. Don’t forget that we need to check and double check what is inside our frame throughout the project to get an idea of what it looks like. Remember, only those things we can see matters. The camera is very important.

Let’s get started. To align the viewport with the camera, hit number pad 0. Now we can go back into the n-panel and find the view section again. This time, look for the subsection “view lock” and find a checkbox called “lock camera to view”. This will allow us to navigate the viewport like we did before, and the camera will follow. This is probably the easiest way to align and adjust the camera for a still image.

While we lock the camera, this could be the time for the walk or fly navigation if we want to control the camera in this way instead. When the camera is in position, don’t forget to uncheck “lock camera to view” before you continue to navigate and mess up the camera position you just made. These camera movements live outside history, meaning we can’t use ctrl+z to undo them. Keep this in mind so you don’t accidently ruin the perfect camera position.

We can also do the opposite, namely pick a view and move the camera. When we have positioned our viewport, we can then hit ctrl+alt+numpad 0 to move the camera to the current view instead. Then we can just fine tune the position.
Another possibility is to first select the camera, then press number pad 0 to go into the camera view. Since we now have the camera selected, we can use the transformations used for moving and rotating any other object. For obvious reasons, cameras can’t scale. Tap “G” to pan the camera and “R” for rotation. To constrain the movement to a single axis, follow up with X, Y or Z. To move the camera forward and backwards for instance, press “G” and then “Z” and move the mouse.

Another neat little trick that is also available for any object is to press the transformation (G, R or S) shortcut key and then press and hold the middle mouse button. Depending on how you moved the mouse before you release, it will constrain the transformation to the axis your mouse moved closest to before you released.

Wrap Up and where to next

This was the basics of how to move the camera in Blender plus some extra little tips for those that like to get ahead. If you want to know more about Blenders camera object and what it can do, you can read this article. It describes more settings related to real world cameras and also how to set up some different scenarios like turntable animation, isometric cameras and 360 degree camera for VR.

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Thanks for your time, and I hope you learned something.

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