WHAT IS CINEMATOGRAPHY?
Best Cinematography Techniques Technically, cinematography is the art and the science of recording light either electronically onto an image sensor or chemically onto film stock.
Functionally, cinematography is understood to encapsulate everything having to do with the camera — its movement, the images, the light it receives, etc.
- Shot size
- Camera focus
- Shot composition
- Camera placement
- Camera movement
While the director makes key decisions regarding the camera, the cinematographer actually makes it happen. One of the major considerations for cinematographers is exposure — the art of manipulating the camera settings to get the desired look of the image.
Think outside the box
When Stanley Kubrick set out to film Barry Lyndon, he and his long time cinematographer John Alcott wanted to break new ground and needed to develop new cinematography techniques.
They wanted to shoot the entire film with natural light. A pretty daring and ambitious film lighting idea. For an indoor candle-lit scene, they wanted to ACTUALLY film by candlelight.
This would have pushed the film stock of the era too far. So Kubrick and Alcott borrowed a special lens made by NASA to complete their scene.
The result of this solution is nothing short of painterly.
Finding the next great camera technique may just be a matter of devising a creative solution to achieve your visual goals but it also requires detailed strategies that will help you and your team build the shots you need.
What does a cinematographer do?
A cinematographer or director of photography (shortened to DP or DOP) is the crew chief that presides over the camera and light crews on a film or video production. They are involved throughout the entire production and liaise closely with the director to create the images you see.
Where they place the camera greatly affects how the audience reacts to the shot, and therefore the rest of the scene. It can have significant emotional impact or even convey character behaviour.
For example, if the story calls for a character to be seen as rude, or ill-mannered while out on a date, placing the camera close to the subject’s mouth while chewing would be effective.
Here’s a guide to camera framing and shot composition to give you an idea of what choices a director and cinematographer have and how those choices contribute to visual storytelling.
Camera movement can heighten the emotion and suspense in a scene. Choose to move the camera with the characters and gain perspective. Keep the camera static, and now we’re separated from them, peering in.
Composition refers to the way elements of a scene are arranged in a camera frame. Shot composition refers to the arrangement of visual elements to convey an intended message.
One visual element that must be arranged particularly is your actors.
How much of the scene is actually seen? Are we in a close-up watching a subject’s face change expression? Maybe it’s an extreme close-up on a subject’s attire indicating to the audience that they should pay attention to this.
Part of a cinematographer’s job is to play with focus to emphasize different aspects of the story. A basic example of this is showing how intoxicated the character is by going in and out of focus. There are many types of camera focus available, each with their own particular storytelling value.
While there is a separate lighting person, cinematography demands this knowledge. After all, cinematography is what we see on-screen, and how well or horribly the scene is lit is a huge aspect of the craft.
3-point lighting is a very common lighting setup but there are many styles and approaches to lighting. For example, Rembrandt lighting brings a lot of dimension to lighting a subject’s face and chiaroscuro lighting is ideal to convey dark and dangerous situations.
Obviously, you need a camera but what other camera gear should you consider? A Steadicam gives the camera operator tremendous freedom but a dolly shot also gives the shot a distinct look and feel. Here’s our ultimate guide to camera gear and how each piece of equipment can be used to tell a different story.