Cinematography Essentials: The Art and Craft (2022)

Making films isn’t just an art. It takes years of practice to cultivate a consistent craft and keen eye for filmmaking. It’s what separates great cinematography from cliche movie making. You’ve probably heard the term a million times, but what is cinematography? Before honing a craft, a deep knowledge of what it entails is critical.

Cinematography Essentials: The Art and Craft (1)

Watch: How Roger Deakins Learned to Light

Cinematography Essentials: The Art and Craft (2)

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Cinematography Meaning

Let’s define cinematography

Understanding cinematography goes way beyond its definition. The dictionary defines it as the “art of making motion pictures.” Okay, well that is true, but what else?

(Video) 8 Steps to Cinematic Composition | Tomorrow's Filmmakers

CINEMATOGRAPHY DEFINITION

What is cinematography?

Cinematographyis the art and craft of making motion pictures by capturing a story visually. Though,technically, cinematography is the art and the science of recording light either electronically onto an image sensor or chemically onto film.

Taken from the Greek for "writing with movement," cinematography is the creation of images you see on screen. A series of shots that form a cohesive narrative. Cinematography composes each shot, considering, where everything in frame demands attention.

CINEMATOGRAPHY ELEMENTS:

  • Lighting
  • 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.

Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of cinematography, make sure to download our FREE Ebook on The Exposure Triangle to establish a foundation that all of cinematography is based on.

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Ultimate Guide to Exposure

The Exposure Triangle is something every photographer and cinematographer needs to master.Download our FREE e-book to get in-depth explanations and tutorials on topics like aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and how to balance these settings to nail perfect exposure every time.

Cinematography Essentials: The Art and Craft (3)

Cinematography Elements

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.

What elements do they consider? We'll cover the basic considerations here but there is a lot more to explain about a cinematographer's duties.

Let's look to iconic director of photography, Roger Deakins, and how he shot 1917to look like a "oner." As he explains, choosing a camera, knowing the different types of camera lenses, and lighting techniques are all part of the cinematographer job description.

In particular, these choices in 1917 were designed to give us as much of a first-person POV on the battlefield.

(Video) CreativeLive Presents: Cinematography Essentials with Jim Denault

Roger Deakins Cinematography in 1917 • Subscribe on YouTube

Camera placement

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 behavior.

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.

Ultimate Guide to Shot Framing • Subscribe on YouTube

Camera movement

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. Watch our video on camera movement below.

StudioBinder's Filmmaking Techniques Masterclass: Camera Movement

Shot Composition

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. Where will they be in the frame? Watch our video below on blocking actors. It's also apart of our Filmmaking Techniques masterclass series.

(Video) Planner Essentials 41 but with a twist: Making of week 5

Learn how to stage your actors

Blocking and staging can be used to create dynamic frames. If you're interested, learn how to master shot composition.

Shot Size

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. Here's a video breakdown of every type of shot size.

Ultimate Guide to Shot Sizes • Subscribe on YouTube

Focus

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. Here's a breakdown of focus and depth of field.

Ultimate Guide to Camera Focus • Subscribe on YouTube

Lighting

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.

(Video) Script Coverage: Film Industry Essentials

Here's Part Two of our Cinematography Techniques series with one of the best cinematographers, Roger Deakins.

Roger Deakins Film Lighting Pt. 2 • Subscribe on YouTube

Camera Gear

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.

Ultimate Guide to Camera Gear • Subscribe on YouTube

That's a lot to consider! How can you plan all of these decisions, and execute on your vision?

FILM CINEMATOGRAPHY TOOLS

Putting theory into practice with shot lists and storyboards

So, we just laid out what a cinematographer considers. And it's a lot. All of these components — shot choice, camera movement, lighting, etc. need to be laid out somewhere.

One tool that’s helpful for DP’s (and directors), are shot lists and storyboards. Usually the cinematographer and director work together to lay out their masterplan for the project.

You can learn morehow to make storyboards, but we laid out an example below to give you the general idea.

Cinematography Essentials: The Art and Craft (5)

Click to view the storyboard

With software it's easier to collaborate with department heads on all of these decisions. As long as they're invited to the project, you can leave comments in real-time, and adjust shots accordingly.

And keep in mind, as far as other cinematography tools, you can use any kind of camera to shoot a film. If you can’t afford Hollywood’s resources, you can be like Sean Baker and Radium Cheung, who shot Tangerine, an award winning film, on an iPhone.

Up Next

Try These Cinematic Techniques

Now that you have the basics down, let’s expand your knowledge a bit. Our next post explores craft tips you didn’t learn in film school. We go deeper into the elements of cinematography that will not only inform your craft, but inspire you to start shooting.

Up Next: Best Cinematography Techniques →
(Video) The Art Department Essentials

FAQs

How would you describe cinematography? ›

cinematography, the art and technology of motion-picture photography. It involves such techniques as the general composition of a scene; the lighting of the set or location; the choice of cameras, lenses, filters, and film stock; the camera angle and movements; and the integration of any special effects.

Why is cinematography important to filmmaking? ›

Cinematography sets and supports the overall look and mood of a film's visual narrative. Each visual element that appears on screen, a.k.a. the mise-en-scène of a film, can serve and enhance the story—so it is the cinematographer's responsibility to ensure that every element is cohesive and support the story.

How is cinematography used to create meaning? ›

Cinematography describes the process of making decisions about factors that communicate a meaning in your 3d animation/ film. The camera angle, action and direction, lens type, camera motion, and lighting all affect the meaning of your work. The use of color is also a key factor.

What is cinematography and examples? ›

Cinematography definition

The definition of cinematography is the art and process of movie photography. An example of cinematography are the decisions made about lighting, camera filters and lenses when shooting a movie scene. noun. 3. The art, science, and work of photography in making films.

What is the most important part of cinematography? ›

One of the most important choices that a Cinematographer makes for every single shot is its composition—or what will be seen in it 3. Composition refers to how each shot is framed and all the elements within that frame.

How can I improve my cinematography skills? ›

If you want to grow in leaps and bounds, here are five essential things you should study in order to advance your craft.
  1. Study Silent Film. When you've only got visuals to work with, you'd better make sure your visuals are damned good. ...
  2. Study Cinematography. ...
  3. Study Your Equipment. ...
  4. Study Photography… ...
  5. Study Graphic Novels.
10 Sept 2014

How does cinematography affect the audience? ›

Cinematography acts as a visual guide for the audience. By making decisions about camera and lights, we lead the audience to understand events in a certain way. The images that occur on the screen are the only visual element of that world that the audience sees.

What skills does a cinematographer need? ›

Skills
  • An eye for detail and a mind for fast invention.
  • Thorough understanding of lighting techniques, light colour, shade and manipulation.
  • Strong technical knowledge of cameras and the film production process.
  • Strong communication skills.
  • Strong team management skills.
  • Excellent listening ability.
15 Jul 2022

What is another name for a cinematographer? ›

A cinematographer is also called the "director of photography," or the DP.

Is cinematography an art? ›

Cinematography is the art and craft of making motion pictures by capturing a story visually. Though, technically, cinematography is the art and the science of recording light either electronically onto an image sensor or chemically onto film.

What is cinematic structure? ›

Cinema uses shots, shot sequences, scenes and dramatic sequences to communicate an idea in the same way that written language uses letters, words, sentences and paragraphs.

How do you use cinematography in a sentence? ›

How to use Cinematography in a sentence. He is single and his hobbies include cinematography, traveling, mountain biking and cooking. Technically, it's cheesy and very low-budget, with appalling editing lurid cinematography. This movie has some very eerie moments because of using a great cinematography.

How do you make a cinematography? ›

5 simple CINEMATOGRAPHY Techniques you Should Know!

What's the difference between cinematography and photography? ›

The main difference between cinematography and photography is the movement of the pictures. Cinematography involves running pictures and making it look like a story through the formation of pictures while photography involves clicking pictures alone.

What are the 3 basic elements of cinematography? ›

However, I think the most important duties of a director of photography or DP can best be distilled into 3 basic elements: exposure, lighting and camera positioning and movement. These three elements align with the three departments on a film set which the DP manages: the camera, lighting and grip departments.

What makes a great cinematographer? ›

Style – Being technical is great but having vision is what is important. The role of the cinematographer is both technical and creative. A good DP has to know both sides and be able to communicate in both languages if they are going to be successful but when push comes to show a DP is hired for their vision.

What should a cinematographer know? ›

They must know everything about cameras, composition, and lighting. And that new intel will greatly add to the mix. During pre-production, cinematographers work closely with directors to determine the overall feel of the film. They may determine what camera movement techniques they want to employ.

What do you learn from cinematography? ›

Learn the Basics

You'll also need to study basic video compositional techniques, light and sound design, film and video editing, and many others. After all, cinematography is more than just about manning the camera—it's also about understanding how the entire process of movie production works.

How do you shoot cinematography? ›

7 Ways to Make Your Video Footage More Cinematic
  1. Think Before You Shoot. One of the easiest things that you can do before filming is plan, plan, and plan some more. ...
  2. Edit at 24 FPS. ...
  3. Shoot With a 180-Degree Shutter Angle. ...
  4. Add a Cinematic Crop. ...
  5. Choose the Right Music. ...
  6. Slow Things Down. ...
  7. Use Color Grading.
22 Jun 2021

How can I become a better filmmaker? ›

How to Become a Better Filmmaker - YouTube

Does cinematography include editing? ›

Both appeal to the artistic vision, but cinematography is more so the visual concept and editing is the process.

Why do you want to be a cinematographer? ›

Cinematography is a very rewarding career where salary depends upon the experience and the location of your work. Cinematographers tend to make more such money working with motion pictures, apart from working in the television industry.

What is camera movement in cinematography? ›

Simply put, a camera movement is a filmmaking technique that describes how a camera moves about to help enhance a story. Specific camera movements help change the audience's view without cutting; they can be a great way to make your video more immersive and engaging.

Is cinematography a skill? ›

Cinematography

Cinematography is an important skill for filmmakers because it can help them tell their stories visually. Visual storytelling, which refers to the use of non-verbal story elements, camera movements and shot composition, can help filmmakers create an interesting and unique piece of cinema.

Is cinematography hard to learn? ›

Becoming a cinematographer isn't an easy task. It takes years of study, practice, and networking. In addition to a lifetime of learning. If you are passionate about becoming a cinematographer your best bet is go to school, get a camera and start shooting, and network.

Is cinematography a good job? ›

Is cinematography a good career? Cinematography is a highly specialized field that requires a mix of creativity and technical skills. It can be a challenging and rewarding career, but it is not for everyone. As with any profession, the level of success you achieve depends largely on your own efforts and dedication.

What is cinematography quote? ›

People confuse 'pretty' with good cinematography. Life is unpredictable, and I feel, to some extent, lighting and cinematography should be a reflection of that. A lot of cinematography is intuition. It's an art, not a formula.

What is a camera man called? ›

A film's camera operator, also called a cameraman, is the professional responsible for operating the camera and capturing the film's footage.

What is the difference between videography and cinematography? ›

To simplify the definitions, a videographer records events, and a cinematographer directs the art and science behind the production of a movie, television show or commercial.

What is the synonym of cinematography? ›

In this page you can discover 10 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for cinematography, like: filming, motion-picture photography, camera-work, mise en scene, special effects, musical score, choreography, Idziak, cinematographer and camerawork.

What is craft in filmmaking? ›

Craft services, also known as “crafty,” is a film production position tasked with providing snacks and drinks to all crew members of a film set.

How do you write a cinematography review? ›

9 Tips for Writing a Film Review
  1. Watch the film at least once.
  2. Express your opinions and support your criticism.
  3. Consider your audience.
  4. Know the Actors' portfolios.
  5. Call out directors, cinematographers, special effects.
  6. No spoilers!
  7. Study the professionals.
  8. Reread, rewrite and edit.
2 Jun 2017

What are four aspects of cinematography? ›

The art, and craft, of cinematography elements such as camera focus, shot composition, camera placement and camera movement. It all comes together to form the final footage that is sent to the editing team for post-production processing.

What are the different types of cinematic elements explain them in detail? ›

Cinematic technique can include the framing, angle, and camera movement of a shot, as well as the sound and editing used in a film. Theatrical elements include costumes, props, sets, and acting choice.

Which is the most important element of film making? ›

But as filmmakers, our overriding concern should be movement. Movement also has a double meaning: 1) the physical movement of the camera or objects within the frame and 2) moving our audience emotionally.

What is a cinematic language? ›

Cinematic language is the methods and conventions of cinema that are used to communicate with the audience. What Are the Elements of Cinematic Language? The elements of cinematic language include camera angles, focus and movements, mise-en-scéne, lighting, sound and music, editing and performance.

What is a theme of a film? ›

Webster's Encyclopedic Unbridged Dictionary of the English Language defines theme as “a subject of discourse, discussion, meditation, or composition; topic: . . .”3 In other words, a theme is the idea, premise, or purpose of a movie. It is the whole reason why movies are made. The theme is the heart of the movie.

What does the word cinematographer mean? ›

a person whose profession is video photography, especially for feature-length movies. director of photography.

Is animation an cinematography? ›

Q&A: What Do Cinematographers Do On Animated Movies? - YouTube

What is the difference between cinematographer and director? ›

If you're interested in a film production career, consider pursuing a role as either a director or cinematographer. A director manages the creative process of the entire production, whereas a cinematographer focuses more closely on the visual aspects of a film.

How do I learn basic cinematography? ›

How Can You Learn Cinematography - YouTube

How do you edit a cinematic photo? ›

How to Make Your Photos Look Cinematic: 10 Tips
  1. Use Your iPhone. ...
  2. Underexpose Your Image. ...
  3. Shoot in Situations With Less Lighting. ...
  4. Shoot in Harsh Lighting. ...
  5. Adjust Your In-Camera Settings. ...
  6. Add Contrast in the Post-Production Phase. ...
  7. Use a Lens Filter. ...
  8. Use a Wider-Angle Lens.
25 May 2022

What is cinematic color grading? ›

Color grading is the process of stylizing the color scheme of your footage by “painting” on top of what you've established through color correction. After the colorist completes color correction, they can begin the process of grading the footage.

Why is cinematography so important? ›

Cinematography sets and supports the overall look and mood of a film's visual narrative. Each visual element that appears on screen, a.k.a. the mise-en-scène of a film, can serve and enhance the story—so it is the cinematographer's responsibility to ensure that every element is cohesive and support the story.

Which of the following are responsibilities of the cinematographer and which are not? ›

Which of the following are responsibilities of the cinematographer, and which are not? Responsibilities of the Cinematographer: choosing the properties of the shot, framing shots, determining the speed and length of the shot. Not Responsibilities of the Cinematographer: editing the film, designing the mise-en-scène.

How do you write a cinematography review? ›

9 Tips for Writing a Film Review
  1. Watch the film at least once.
  2. Express your opinions and support your criticism.
  3. Consider your audience.
  4. Know the Actors' portfolios.
  5. Call out directors, cinematographers, special effects.
  6. No spoilers!
  7. Study the professionals.
  8. Reread, rewrite and edit.
2 Jun 2017

How does cinematography affect the audience? ›

Cinematography acts as a visual guide for the audience. By making decisions about camera and lights, we lead the audience to understand events in a certain way. The images that occur on the screen are the only visual element of that world that the audience sees.

What is the difference between cinematography and filmmaking? ›

Cinematography is the art and craft of capturing a given directive on camera. It involves the general composition of scenes, camera angles, choice of lens, lighting, colour etc. Filmmaking is the process by which a film is made from start to finish.

What are the 7 steps to writing a movie review? ›

7 Tips for Writing a Film Review
  • If circumstances permit, view the film more than once. ...
  • Express your opinion of the film, but support your criticism. ...
  • Adjust the style of your review for the readership. ...
  • Avoid spoilers. ...
  • Judge the story. ...
  • Rate the actors. ...
  • Evaluate the technical elements.

What makes a good film review? ›

A decent movie review should entertain, persuade and inform, providing an original opinion without giving away too much of the plot. A great movie review can be a work of art in its own right.

What are the 3 basic elements of cinematography? ›

However, I think the most important duties of a director of photography or DP can best be distilled into 3 basic elements: exposure, lighting and camera positioning and movement. These three elements align with the three departments on a film set which the DP manages: the camera, lighting and grip departments.

How cinematography is an art form? ›

Cinematography is the art and craft of making motion pictures by capturing a story visually. Though, technically, cinematography is the art and the science of recording light either electronically onto an image sensor or chemically onto film.

What are four aspects of cinematography? ›

The art, and craft, of cinematography elements such as camera focus, shot composition, camera placement and camera movement. It all comes together to form the final footage that is sent to the editing team for post-production processing.

What skills does a cinematographer need? ›

Skills
  • An eye for detail and a mind for fast invention.
  • Thorough understanding of lighting techniques, light colour, shade and manipulation.
  • Strong technical knowledge of cameras and the film production process.
  • Strong communication skills.
  • Strong team management skills.
  • Excellent listening ability.
15 Jul 2022

Does cinematography include editing? ›

Both appeal to the artistic vision, but cinematography is more so the visual concept and editing is the process.

What should a cinematographer know? ›

They must know everything about cameras, composition, and lighting. And that new intel will greatly add to the mix. During pre-production, cinematographers work closely with directors to determine the overall feel of the film. They may determine what camera movement techniques they want to employ.

What is the synonym of cinematography? ›

In this page you can discover 10 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for cinematography, like: filming, motion-picture photography, camera-work, mise en scene, special effects, musical score, choreography, Idziak, cinematographer and camerawork.

Is cinematography part of production? ›

Simply put, filmmaking or film production is the art of storytelling via film. Cinematography on the other hand is a part of the filmmaking process and entails the capturing of motion pictures through the skillful use of visual aids, e.g., lighting, and sophisticated camera equipment.

Is cinematography and camera work the same? ›

One major difference is the audience for those images. Cinematographers work mainly with the motion picture industry, while cameramen can also work with news or sports organizations, TV shows, advertisers and even scientific studies. Cinematographers are also higher-level professionals and may lead a team of cameramen.

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