What is Cinematography?
Cinematography is not that easy to define with words but to give you a very simple and straightforward answer, It is the art of filming motion pictures. All modern movies we see are shot with the craft of cinematography. However, in terms of technical definitions, Cinematography is defined as capturing light either electronically into an image sensor or chemically into a film. The final moving picture we see is just a bunch of images moving in a series with a speed of 24 frames per second or higher. The cameras capture any movement in the form of pictures and combine them to make it look like a moving film.
Why Is Cinematography Crucial for Filmmaking?
Rather than just capturing the visuals like any other video work, cinematography plays a much bigger role in filmmaking. In a movie, most of the storytelling, mood-setting, leading and misleading is done through the visuals themself. Plus, there are many different clues in the visual narrative of the movie that can only be captured with the precise planning of cinematography. Ang hence, cinematography helps the director with all such significant aspects, it is no doubt that this art is crucial for filmmaking. Directors spend most of the film budget on cinematography, so that not only the movie completely conveys the message, but also looks stunning on the big screen.
Who is a Cinematographer?
A Cinematographer a.k.a. DOP (Director of Photography) is the head of the whole cinematography team who calls all the shots, literally. The DOP works closely with the director, making sure that the final shots are just as the director expected.
What are the Duties and Responsibilities of a Cinematographer?
All the shots and scenes that you see in a movie are the result of a cinematographer's duties. And to understand them better here are some of the major aspects that a DOP needs to think about before shooting each and every scene.
1. Camera Placement
The placement of the camera determines how the audience will perceive the shot. Hence, the camera setup and placement play a huge role in how the audience will react to the scene. The DOP or the Cinematographer will always try and find the perfect camera placement that will lead to the most dramatic and impactful shot.
2. Camera Movement
Camera Movement can add a lot more suspense and action to even some of the simplest of scenes. It is totally a DOP's call to either keep the camera steady or have movement. The best example of this is a car chase, in a situation like this a DOP usually goes with quick cuts and a lot of camera movements just to add the sense of action and thrill.
3. Composition of the Shot
The composition is one of the most important aspects of cinematography. And for those of you who are not familiar with the concept of composition, it is a term that describes how and where all the different elements are placed in the frame. Composition plays a major role in conveying the director's message. There are also many composition rules that one can follow to drastically change the look of the scene.
4. Type of the Shot
The Shot Type decides how much of the subject will be covered by the frame. There are various types of shots, for example, extreme close up, close up, medium close up and full shot etc. And this decision is further made according to the movie's requirement.
When the director wants the audience to notice the change in the actor's expression, it's best to go with Close Up Shots.
Focus is another important aspect that a DOP can play around with. This is a great way to emphasize on a person who is speaking in the movie, in case there are 2 or more people in the frame at different distances from the lens.
As most of you might already know, Lighting plays a huge role in setting the mood for the scene. If the lighting is dark or noir, you can automatically guess that the scene is giving out a sad vibe.
To get the best results, the whole cinematography team has to work like a well-oiled machine, where each and every part has a defined task. And the DOP has to see to it that every member of the team is fulfilling their role for the smooth functioning of the process.
8. Choosing the Right Equipment
All the technical components that are used while shooting a film has a major influence on what the final result is going to look like. And again it's up to the Cinematographer to choose the right equipment for the shoot. This majorly involves cameras, lenses and lights etc.
However, in big-budget films, there is a whole camera department that makes such decisions.
Best Tips and Techniques for Cinematography
Cinematography is a vast field and any number of tips and techniques you read will not be enough. So we here at Spyne are here to give you some of the best tips and tricks for you to begin your career in Cinematography.
1. Think Creativity
This is one of the best ways a cinematographer can really show his/her skill. The creativity that the DOP brings to the table can alter the whole look of the movie. And as filmmaking has evolved so much over the last couple of decades, the only thing that can keep it going is innovation or thinking out of the box. This will also keep your film from getting monotonous or dull.
2. Choose Storytelling Over Style
As a head cinematographer, you might have hundreds of ideas for a single scene. But from those, you have to choose not the one that looks the best but rather tells the story in the most apparent way. And this is because most of the time, the storytelling can suffer due to the pursuit of style.
3. Get Inspired
As a cinematographer, you should always take inspiration for the greatest cinematography works of all time. This way you can always come up with new ideas and never feel stuck.
4. Take Creative Risks
Greatness cannot be achieved without taking any risks. Hence as a visionary and an artist, you need to take creative chances. Sure the risks might not pay off every single time, but when they do, they change the course of cinema.
5. Understand The Script
As a DOP, one of your main tasks is to execute the director's view of the film. And for this, you need to be familiar with the script. Hence, you can only portray the scene perfectly, once you have completely understood the script.
6. Test The Cameras Before The Shoot
Aside from making sure that the cameras are working properly, you also have to take care of other technical aspects like whether the camera colours are perfectly calibrated or not. Hence before the actual shoot, you need to test out the camera.
7. Pre Plan Each And Every Shot
As you might have understood, a lot more things depend upon cinematography. Hence, going with the flow is not really an option here. You need to start planning each and every shot while reading the script. This way, you are always prepared and there is no delay in the production.
8. Don't Rely On Post Production
It is true, Post Production can make up for a lot of effort that was lost at the time of production and make it look better. But as a good cinematographer, you should not depend on the post-production team. A DOP needs to do his/her best so that the Post Production team can make it every better.
Popular Cameras Used For Cinematography
At some point in our lives, we all have wondered what cameras do filmmakers use to shoot multimillion-dollar Hollywood films. And today, we at Spyne are here to answer that question. These are some of the most popular and top of the line cameras in the world of Cinematography.
For hundreds of years, ARRI has been the go-to cameras for cinematic filmmaking. ARRI has made several cameras that have ruled the world of Cinematography time by time. They came out with ARRIFLEX 535 and ARRIFLEX 435 in the 90s. And these cameras went on to shoot some of the greatest movies like The Lord Of The Rings and The Avengers. However, ARRI released its most popular camera in the 2010s, The ARRI Alexa. And this camera right out of the gate set new standards for filmmaking.
Some More Movies Shot By ARRI: The Whole Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Lion King, Aladdin and IT: Chapter 2.
Even though these cameras have not been around as long as the ARRI Cameras, they still have managed to become some of the most used and popular cameras for Hollywood Cinematography. RED announced their first camera, RED ONE, in 2006. And it didn't take much time for RED to become a renowned camera brand in the industry. RED Cameras are always prefered for Indie Filmmaking, Commercials and Movies with heavy VFX Sequences.
Here are some Movies Shot With RED Cameras: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and Rambo V: Last Blood
In 1972, Panavision came out with their first Panaflex 35mm camera. And the camera instantly got popular. Panavision has also partnered with RED to make the digital versions of their Millennium Cameras. ARRI has always been a rival to Panavision, even though Panavision owns a lot of ARRI Cameras rental purposes.
Here are some of the Movies that are shot with Panavision Cameras: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Sixth Sense, Batman Returns and Back To The Future.
Important Terminologies of Cinematography
Since we are discussing Cinematography, it would not be right if we didn't talk about any important technical terms that are commonly used in cinematography. Hence here are some of the most popular terminologies that are used in cinematography.
1. Establishing Shot: This shot helps the viewer understand the context of the scene so that the meaning of the scene is easier to comprehend.
2. Panning: This is the Left and Right movement of the camera on its fixed vertical axis.
3. Tilting: This is the Up and Down Movement of the camera with a fixed horizontal axis.
4. Close-Up: This shot focuses on the very face of the subject and can be used to add drama and tension into the scene.
5. Extreme Close-Up: This Shot focuses on a single aspect of the subject's face like the eyes or the mouth.
6. Long Shot: This shot covers the whole subject from head to toe, with also the surrounding in the background.
7. Extreme Long Shot: This shot is usually used at the beginning of the movies where the director wants the audience to witness a drone shot of the city or a village.
8. High-Angle Shot: For this shot, the camera is placed above the eye level of the subject.
9. Low-Angle Shot: For this shot, the camera is placed below the eye level of the subject.
10. Medium Shot: This shot is used to capture the subject from the waist and up.
11. Point Of View Shot: This shot helps the viewers see from the eyes of the character itself.
12. Crane Shot: In this shot, the camera is placed on a crane and shoots from above, this setup is usually used in NewsRooms.
13. Tracking Shot: This is a moving frame that tracks the movement of the subject. In this, the camera follows the character, taking us, the viewers, along.
14. Dolly Shot: This is somewhat similar to the Tracking Shot. Here the word "Dolly" reflects the forward and backward movement of the camera.
15. Steadicam: This is a camera stabilizing mechanism that can also be worn by the cameraman to make the camera movements even smoother.
16. Key Light: This is the main or primary light source in a three-point lighting setup.
17. Side Lighting: This light is used to cover the areas where the key light doesn't reach.
18. Backlighting: This is a setup, where the main light is behind the subject.
19. Diegetic Sound: The sounds in the movie that can be heard by the audience as well as the characters like a gunshot or a knock on the door.
20. Non-Diegetic Sound: The Sounds that can only be heard by the audience like score, narrator's voice etc.
Difference Between Digital and Film Cinematography?
Cinematography cameras work on the same principle as still cameras. And the main difference between the digital and film cameras is that the substrate of the digital camera is an electronic sensor, on the other hand, the substrate of a film camera is a light-sensitive material.
people used to prefer film cameras over digital cameras due to the fact that the film can not produce pixelated results. However, with technological advancements and improvements in sensor resolutions, people now use digital cameras as they are much more convenient to use.
Difference Between Cinematography and Videography?
Videography is more of a practice of filming footage usually at events like marriage ceremonies. Just like cinematographers, videographers also make decisions about lighting and camera angles but their primary goal is to capture the moment rather than producing something creative and artistic. And unlike cinematographers, videographers may operate the camera themselves.
On the other hand, Cinematography is an art of filming cinema where the main objective is to make technical and creative decisions to make an artistic statement. And there are many such decisions like camera movements, lighting, lens choice and color calibrate the cameras to fit the director's vision.
Cinematography is the art of filming movies and cinema while giving priority to the storytelling as well as style and aesthetics. It is such a vast field that one can never fully learn it. Cinematography is all about bringing the Director's version of the movie to life, and this is due to the fact the DOP and the director works closely. The best way to know more and more about cinematography is by getting inspired by some of the most famous cinematography works in the history of cinema.