I dream for a living.
       - Steven Spielberg

Principles of Cinematography

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Movies are not plays. The power of cinematography consists of evoking extreme emotions of delight, sadness, or fear through the mastery of a cinematic syntax that has been developed for more than a century.

Shot sizes, angles, and movements are the heart of an exceptional camerawork, which, coupled with a lighting crafted to enhance emotions, forms the essence of cinematography. They provoke, inspire, frighten, relieve, and amaze us.

The Cinematographer's Craft

Cinematography is the art of the cinematographer or director of photography (DP). A good cinematographer does more than merely light a scene. He studies the script and creates an elaborate lighting setup that provokes emotions and strengthens the plot. He communicates a character’s dream, hope, despair, or joy based on where camera and lights are placed. He draws patterns of shadows and lights that upset and stun the viewer.

Cinematography ranks among one of the most complex and challenging areas of filmmaking. If it were an equation, the terms and variables would be numerous. Figuring out the precise effect intended for a shot can be time consuming and exhausting. To determine exposure, the camera alone imposes three variables: aperture, shutter speed, and film ISO. The environment, controllable or not, will dictate other variables. Lighting is never easy. Every time you strike a light, you cast a shadow somewhere else.

Cinematographers, the head of camera and lighting, have the largest crew on any film set. His right arm, the gaffer (chief electrician), manages the light and grip crew. They are responsible for setting up lights, black wrapping windows, mounting stands, pushing or pulling dollies, holding b-boards, etc. Setting up light is what drains most of the time in any film production.

Directors of photography are inventive problem solvers. They must be very attentive of the environment where they’re shooting because apparently useless objects can actually come quite handy.


Related Readings:

Lessons on Screenwriting

Lessons on Directing:





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