What Is Cinematography?

Cinematography is the art and science of capturing photographic images on camera to come up with a movie. It is derived from the Greek words kinema which means “movement” and graphein which means “to record.” Cameras were the equipment of choice in the early days of cinematography. The images were recorded on 35 mm film stock and were later developed to become visible. These images are then replayed rapidly on screen to form moving pictures. This was known as film cinematography.

A technology continues to get better and video cameras became more sophisticated, cinematography has also improved by leaps and bounds. In the late 1990s, the use of digital equipment became popular. At present, high-definition digital cameras and other advanced equipment are now the tools of choice in this industry such that digital cinematography, as it is now called, has become the standard in the industry. However, it was only recently in 2013 that Paramount did away with the 35 mm film completely and distribute movies in digital form. It was the first major film studio to completely embrace digital cinematography.

Cinematographers are the experts of cinematography. They work together with the film’s director in making sure that the shots are well-taken. While cinematography may require the same skill set as that of photography, cinematographers have to be ready to take shots while the actors are moving and in this sense, it can be said that cinematography is more complex. Moreover, cinematography also takes into consideration the lighting of the entire scene and the manipulation of the camera in sequences when it needs to be physically moved across the set.

The visual effect of a movie is largely dependent on the style and caliber of its cinematographer. How they use lighting and movement to convey the emotion needed in the film is also one of the areas of expertise of cinematographers. The kind of lighting that permeates the entire movie supports its overall theme and the pace by which the movements of the characters are portrayed will immediately tell audiences if they are watching an action flick, drama or a suspense thriller.

In addition to the vision and creativity of the cinematographer, there are also various tools used in cinematography that enhance the overall effect of a movie. Techniques like panning and close-up shots as well as changes made in the lighting and even in the colors of the movie are crucial in dramatizing a scene. More sophisticated digital equipment make for clearer shots compared to the use of film. Other tools that can have a very substantial effect on the outcome of a movie include the use of filters, lenses, depth of field and focus and aspect ratio, among others. Special effects also make scenes more fantastic or believable, depending on what the intent of the scene is. For example, a beheading scene can be made more believable with the use of special effects.

Cinematographers are usually the second most important personnel in a movie crew right after the director. Although the career can be challenging and stressful, especially when they are trying to beat deadlines for a movie project, the fulfillment of seeing a finished movie that showcases their style and creativity cannot be matched by anything else.

Career Spotlight: Cinematographer

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