6. What Is Cinematography? – Exploring Movie Construction and Production (2022)

Part II: Production

Dictionary.com defines cinematography as “the art or technique of motion-picture photography.”34 Being a technical area, we do not want to put a simple formula in place.

The director, being the chief creative person for a movie, is in charge of the cinematography with the director of photography or the cinematographer being in charge of the actual camera, lighting, and electrical crews.

Wikibooks, in their “Movie Making Manual,” defines the director of photography (DP) as being “in charge of the actual image of a film project. They direct the camera/grip/lighting crews as to how the lights should be placed, how the camera should be exposed, and basically anything related to the film image. They will also choose the film stock and processing for the film. Many times the DP will be present during color timing as well. The DP works very closely with the Director to realize his vision of how the film should look.”35

The quickest way to view different camera shots and how they are used is by watching the following YouTube video.

Cinematography Lesson One: Angles by Nathan Grebe


Extremely wide shot: Shows a broad view of the surroundings of the character and informs the audience as to what is going on. It is often used as an opening shot to a new scene.

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Wide shot: Shows the character from head to toe.

Medium wide shot: Shows the character, usually cut off below the knees, but it is wide enough to show the settings around him or her and still be close enough to show the expressions on his or her face.

Medium shot: Shows the upper body, arms, and head.

Close up: Face and shoulders are showing, and it shows the expression on the character’s face very well.

Extreme close up: Only part of a character’s face is visible. It fills up the entire frame with details.


High Angle: The camera, placed above eye level, is looking downward. This shot is often used to make the character seem small, weak, young, or confused.

Medium Angle: Most commonly used.

Low Angle: Used to make the character seem bigger, stronger, more frightening, or nobler.

Over the shoulder: Close up of the character shown over the shoulder of another character.

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Two shot: Both characters are shown in the frame. The camera moves.

Pan: The camera rotates side to side, while remaining in the same location. It is simply executed with a tripod.

Tilt: The camera is moved to aim upward or downward without changing location. Also done with a tripod.

Zoom: Basically, zoom is moving the lens without moving the camera around. I would not recommend using this feature with a DSLR camera simply because it causes a fair amount of shakiness to your video and will take the audience out of the scene. There are always exceptions, though, if the effect you desire needs a zoom, then use the zoom. If you have a prime/fixed lens, you can use your feet to create a zoom.

Dolly: The camera moves side to side. This movement can be used to reveal something in a scene.

An extreme wide shot, as indicated below, is used at the beginning of a scene when the director wants to identify where the scene is taking place. The establishing shot is a photo of a location that the viewer is familiar with, so immediate recognition of the setting for the scene by the viewer is accomplished.

6. What Is Cinematography? – Exploring Movie Construction and Production (1)

A medium or mid shot films an individual from the waist up. Medium shots are often used when filming a conversation. When the director wants both people involved in a conversation to be seen at the same time, a two shot is used. If three people are involved in a conversation the director may use a three shot technique. When the director wants only one person in a shot, the person speaking may be shown and then when this person stops speaking the reaction of the other person may be displayed in a separate shot.

The close-up shot is used in an emotional scene. This shot is used for very dramatic scenes where the director wants the audience to feel emotion toward the character in a particular scene.

The two-shot and three-shot films are used when two or three people are in the same framed shot. A director may wish to use this type of shot when he wants the viewer to watch the person doing the talking and the reaction of the individual or individuals listening at the same time.

The over-the-shoulder shot and the point-of-view shot are used when the director wants to give the audience a subjective viewpoint or make the audience feel like they are part of the action.

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The over-the-shoulder shot is taken over the shoulder of one of the characters so the viewer sees the shoulder and one side of the face and neck of the one individual as this person is talking to another individual. The viewer actually sees what the first character is looking at. In other words, this puts the viewer in the shoes of one of the characters, so that the viewer is able to see the reaction of the other character.

The point-of-view shot gives the viewer the exact observation of what a character sees without the shoulder and side of the head in the shot. This shot is more of a first-person view, where the viewer sees exactly what the character is seeing.

6. What Is Cinematography? – Exploring Movie Construction and Production (2)

6. What Is Cinematography? – Exploring Movie Construction and Production (3)

The previous camera shots and camera positions are discussed to provide a visual literacy between the viewer, and an image that was created and interpreted by the director and the camera crew as the story progresses and the character portrayals develop and change.


Lighting assists in establishing a background to the visual literacy that the director and movie crew are creating. Lighting is done in a three-point process.

  • The first point is key lighting that provides essential lighting to the object, person or area that you want to light for a shot.
  • The second point is fill lighting. If there is only a little fill lighting, then there are many shadows, and it gives a dark and mysterious appearance. More fill light fills in the dark areas of an image.
  • The last point is back lighting and it gives a three-dimensional appearance to an object or person.
6. What Is Cinematography? – Exploring Movie Construction and Production (4)

The design below includes a fourth point of lighting, that is, background lighting. This is used if there is an object with a specific background that needs to be lit for a special reason.

Low-key light and no-fill light leaves shadows. This is the type of mood that would be appropriate for crime, horror, or film noir movies. The higher the key and fill lighting are; the brighter and happier the mood of the movie or scene is. A lot of key and fill lighting is appropriate for comedies and musicals.

Three to four minutes into the movie, Detour, there is a good example of bright key light that becomes darker with shadows, and then the key light gets brighter again as the movie moves to a flashback.

6. What Is Cinematography? – Exploring Movie Construction and Production (5)

We will move away from the cinematography and go to the editing to assemble the shots in the best way possible. These are the two processes that make a movie different from other productions such as live theatre performances.

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Further Viewing

With the completion of this chapter, movies to watch that that are excellent examples of cinematography are:

The 7th Dawn, 1964, directed by Lewis Gilbert, starring William Holden, Susannah York, and Capucine. This movie is an excellent example in scenery cinematography of the Far East.

Chinatown, 1974, directed by Roman Polanski, starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston. This movie is an excellent example in light and shadows of neo noir.

Days of Heaven, 1978, directed by Terrence Malick, starring Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, and Sam Shepard. This movie is an excellent example of cinematography establishing the turn-of-the-century atmosphere.

Blade Runner, 1982, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, and Sean Young. This movie is an excellent example in demonstrating futuristic fears.

The Revenant, 2015, directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Will Poulter. This movie is an excellent example of realism in action cinematography.


Jack moves into the guest house of Betty and Alec. Betty has hired Jack, a private investigator, to do surveillance on Alec.

Jack is bored and wants to leave a couple of times, but Betty appears and stops him because the situation is getting worse around the house. Betty states that many men she has never seen have come to the house to see Alec. Jack states, “What does that matter?” Alec goes to visit Jack and states that all is not what it looks like, and that Jack is not to believe Betty. Alec states that he has taken precautions because of this.

One night, Alec asks the relatives to come over for a party. Everybody gets drunk and starts running around the yard, kissing the first person they see, regardless of the gender. At one point, Alec is with Betty, and Alec starts to get rough with Betty. Jack cannot see what is going on and what is being said, so he starts to get closer. Suddenly Alec turns around with a surprised look on his face and a gun in his hand. Jack shoots him with Alec still looking mystified by the gun in his hand. The relatives, including Betty, run around hysterically as Jack calls the police. The police arrive, and they find that Alec is dead. They take Jack in to headquarters to go over what happened.

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What type of cinematography shots would best express the above scenes?


What is cinematography in a movie? ›

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.

What is production in cinematography? ›

Production: The production stage, also known as principal photography, is when shooting begins. During this short timeframe, additional crew will be hired—like a script supervisor to check for script continuity while filming, and a property master to acquire and oversee any of your film's props.

What is cinematography and why is it important? ›

Cinematography represents that visual aspect, whether through the camera and lens choice, angle width, aspect ratio, or other visual elements. The impact of certain shots also plays a significant role in the overall feel of a film.

What is cinematography With example? ›

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. The art, science, and work of photography in making films.

What makes good cinematography? ›

What makes good cinematography? Cinematography is the art of visual storytelling, and good cinematography tells the story effectively. That encompasses many aspects of the actual art form, including camera placement, lighting, the grammar of film and knowing it well, and understanding the script and the story.

What is cinematography quizlet? ›

Cinematography. the process of capturing moving images on film or a digital storage device.

What is the meaning of production in movies? ›

Production: The raw footage and other elements of the film are recorded during the film shoot, including principal photography. Post-production: The images, sound, and visual effects of the recorded film are edited and combined into a finished product.

What are the 5 main stages of film production? ›

The 5 Stages of Film Production
  • 1. Development. The development stage is the first step in film production. ...
  • Pre-production. When you get the green light to start the pre-production stage, you'll establish a production company and set up a production office. ...
  • Production. ...
  • Post-production. ...
  • Distribution.
May 5, 2021

What are the three stages of film production? ›

It's best to think of filmmaking as three distinct stages: planning and getting ready to film (development and pre-production) filming (production), and. completing the film and getting it ready to show (post-production).

What is the most important part of cinematography? ›

Camera Angles

Another important element of cinematography is the angle of the shot. In fact, some of the subtlest camera motions are simply changes in the camera angle. Tilting up from a character's feet to their face might emphasize their height. An overhead shot that tilts down can can produce the opposite effect.

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.

How do you do cinematography? ›

How To: Basic Cinematography Tips! - YouTube

How do you analyze cinematography in film? ›

How to read cinematography | Shot analysis explained - YouTube

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.
Sep 10, 2014

What skills does a cinematographer need? ›

What Is a Cinematographer?
Education RequiredBachelor's
Key SkillsDeep understanding of lighting, staging, and photography
Job Growth (2020-2030)24% (for all camera operators, television, video, and motion picture)*
Median Salary (May 2020)$57,200 (for all camera operators, television, video, and motion picture)*
1 more row

What is the basic unit of cinematography? ›

The most basic unit of cinematography is the shot—a continuous exposed piece of film without stops or edits. Each shot orchestrates four important attributes: framing, depth of field, color, and movement.

What describes a low contrast image? ›

which describes low-contrast image? many intermediate shades between black and white; muted white and black areas. which affects the speed of motion in a film. rate at which the film was shot; rate of projection.

Is an unbroken span of action capture by an uninterrupted run of the camera? ›

An unbroken span of action captured by an uninterrupted run of a motion-picture camera that allows visual elements to rearrange themselves and viewer's perspective itself to shift within any composition.

Why is production important in film? ›

Production Design Makes the Film Credible and Believable

Through research, production design is able to craft a realistic and trustworthy world. This is something that is referred to as verisimilitude, meaning something that is perceived as being true or real. This is seen very explicitly in a movie like The Titanic.

What is movie production value? ›

Production value refers to the overall quality of a movie as determined by its technical merits. This value is based on criteria like set design, special effects, and costumes rather than the more creative and subjective criteria such as directing, acting, and writing.

Which is the most important element of film making Why? ›

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 are the 7 stages of film production? ›

Mastering the 7 Stages of Film Production
  • Development. ...
  • Financing. ...
  • Pre-production. ...
  • Production. ...
  • Post-production. ...
  • Marketing. ...
  • Distribution.
Jun 21, 2019

What are the four stages of making a film? ›

There are 4 stages of film production: development, pre-production, production and post- production.

What are the elements of film? ›

There are five elements of film which is narrative, cinematography, sound, mise-en-scene, and editing. These five elements help determine the film and a way to judge a film.

What are stages of production? ›

Film Production is created in 5 phases: development, pre-production, production, post-production, and distribution. Each phase has a different purpose, with the overarching goal to get to the next one, and ultimately on to distribution.

What are the stages of video production? ›

The 5 Stages of Video Production
  • Step 1: Idea Development.
  • Step 2: Pre-Production/Scripting.
  • Step 3: Production.
  • Step 4: Post Production.
  • Step 5: Marketing/Distribution.

How do you start a film production? ›

Step-By-Step Guide for Starting a Film Production Company
  1. Establish Your Company as a Legal Business Entity. ...
  2. Create a Business Plan for Your Film. ...
  3. Raise Money for the Production of Your Film. ...
  4. Gather Your Filmmaking Team. ...
  5. Devise a Film Distribution Strategy.
Apr 4, 2018

What are the two main elements of cinematography? ›

The elements of cinematography include everything from the camera equipment, camera motion and camera angles to lighting, framing, film selection, composition, depth of field, color, exposure and so much more. Cinematographers use the elements of cinematography to achieve powerful results of all kinds.

How do you convey emotions in cinematography? ›

Sound is absolutely key in conveying emotion in film. A filmmaker needs the right skills, creativity, and attention to evoke the right emotions through sound. Having the right sound or even no sound helps make a film that stays with the viewer. You can use sound effects to immerse your viewer.

Does cinematography include editing? ›

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

What is cinematography vs directing? ›

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.

What all is included in cinematography? ›

Cinematography comprises all on-screen visual elements, including lighting, framing, composition, camera motion, camera angles, film selection, lens choices, depth of field, zoom, focus, color, exposure, and filtration.

What is the difference between filmmaking and cinematography? ›

The primary difference between cinematography and filmmaking is that cinematography is the application of camera techniques which determine the visual depiction of the film, while filmmaking is the overarching process of making the entire film itself.

What are the two main elements of cinematography? ›

The elements of cinematography include everything from the camera equipment, camera motion and camera angles to lighting, framing, film selection, composition, depth of field, color, exposure and so much more. Cinematographers use the elements of cinematography to achieve powerful results of all kinds.


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