The 5 Most Powerful Elements of Cinematography (2022)

Thetools of cinematography have changed a lot since I went to film school in theearly 2000s. Back then, we mostly worked with actual film stock and only hadone or two classes on digital video production.

These days, it’s the opposite. We’re so used to autofocus settings and Instagram filters that we may not even think of what we do as “cinematography”. In fact, when I hear the word, the first thing that comes to mind are the classic cinematographers of the 60s and 70s like Roger Deakins and Vittorio Storaro.

But thetruth is, cinematography hasn’t really changed in all this time. Whether we’rewatching a movie on Netflix or on the big screen, many of the same conceptsthat made movies great then apply to movies today.

Withthat in mind, here are the 5 mostpowerful elements of cinematography that you should be incorporating in allof your projects:

1. Exposure

One of the first things to consider when creating a shot is the exposure. We’ll look at this separately from lighting, because while they’re both related, exposure is controlled by the camera, while lighting is an environmental factor.

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If youhave your camera on auto mode, it will attempt to regulate the exposure itself.You may notice this when you move your camera and see the image suddenly darkenor become washed out.

If thishappens while you’re rolling, it can look a bit jarring in the recorded video.To have more control over the look of your footage, set the exposure yourself.

The 5 Most Powerful Elements of Cinematography (1)

To dothis, you’ll need to adjust the shutterspeed, the aperture, the frame rate, and the ISO. That may seem like a lot, so let’stake them one by one:

ISO

The ISO is what adjusts the sensitivity of the camera’s software. A higher ISO will create a brighter image, but will also be grainer. This is what happens when you take a picture at night on your smartphone. The built-in software automatically increases the ISO, which makes the image visible, but grainier.

In thedaytime, you can use a lower ISO and get a crisper image. A typical range isbetween 100 and 2,000, although some cameras can go even higher. But justbecause you can shoot in extremelylow lighting conditions doesn’t mean you should. You’ll have to decide on theright balance of brightness and graininess for your image.

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Aperture

The aperture refers to how open the iris is, which impacts how much light gets into the camera. The aperture is measured in f-stops, with a smaller number (f/3.5) referring to a wide open lens and a higher number (f/22) referring to a smaller opening.

This also impacts the depth-of-field of your image. The larger the aperture, the blurrier your background will be, while a smaller aperture can give you a sharper, crisper image from foreground to background. As with the ISO, the best f-stop to use for a scene will depend on whether you’re shooting indoors or outdoors and how far away your subject is.

Shutter speed and frame rate

The shutter speed and frame rate are often confused for each other because they seem tobe dealing with the same thing. However, they vary quite a bit.

The frame rate refers to how many frames are created per second (the standard frame rate for film is 24 frames per second, 30 for TV) while the shutter speed refers to the length of exposure of each frame.

Butwe’re dealing with fractions of second! Does the frame rate and length ofexposure really matter? It does: it’s what makes an image look either naturalor unrealistic.

You mayremember the controversy over Peter Jackson’s decision to shoot The Hobbit at 48 fps, which some viewersfound to be too “lifelike” for a fantasy film. Increasingly, big-namecinematographers have been experimenting with various frame rates.

For the most natural results, the shutter speed should be set to as close to twice the frame rate as possible. That means if the frame rate is 24 fps, a 1/48 shutter speed (or 1/50 if you’re shooting on a DSLR) will look most natural to the human eye.

Thehigher the shutter speed, the less motion blur and the darker the image; alower shutter speed will have more noticeable blur but the image will bebrighter.

So,you’ll have to choose the right speed based on how bright it is and how muchmotion you want to capture. If your subject isn’t moving at all, thenprioritize brightness; if it’s an action scene, then you may want to have adarker image with more fluid motion.

In theend, exposure is the interplay between these four elements. They all affectbrightness, but have different effects on other aspects of the image. To recap:

  • ISO affects graininess
  • aperture affects depth-of-field
  • frame rate and shutter speed affect motion blur

That’s simplifying things a bit, but will give you some tools to play with next time you pick up the camera. Try playing with these settings in various lighting conditions to see how they influence the final image.

As a beginner, it might be difficult to grasp the relationship between these elements, so check out this video to help you get started:

What is Exposure Triangle and how does it relate to Aperture, Shutter and ISO?
(Video) Elements Cinematic Rhythms is unbeatable for its price...

2. Composition

The second most powerful element of cinematography is the composition of the shot. How are the separate pieces of the image arranged? Are your subjects in the center of the image or the side? Background or foreground?

Compositionis especially noticeable on the big screen. On a smartphone, it can be easy tooverlook the sides or the background of a shot. On a big screen, you’re morelikely to notice the extras in the distance or the characters on the edge ofthe frame.

Atalented cinematographer pays attention to how the characters move throughoutthe scene and adjusts the position of the camera accordingly.

Manytraditional cinematic techniques derive from painting and portraiture. It’scommon for close-up shots to adhere to the ruleof thirds, with an actor’s eyes lined up a third of the way down thescreen. It’s ok to break these rules, but keep in mind that leaving too muchheadroom or two much negative space to either side of an actor can leave theframe feeling empty or off-balance.

Likewise,keep an eye on how buildings, trees, clouds, and even mountains appear in theframe. If the horizon is visible in your shot, make sure that it’s level –unless, of course, you’re going for a sense of imbalance or unease.

Considerhow Gus Van Sant makes use of these outdoor elements in My Own Private Idaho, particularly in shots of River Phoenix’scharacter lying down on the road or looking toward the horizon.

Whencharacters move through the frame, don’t just have them move left to rightalong an x-y access. Including some diagonal movement in your shot adds somedepth to the scene and keep it from looking too staged.

3. Camera Movement

Yourcharacters may not be the only thing moving during a scene. For each shot,you’ll have to decide whether you want a moving or static camera.

In theearly days of cinema, cameras had less freedom of movement than they do today.A tracking shot might involve setting up a lengthy dolly track. A 360-degreeshot meant strategically hiding crew and camera equipment where it wouldn’t beseen.

Thesedays, with the rise of steadicams and even drones, anyone can do a trackingshot without breaking the fourth wall or relying on an elaborate camera setup.

Considerthe “dolly zoom,” a shot made famous in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.In this shot, the camera moves toward or away from the subject on a dolly,while the lens zooms in the opposite direction, causing of sense unease.

You could do a zoom the easy way, by keepingthe camera motionless and zooming in toward your subject, but it doesn’t havethe same effect. Try it yourself – put your camera on a wheelchair orskateboard and move toward your subject while zooming out. Get the timing rightand you’ll have a particularly disorienting shot on your hands.

Anotherpopular motion is the whip-pan, made famous in 70s martial arts movies and bycontemporary directors like Wes Anderson and Edgar Wright. Consider the openingof Hot Fuzz, which incorporatesmultiple whip pans into an extended montage.

Typically,a whip pan is produced by shooting two shots separately, and using the blurredfootage during the “whip” motion to transition between them. When you shootthem, make sure that you turn the camera in the same direction, and atrelatively the same speed, to allow for a smooth transition in the editingroom.

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Finally,consider the long take or the tracking shot. These kinds of shots wereincredibly difficult in the days of film, when a reel only held a limitedquantity of film stock. Now, you can shoot a movie in a single take, or followyour characters all over the city.

Whenshooting a tracking shot, don’t just wing it. See if you can block out the pathyour actor will be taking, and find a well-composed shot to begin and end on.

Ifyou’re struggling to keep your actor in frame, it will be obvious to theviewer. Keep an eye on composition the entire time, and don’t forget to adjustyour exposure if you move from one lighting condition to another.

The 5 Most Powerful Elements of Cinematography (2)

4. Camera Angles

Anotherimportant element of cinematography is the angle of the shot. In fact, some ofthe subtlest camera motions are simply changes in the camera angle.

Tiltingup from a character’s feet to their face might emphasize their height. Anoverhead shot that tilts down can can produce the opposite effect. Titlingdiagonally will produce a Dutch angle, which can create a sense of dizziness orunease.

Dutchangles are especially useful in point-of-view shots: if a character is lyingdown, or turning their head to look back while running, a level shot might feeltoo static.

Considersome more unusual angles as well. Quentin Tarantino is known for the “trunkshot” – a camera pointing upwards at the actors from inside the trunk of a car.

Formid-budget productions, drone shots are the new helicopter shots – they can beespecially useful for outdoor scenes to emphasis the vastness of the landscape.

Andwith the rise of wearable tech, it’s easy to get a POV shot while your actorwalks, runs, or cycles – or even swims underwater.

Toomany unusual angle can be show-offy and distracting, but they’re one of themost important tools you have at your disposal as a cinematographer.

5. Color

The useof color often gets overlooked as an element of cinematography. Isn’t that theset designer’s job? Or, in the case of clothing, the costume designer?

Whilesome decisions may be made by the director and other crew members, the way thatcolor shows up on camera is a vital part of your role as a cinematographer.

First,you’ll need to consider the colortemperature of your shot. Fluorescent light, tungsten light, and naturallight all create different color temperatures, as do clouds, shade, and directsunlight.

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Traditionally,film stock was produced specifically for indoor or outdoor use. Now, mostcameras have built-in settings to adjust to a variety of lighting conditions.

If youaren’t using automatic settings, then you’ll need to understand a little bitabout color temperature and how to properly white balance your shot.

The hueof a light source is measured in degrees Kelvin, and typical light sourcesrange from 1000K (the flame of a candle) to 5000K (fluorescent light) to15,000K (clear sky). The higher the color temperature, the more of a blue tintthe image will have; a lower color temperature, such as that of tungsten light,will produce an orange hue.

Inorder to avoid any unusual color variations between shots, you’ll need to givethe camera a reference point.Youcan either do this by selecting the setting that matches your lightingconditions (i.e., sunny or cloudy), or doing it manually.

To setit manually, you’ll find an object that is naturally white (such as a whitepicket fence, or a piece of paper) and press the white balance button on yourcamera. Now, the camera knows to adjust the color temperature relative to thatshade of white.

Butincorporating color into your cinematography doesn’t end there. You’ll alsoneed to consider color contrast and saturation. A scene that’s vividlycolored in real life can look dull and drab on camera if not shot properly.

Some ofthe color can be manipulated in post-production, but it’s important to talkwith your director and set designer to make sure you’re on the same page.

A noirmovie may call for a grey color palette with low color saturation, while asci-fi movie may use a variety of colors with a lot of contrast between them.Directors like Akira Kurosawa use color to establish themes and createsymbolism.

When designing your shot, pay attention to how the colors of your subject’s clothing and props interact with their environment. Do they pop out or blend in? Adjust your lighting and color settings and see how that changes the look of the shot. Remember that what you see on camera will be different than what you see with the naked eye.

Here’s a video that shows you how powerful color can be (it’s from the perspective of grading, but the same principles apply):

The Art of Color Grading

Don’tbe afraid to experiment and try new variations on these elements.Cinematography is constantly evolving, and no doubt we’ll have even more toolsto work with in five or ten years than we do now. But these basic principleswon’t change.

Learning to master these 5 elements will give you an edge over other cinematographers regardless of the tools that you have at your disposal.

FAQs

What are the 5 components of cinematography? ›

Any aspiring film makers should be aware of what enormous part cinematography and editing play in the making of a film.
  • Camera Angles. The camera angle is vital to a stories narrative and the camera positioning helps to drive the story forward. ...
  • Continuity. ...
  • Cutting. ...
  • Close-ups. ...
  • Composition.
26 May 2017

What are the 5 basic shots used in video production? ›

The basic types of shots in a film are:
  • The extreme wide shot.
  • The wide, also known as a long shot.
  • The full shot.
  • The medium shot.
  • The medium close-up shot.
  • The close-up shot.
  • The extreme close-up shot.
  • The establishing shot.
18 Mar 2019

What makes a great 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 are the major elements of cinematic design? ›

Some major elements of cinematic design include development of costuming; development of decoration and setting; uses of colors, sounds and lighting; and uses of the camera.

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 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 the 6 camera angles? ›

6 Common Types of Camera Angles (Shot Framing)
  • Close up.
  • Extreme close up.
  • Wide-angle shot.
  • Medium shot.
  • Over the shoulder shot.
  • Point of view shot.
24 Jul 2022

Which element of a scene does the cinematographer most often control? ›

A cinematographer is a person who shoots and captures video footage for movies and is also being responsible for lighting, camera angles, and other technical aspects of film production. Most often they shoot from the focal point of a scene or act as director of photography on set.

What is the master shot? ›

A master shot is the principal camera shot that a director and cinematographer use when filming a particular scene. It covers all of the important action in a scene, including the major characters and scenic points of interest. For this reason, master shots are almost always wide shots.

What are the 6 elements of cinematic composition? ›

Line, shape, lightness and darkness, color, perspective, balance, weight, height, depth -- these remain the words people use to talk about composition. As you saw in the video essay, elements like size, shape, color, and many other concepts of aesthetics, can change the way the audience reacts to a scene in your film.

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 are the two main elements of 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 are the different elements of film time and space? ›

What are the key elements involved:
  • Film Type.
  • Shots.
  • Camera Angles.
  • Lighting.
  • Color.
  • Sound or Audio.
  • Editing.
  • Mise-en-Scene.
3 Mar 2021

What is composition What are the two major elements of composition? ›

What is composition? What are the two major elements of composition? Composition is part of the process of visualizing and planning the design of a movie. Two major elements of composition are framing (what we see on the screen) and kinesis (what moves on the screen).

What are the 4 elements of cinematography? ›

Cinematography is the way in which a shot is framed, lit, shadowed, and colored.

What are the most important elements of a film? ›

In conclusion, The Big Four Elements of Film consists of mise-en-scéne, cinematography, editing and sound. The best way to understand how to use these as a master filmmaker is important to watch films and elaborate on what you like and what you don´t like and why.

What makes a movie a masterpiece? ›

A “masterpiece” is a film that “[captures] a moment in time and emotion that sticks in the hearts and minds of the culture, and where any alteration would make the movie 'less,'” reasoned Wolfe.

What is 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 are the five elements of a story storyboarding? ›

But when you boil it down, each story is actually made up of five basic story elements:
  • Character.
  • Conflict.
  • Plot.
  • Setting.
  • Theme.
11 Aug 2022

What are the 5 basic angles in cinema? ›

Essential Angles
  • Establishing shot. This is used to introduce a setting, usually an exterior shot of the building where the action takes place.
  • Wide angle. The lens is zoomed out all the way to see the widest view possible. ...
  • Long shot. ...
  • Medium shot. ...
  • Close-up. ...
  • Extreme close-up. ...
  • Two-shot. ...
  • Over-the-shoulder.

How many shots are in a cinema? ›

There are three different types of basic camera shots which include: the close-up, medium shot, and the long shot.

What is full shot? ›

A wide shot, also called a long shot or a full shot, is a shot that shows the subject within their surrounding environment. A wide shot tells the audience who is in the scene, where the scene is set, and when the scene takes place.

What are the 4 Roles of the cinematographer? ›

The cinematographer's responsibilities include reading scripts and liaising with the director and visiting locations to take test shots. You should suggest suitable lighting, angles, filters, and techniques to the director, and also work with the processing lab and post-production team.

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 qualities should a cinematographer have? ›

Having these five qualities could make a difference in a filmmaker's level of success and personal satisfaction in the profession.
  • Communication Skills. ...
  • Artistic Talent and Creativity. ...
  • Strong Leadership. ...
  • Excellent Time Management. ...
  • Organizational Skills.

What is the 180 rule in film? ›

The 180-degree rule states that two characters (or more) in a scene should always have the same left/right relationship with each other. The rule dictates that you draw an imaginary line between these two characters (or subjects) and try to keep your camera(s) on the same side of this 180-degree line.

What is the triple take technique? ›

Overlapping method: Also called the "triple-take method", the camera shoots initial action in the scene (usually a wide shot), and then the action is paused or repeated to allow a different camera angle and lighting set-up. This is similar to coverage, but without a master shot.

What is pan view? ›

In cinematography, a pan shot is a horizontal camera movement where the camera pivots left or right while its base remains in a fixed location. The term “pan” comes from the word “panorama,” which describes a view so vast and grand you have to turn your head to see the entire vista.

What is the essence of cinematography? ›

Cinematography is an art. It focuses on storytelling through stills and visuals. The artistry in cinematography lies in controlling what the viewer sees and how that presentation is drafted.

What is the purpose of cinematography? ›

The cinematographer or director of photography (sometimes shortened to DP or DOP) is the person responsible for the photographing or recording of a film, television production, music video or other live action piece.

Why is composition important in cinematography? ›

First and foremost film composition is important because it directs the audience's attention. Second to that it's important because through composition we can create visually appealing images unique to the director and DP's style.

What is a cinematographer salary? ›

Low. High. Average: £1,751Range: £402 - £7,625. The average salary for Cinematographer is £34,891 per year in the London Area. The average additional cash compensation for a Cinematographer in the London Area is £1,751, with a range from £402 - £7,625.

Is anime a cinematography? ›

It combines graphic art, characterization, cinematography, and other forms of imaginative and individualistic techniques. Compared to Western animation, anime production generally focuses less on movement, and more on the detail of settings and use of "camera effects", such as panning, zooming, and angle shots.

How can I improve my cinematography? ›

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

Which cinematographer has won the most Oscars? ›

Leon Shamroy

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 is composition in cinematography? ›

Composition refers to how the elements on screen (actors, scenery, props, etc.) appear in respect to each other and within the frame itself. In the earliest days of cinema, film composition basically mimicked that of a stage play. Directors staged all actors and important information to face the audience.

What is the essence of cinematography? ›

Cinematography is an art. It focuses on storytelling through stills and visuals. The artistry in cinematography lies in controlling what the viewer sees and how that presentation is drafted.

What is the purpose of cinematography? ›

The role of a cinematographer in movies

Cinematography is the art and craft of making motion pictures by capturing a story visually. A series of shots that form a cohesive narrative, all shot by the cinematographer.

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 are the 7 rules of composition? ›

Let's get started.
  • Rules of Shot Composition.
  • The Rule of Thirds.
  • Balance and Symmetry.
  • Leading Lines.
  • Eye-Level Framing.
  • Depth of Field.
  • Deep Space Composition.
10 Jul 2022

What are the two main elements of 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 180 rule in film? ›

The 180-degree rule states that two characters (or more) in a scene should always have the same left/right relationship with each other. The rule dictates that you draw an imaginary line between these two characters (or subjects) and try to keep your camera(s) on the same side of this 180-degree line.

How do you analyze cinematography? ›

Now that we know the different effects of different angles used in films, let's see how we can analyse them!
  1. Identify the shot angle in the scene.
  2. Identify the general effect of the angle. Identify the atmosphere in the scene. ...
  3. Ground your findings in the context of the film. Identify the film's themes. ...
  4. Write a TEEL paragraph.

What is a cinematographer salary? ›

Low. High. Average: £1,751Range: £402 - £7,625. The average salary for Cinematographer is £34,891 per year in the London Area. The average additional cash compensation for a Cinematographer in the London Area is £1,751, with a range from £402 - £7,625.

What is the ultimate job of the cinematographer? ›

The cinematographer is responsible for creating the overall look and feel of a film's visuals. This includes working with the director to establish the visual style, composing shots, selecting lenses and cameras, lighting scenes, and adjusting color and exposure.

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

Who is the best cinematographer of all time? ›

1. Emmanuel Lubezki. It isn't a list of the best cinematographers of all time without Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki. He has garnered Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography eight times, winning three times for Gravity (2013), Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), and The Revenant (2015).

What is another name for a cinematographer? ›

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

What are the 6 elements of cinematic composition? ›

Line, shape, lightness and darkness, color, perspective, balance, weight, height, depth -- these remain the words people use to talk about composition. As you saw in the video essay, elements like size, shape, color, and many other concepts of aesthetics, can change the way the audience reacts to a scene in your film.

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 are the 5 most important elements in filming and explain each of them? ›

With that in mind, here are the 5 most powerful elements of cinematography that you should be incorporating in all of your projects:
  • Exposure. One of the first things to consider when creating a shot is the exposure. ...
  • Composition. ...
  • Camera Movement. ...
  • Camera Angles. ...
  • Color.
2 Jul 2020

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