The art of cinematography

We have discussed cinematography as part of our studies of a visual text but some of you struggle to write about it. Cinematography includes techniques of composition and framing, camera movement, the manipulation of light and the use of special technical tricks.

Camera movement is something that confuses but what it is to do with is panning and tilting as well as the ways that the camera can be moved through space. Most of you are familiar with a dolly (a mobile camera platform on wheels or mounted on tracks) or a crane. Cinematographers also manipulate light (both natural and artificial) to create illumination, contrast and depth. They may also play around with exposure, use slow or fast motion, glass shots and matte shots to create optical illusions.

The use of technical tricks means that the camera can be used in ways other than photographing and reproducing reality. Cinematography is an art. It can create striking images, manipulate mood and atmosphere and meaning. A director relies very much on the artistic and technical skills of the cinematographer. The cinematographer hones the audience’s focus towards where the director wants to them to look and they do that by using light, colour or composition.

In terms of the production process it is the cinematographer that brings together aspects of the creative process with the technological side. Cinematographers need to understand visual aesthetics and they often study film history, painting and photography. Some people describe cinematography as ‘painting with light’. Cinematographers also need to know the technical aspects of their craft such as the optical, mechanical and camera processes.

The job of a cinematographer, is in a nutshell, to create and maintain the right visual style for the film, whatever the genre and have the technical expertise to deal with the production requirements. They have to be able to realise the director’s vision.

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