The Case of Cinematography

This week we released our longest episode to date! It’s about the art of cinematography. Here are our show notes as well as some clips to help guide you through the episode!


  • What is it?
    • Simply put,  it is the art or science of making motion pictures.
    • Comes from the Greek words ‘kinema’ (meaning movement) and ‘graphein’ (to record)
    • Cinematography emphasizes what is going on in each scene to produce a certain emotion out of the viewer.
      • Walter Murch in his book In the Blink of an Eye says “What they finally remember is not the editing, not the camerawork, not the performance, not even the story–it’s how they felt.”  So essentially if the cinematographer made you feel the way they wanted you to, they have done their job.
  • Who uses it?
    • Cinematographers
      • Are Cinematographers and Directors of Photography the same thing?
        • Yes they are synonymous
      • When did they come about?  Have they been around since the beginning of cinema?
        • Muybridge
          • In 1878 he used 24 stereoscopic cameras with trip wires that the horse ran through to activate the shutters
        • WKL Dickson
          • Assistant to Thomas Edison
          • Created the Kinetograph and Kinetoscope
        • Charles Francis Jenkins- He invented the The Phantoscope (essentially a projector) He was the first to get viewers but did not profit from the viewers
        • 1895 The Lumier Brothers “The Arrival of the Train”
          • First people to present a “movie” to a paying audience
          • When it first aired in France it reportedly scared the viewers
    • Difference between Cinematographer and Director
      • The Director of the film has the final say about all decisions regarding the film and how it will look. Directors are often the ones controlling the actors.
      • The Cinematographer however controls the camera and gives input on the best way to shoot the scenes using lighting, angles, etc. Essentially the techniques that convey the emotion.
      • A director can also be a cinematographer (ex. Alfonso Cuarón Orozco)
  • Specific things that must be paid attention to
    • Lighting
      • Color of light
        • Warmer- Candle, Tungsten
        • Cooler- Fluorescent, Daylight, Moonlight
      • Lighting Techniques
        • Chiaroscuro or Rembrandt Lighting
          • Result of side lighting and characterized by an upside-down triangle on a person’s cheek
        • Key Lighting
          • This is the main light for your shoot, and it can be anywhere in regards to your subject. Placing it right next to the camera will create flat lighting that lacks contrast and isn’t very dynamic
        • Fill Lighting
          • Placed in the opposite direction as the key light, this fills in the dark shadows created by the light
          • Usually it is placed farther away or covered by a diffuser to make the light as soft as possible
          • This with the key light adds depth to the scene
        • Back Lighting
          • This light sits above and behind the subject and sets them apart from the background
          • This is also diffused lighting for a softer effect
        • Side Lighting
          • This is a light set up parallel to your subject, sometimes alone or with a faint fill light
          • Chiaroscuro is an Italian word meaning light and dark
            • In order to achieve it, have a strong side light with weak or no fill light to create the dramatic contrast that accentuates the contours of your subject
            • Rembrandt Lighting is essentially the same technique characterized with an upside-down triangle on the fill light side of the face
            • Rembrandt Lighting
        • Practical Light
          • This is the use of regular, working light sources like lamps and candles
          • This is usually added by the set designer, and adjustments are usually made to them to light the subject better or in such a way
        • Hard Lighting
          • Though this is usually unwanted or something to avoid, there are benefits to using hard light
          • It creates harsh shadows, can draw attention to your subject, and creates strong silhouette
          • Usually sunlight or just a strong light source
        • Soft Lighting
          • Doesn’t refer to any lighting direction, but still sets the tone for a scene
          • It eliminates harsh shadows
        • Bounce Lighting
          • Bouncing light from a strong source using a reflector or light surface like a wall or ceiling
        • High Key
          • This is a bright scene that’s visually shadowless or overexposed
          • All light sources have the same intensity
          • It is incredibly popular today, and is often used to convey an upbeat mood; Back in the 30s, it was used when film was not able to pick up on high light contrast ratios
        • Low Key
          • Lots of shadows and sometimes just one strong key light source
          • The focus is on the shadows and how they create mystery or suspense
        • Motivated Lighting
          • This is meant to imitate a natural light source like sunlight
        • Ambient Light
    • Steady camera vs shaky (stabilizer vs. handheld)
    • Color (ex. What the characters are wearing and the background they are against)
      • In Schindler’s List the girl with the red coat
      • In Fiddler on the Roof in order to bring a brown hue to the film Oswald Morris used brown pantyhose over the lens which also in some scenes gives it a strange faint grid
    • Composing the Camera Frame and movement: high angles (power), low angles (weakness), crooked angles (unsettling), depth of field, wide lenses, close-ups
  • Are there any formal rules typically followed?
    • Cinema=Language
      • Language has rules and uses letters, words, sentence structures and paragraphs to convey meaning.  Cinema is similar because it has structures of its own such as: lighting, shots, and shot sequences.
      • Creative Devices
        • Dominant foreground, contributing background (the rooftops)
        • Detail shots; the camera is not afraid to get uncomfortably close to objects
        • Silhouette
        • Rule of Thirds
        • Slow pan (not really a device but important to include)
          • Pan is the sweeping motion of the camera across a scene
        • Wide, medium, tight shots with details
  • Is the equipment or cinematographer more important?
    • While both are important the equipment must match what the story is seeking to tell.
      • You may have the best equipment but that does not mean that it will fit the story.
    • Common Types of Lenses
      • Fish-eye
        • Used for panoramic, city shots, landscapes, abstract
      • Wide-angle
        • Interiors, landscapes, architecture
      • Standard
        • Portraits and documentary
      • Zoom
        • Tight shots, wildlife documentaries
      • Macro
        • Super close up, small objects
      • Telephoto
        • Far away, sports
      • Tilt-shift
        • “Tilt–shift” encompasses two different types of movements: rotation of the lens plane relative to the image plane, called tilt, and movement of the lens parallel to the image plane, called shift.
        • Tilt is used to control the orientation of the plane of focus (PoF), and hence the part of an image that appears sharp; it makes use of the Scheimpflug principle. Shift is used to adjust the position of the subject in the image area without moving the camera back; this is often helpful in avoiding the convergence of parallel lines, as when photographing tall buildings.
  • Why should the Director or Cinematographer not be the editor of the film?
    • Since they were on set during filming it is hard to separate what happened during filming.  If there was extra emotion on set one day and everyone was unhappy, when editing it they may only see the upset from that day.  In order to remove that frustration from viewing the scene an editor is necessary. An editor only sees what they have been given and will view it as an audience member would.
  • Examples of great Cinematographers
    • John Alcott- Worked with Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining
    • John L. Russell for Psycho
    • Birdman
      • Emmanuel Lubezki
    • Lord of the Rings
      • Andrew Lesnie
  • What kind of awards are there out there?
    • Oscars: The Academy Award for Best Cinematography
    • ASC Awards (American Society of Cinematographers)
  • The American Society of Cinematographers
    • Founded in Hollywood in 1919 (100th Anniversary!)
    • Originally consisted of 15 members: Joe August, L.D. Clawson, Arthur Edeson, William C. Foster, Eugene Gaudio, Fred Le Roy Granville, Walter L. Griffin, J.D. Jennings, Roy H. Klaffki, Victor Milner, Robert S. Newhard, Philip E. Rosen, Charles G. Rosher, Homer A. Scott and L. Guy Wilky
    • The declared purpose: “ to advance the art of cinematography through artistry and technological progress, and to cement a closer relationship among cinematographers to exchange ideas, discuss techniques and promote cinema as an art form.”
    • In essence they are about education and furthering cinematography as an art form
    • To be a member it is by invitation only.  The credentials you must have is to have demonstrated outstanding ability in the field and have as the website says “good personal character.”
    • In the last 20 years, only three films awarded an Oscar for Best Picture have also received the ASC award for cinematography or the cinematography Oscar: Birdman, Slumdog Millionaire, and American Beauty.


Twitter Suggestions

  • Always the Critic Podcast
    • Raiders of the Lost Ark
      • Douglas Slocombe
  • Bang Average Movie Podcast
    • Moulin Rouge
      • Donald McAlpine
    • Citizen Kane (A film noir)
      • Greg Toland (The ASC recently acquired the Mitchell BNC used to film this movie)
  • Another Damn Movie Podcast
    • Phantom Thread
      • Paul Thomas Anderson
    • There Will Be Blood
      • Robert Elswit
  • Toys Were Us Podcast
    • Casablanca
      • Arthur Edeson (one of the first members of ASC)
  • Jeffrey Norris
    • Midsommar- Especially the may queen shots with her wearing the flower dress
      • Pawel Pogorzelski
  • Undercover Coven
    • Mad Max
      • John Seale
  • Heine
    • Life Aquatic
      • Robert Yeoman: He also worked on The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom

Drink of the week: Shot of Cinnamon-tography!


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