• Owen R. Horton


Updated: Aug 30

Below, we will discuss the art of the image on film.

Overview. In this section we will deal with several elements of cinematography:

  1. Color

  2. Lighting

  3. Lenses

  4. Shot distance

  5. Shot angle

  6. Shot movement

  7. Shot speed

  8. Shot composition

1. Color. When we talk about color, we consider three elements: temperature, saturation, and tone. We typically think about tonality when we discuss black and white films, as tone is the only element of color we can focus on. Black and white films force us to focus on grades of color (we only have, after all, two colors to look), and how color works with texture and depth. Saturation describes the amount (or lack) or color in a shot. Temperature describes the warmth (reds, yellows, oranges) or coolness (blues, purples, greens) of a color.

2. Lighting. There are two forms of light: natural and artificial. From those two sources, we must consider quality (intensity) and direction.

Three-point lighting. This standard lighting system uses a KEY LIGHT, and FILL LIGHT, and a BACK LIGHT.

The Key Light is the main source of light in a shot. The Fill Light is used to adjust the depth of shadows. The Back Light gives a neutral form of light to the picture, or can be used to obfuscate objects and characters in the foreground.

Lighting Ratio. There are three options for lighting a shot: (1) High-key lighting, (2) Low-key lighting, and (3) backlight.

High-key Lighting is low-contrast. That means the entire image has a soft, even lighting throughout, with minimal shadows.

Low-key Lighting gets used when we need to emphasize shadows by creating unbalanced lighting.

Backlight is useful when we want to see a silhouette or hide details from the image.

3. Lenses. Lenses determine the length and depth of our field of vision.

Focal Length. Focal Length is used to make objects appear closer or father apart than they actually are. Short focal length (wide-angle) makes objects appear farther apart, while long focal length brings objects together.

Depth of Field. Depth of field determines which space in the image (fore, middle, background) is in focus.

4. Shot types. Here, we are looking at the distance of the shot. We will move from largest to smallest.

Extreme Long Shot (Establishing shot). A city, town, or community.

Long shot. At a minimum, we have full character bodies or parts of buildings.

Medium shots. A medium-long shot shows a character from knees up; a medium shot shows a character from waist up.

Close ups. A medium-close shot is like a bust (shoulders to top of head), while a close shot is typically a single-- but whole-- part of a character or object.

Extreme close up. This shot fragments the subject or object into a component part.

5. Camera Angle. The shooting angle measures the relationship between the camera and the subject being filmed. We call a neutral angled shot "eye level."

High angle. The camera is above the subject, looking down.

Low angle. The camera is below the subject, looking up.

Dutch Angle. The camera is tilted slightly, indicating a subject that is off-kilter.

6. Shot movement. The audience's perspective can be moved through space in a variety of different ways. Some of these involve editing, but here we are looking for methods that mimic actual movement through the shot.

Pan and Tilt. Pan and tilt are two version of a rotation on an axis. Imagine the camera is on a stable tripod. Pan movement is when the stationary camera rotates left or right; tilt movement is when the camera rotates up or down, while still being stationary on the tripod.

Dolly (tracking) shot. Unlike the pan and tilt shot, in the dolly shot the camera actually moves. Imagine a handheld camera-- you can walk around and move through space with it. A dolly shot happens in a fixed space (imagine a railroad cart) while a tracking shot can move anywhere in space.

Zoom in/out. Zoom in or out is an optical illusion. Instead of actual movement, we use lens and aperture to focus in one specific area of the visual field.

Crane Shot. The camera, attached to a crane, moves vertically through space.

Dolly Zoom Effect. Created by Hitchcock for Vertigo and sometimes referred to as "the vertigo effect," this technique uses a combined dolly and zoom effect to push/pull the image. The object of the shot stays the same size in the frame, but the background gets distorted.

7. Shot speed. When we talk about shot speed, we are obviously talking about slow- and fast-motion photography, which dilate or expand the experience of time. However, we are also talking about the length of a take. A "long" take is anything over 10 seconds, and many action sequences will feature takes with quarter-second durations.

8. Shot composition. Here, we imagine the frame of the shot to be divided into thirds both horizontally and diagonally. A neutral shot will be balanced along both of those planes. The director can unbalance shots for visual effect. We also pay attention to character position vis-a-vis other characters.