Cinematography is the craft of capturing still images on film and moving pictures using the motion picture camera. Cinematographers work in tandem with the director to choose the best shots and decide the timing of the shots. Cinematographers need to have a keen eye for color, tone, and the composition of the shot. They also have to be highly skilled in the use of lights, angles, and the timing of the shots themselves. Cinematographers are considered in high demand by movie studios because of their ability to capture the essence of the film and turn it into a masterpiece.
A brief history of cinematography begins at the birth of cinema itself. This craft originated in the courts of the French king Louis XIV, who instituted a policy of mandatory screening of all films. The screening of movies was intended to curb the display of anti-social movies that showed scenes of cruelty, murder, and other scenes that failed to respect social norms. By screening films for everyone, the court ensured that society could function as it did with minimal restrictions and people could express themselves in its purest form.
Cinema, which came from the French term meaning motion picture photography, was born shortly after this policy was implemented. During the early years of cinema, directors relied heavily on the skill of the cinematographer to help them achieve the desired mood and effect of any given scene. Today, most modern filmmakers rely heavily on cinematography to help them create moods and set pieces through the use of lighting, sound, and compositions. With each frame of every scene, a director needs to take note of the lighting, camera placement, and composition to ensure that everything works together to tell the story. Film experts are able to determine what effect a scene will have through the use of the correct lighting, lens choice, and composition.
Cinematography is divided into two main fields: the Steady Camera and the Moving Camera. The Steady Camera captures movement in a still manner, similar to that used by news reporters and physicians when reporting on major incidents. The camera follows the subject of the shot, moving in one direction until something stops it, at which time the shot is repeated. The use of a Steady Camera also helps create a more natural feel to a film, as opposed to a noisy Fast Camera. However, the Steady Camera is often the most difficult type of cinematography to master, as it requires the most accurate perception and understanding of angles and lighting.
Moving camera cinematography differs from Steady Camera in that it is less reliant on a steady hand and more on creativity. It is made up of shooting multiple images at a time and letting the viewer interpret them on their own. It is less rigid than Steady Camera and can usually be more difficult to master. The main benefit of this type of cinematography is that it allows the director to manipulate the audience’s viewpoint. For instance, in a thriller the director may give the audience a clearer shot of the bad guy, making it easier for us to sympathize with him. However, in a comedy the director should make sure that the shot of the happy couple looks serene and does not conflict with each other.
It is important to note that no single style of cinematography is superior to another. The best movies, like Call Me Maybe and Inglourious Basterds, use a mixture of all three styles, often times combining the best of all three. The key to good cinematography, though, is to find a style that works for your film stock and the scene you are trying to convey. If the cinematography is good, then the audience will be able to understand and relate to the story.