Cinematography, the art and technology of motion-picture photography. It involves such techniques as the general composition of a scene; the lighting of the set or location; the choice of cameras, lenses, filters, and film stock; the camera angle and movements; and the integration of any special effects. All these concerns may involve a sizable crew on a feature film, headed by a person variously known as the cinematographer, first cameraman, lighting cameraman, or director of photography, whose responsibility is to achieve the photographic images and effects desired by the director.
inematographer may also be in charge of the gaffer, or chief electrician (a lighting technician), who is assisted by one or more “best boys.” A big-budget film may have additionally a special-effects crew and sometimes a whole second unit of cinematographer and assistants.
The earliest motion pictures were filmed as if they were stage plays, using just one or a few cameras in static frontal photography. By the second and third decades of the 20th century, however, in the hands of such cameramen as Billy Bitzer (working with director D.W. Griffith) the camera was doing close-ups, shooting from moving vehicles, employing backlighting and other lighting effects, and generally being used in ways that separated the motion picture from theatrical tradition. With the coming of sound, the inventive motion was interrupted when the noisy cameras were perforce made stationary in sound-proof enclosures not easily moved, but the development of silent cameras again made cinematography flexible. The development of the camera crane (first used in 1929) also expanded the camera’s vision, as did the use of wider-angle lenses to achieve a greater depth of field (as Gregg Toland did in the impressive scenes of Citizen Kane ).The two most important events in cinematography after the coming of sound were undoubtedly colour and wide-screen processes. Also important are advances in special effects, as developed in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), with cameraman Geoffrey Unsworth, and in George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977), with cinematographers Gilbert Taylor and (for special effects) John Dykstra.
This section explores some of the elements at play in the construction of a shot. As the critics at Cahiers du cinéma maintained, the “how” is as important as the “what” in the cinema. The look of an image, its balance of dark and light, the depth of the space in focus, the relation of background and foreground, etc. all affect the reception of the image. For instance, the optical qualities of grainy black and white in Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, Maarakat madinat al Jazaer, Algeria, 1965) seem to guarantee its authenticity. On the other hand, the shimmering Technicolor of a musical such as Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen, 1952) suggests an out-of-this-world glamor and excitement.
Early films were shot in black and white but the cinema soon included color images. These images were initially painted or stencilled onto the film but by the 1930s filmmakers were able to include color sequences in their films. Apart from the added realism or glamor that a color image could provide, color is also used to create aesthetic patterns and to establish character or emotion in narrative cinema.
In Federico Fellini’s extravagant Juliet of the Spirits (Giulietta degli Spiriti, 1965) colors separate the bourgeois reality and the fantasy daydreamings of the title character, who partyhops between black and white and reds and purples.
The ratio of dark to light in an image. If the difference between the light and dark areas is large, the image is said to be “high contrast”. If the difference is small, it is referred to as “low contrast” Most films use low contrast to achieve a more naturalistic lighting. High contrast is usually associated with the low key lighting of dark scenes in genres such as the horror film and the film noir. A common cliche is to use contrast between light and dark to distinguish between good and evil. The use of contrast in a scene may draw on racist or sexist connotations.
Like deep space, deep focus involves staging an event on film such that significant elements occupy widely separated planes in the image. Unlike deep space, deep focus requires that elements at very different depths of the image both be in focus. In these two shots from Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958) Besieged (L’Assedio, Bernardo Bertolucci,1998) all of the different planes of the image are given equal importance through deep focus, not only to the characters (like the man peeking at the window in the first image), but also to the spaces (Shanduray’s basement room in the second).
Shallow focus suggests psychological introspection, since a character appears as oblivious to the world around her/him. It is therefore commonly employed in genres such as the melodrama, where the actions and thoughts of an individual prevail over everything else.
Depth Of Field
The distance through which elements in an image are in sharp focus. Bright light and a narrow lens aperture tend to produce a larger depth of field, as does using a wide-angle rather than a long lens. A shallow depth of field is often used as a technique to focus audience attention on the most significant aspect of a scene without having to use an analytic cut-in.
A camera lens has an aperture that controls how much light passes through the lens and onto the film. If the aperture is widened, more light comes through and the resultant image will become more exposed. If an image is so pale that the detail begins to disappear, it can be described as “overexposed”. Conversely, a narrow aperture that allows through less light will produce a darker image than normal, known as “underexposed”. Exposure can be manipulated to guide an audience’s response to a scene.
Racking focus refers to the practice of changing the focus of a lens such that an element in one plane of the image goes out of focus and an element at another plane in the image comes into focus. This technique is an even more overt way of steering audience attention through the scene, as well as of linking two spaces or objects. For instance in this scene from Peking Opera Blues (Do Ma Daan, Tsui Hark, Honk Kong, 1986), a connection is made between an activist in hiding and a police officer who is pursuing him