5 Essential Cinematography Techniques

Cinematography techniques are very important for any filmmaker because they help tell the film’s story in the most effective way possible. Being a director of photography, it is crucial that you learn the most effective and precise techniques for the job along with keeping up with the changing world of cinematography. These next 5 techniques are among the most important ones that you should have in your wheel-well.

1. Three Point Lighting Technique

Three-Point-Lighting-TechniqueThe 3-point lighting technique is the standard and most widely used lighting technique that cinematographers use. It is so named because it simply includes 3 separate lights for illuminating the scene that you are going to film. They are the easiest to set up and they are the best combo for making sure that your subject is well lit. The 3 lights involved are

  1. The fill light
  2. The key light
  3. The back light

The Key Light is the primary lighting device for illuminating the subject being filmed from the front. The Back Light is shone from behind and its particular focus is creating a contour of your subject being filmed. The Fill Light is normally placed at an angle and enhances the lighting to achieve the desired lighting effect.

2. Forced Perspective

The forced perspective; it is merely an optical illusion for making the viewer believe that they are viewing the object from a distance that is actually quite different from the actual distance from which the object actually lies. The illusion is achieved through the use of objects not of standard size that tricks the brain into believing that the object is closer or further than it is in reality.

3. Size Of The Shot

The size of shot is yet another technique that includes a deep effect on the way a film is perceived. As an illustration, an object shot at close range has more intimate and dramatic effect than a shot from several hundred feet away.

The commonest shot sizes used are as follows: I have combined a couple here with an image that shows you both at the same time.

  1. Close-up,

2. Extreme close up,

3. Establishing shot,

4. Long shot,

5. Medium shot.

Most of them are usually self-explanatory with the establishing shot being the one that shows the viewer that a change of time or location has taken place.

4. Digital Video Lighting

Lighting is a vital part of cinematography. Together with the numerous digital cameras that are currently flooding the market lately, many filmmakers both amateur and professional have been left dealing with trying to learn precisely how to light a scene properly and easily.

Some filmmakers say that it’s quite easy to shoot digital video with inferior cinematography and still be similar to an authentic feature film. This is certainly never the way it is in reality. For successful digital filming, a digital video must be lit just exactly as if it was being shot on film. Because if it isn’t and you take the easy and lazy approach of lighting, then the final product will look off. Or in the worst case scenario, it will just look really bad and it will take your audience right of out the film.

5. Matte

Matte is an old technique film editors use that combines two separate images or shots into one shot. This is usually used in those situations where your actors must be placed into different locations than those that were originally shot. This technique was quite popular in the 70s and 80s. However, the process is now being phased out slowly with introduction of and increasing development of green screens as well as other newer technologies.

In conclusion, the five techniques are matte, digital video lighting, dimensions of scale of your shots, forced perspective, and three-point lighting. Now that you have a very basic understanding of them, the only thing that remains constant is to just get out there and start shooting some films.

I will leave you with this personal story that I want to share. I was in directing class several years ago and Jeff Cronenweth, (DP for “The Social Network” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) came in and talked to us beginning filmmakers. He did it as a favor to a friend of his, who was in the same class. When he was asked how we, as beginners could get to the point someday of working with him, he said this: “Make films…just keep making films. That is the only real place that you will learn and improve your filmmaking skills”.

Nuff said!!!

About The Author:

John-MontanaJohn Montana is an actor living with his wife in L.A. and has begun to make free movies online. His most recent film, “Hungry” has been accepted into 24 film festivals all over the world. Check out his short films at No Title Production Films.

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