Filmmaking | Cinematograpgy | Motion Picture | Photography | Camera

Still from the Nepali movie, Pashupati Prasad via Highlights Nepal
Still from the Nepali movie, Pashupati Prasad via Highlights Nepal

Art & Culture

What is Cinematography?

Cinematography is a visual story-telling consisting of elements like lighting, composition, camera movement, and the use of colours.

By the_farsight |

“A cinematographer is a visual psychiatrist- moving an audience through a movie… making them think the way you want them to think, painting pictures in the dark.” 

- Gordon Willis 

To define Cinematography simply, it is the art and technology of motion picture photography. 

The invention of cinematography dates back to 1895 when Louis and Auguste-Marie Lumiere, famously known as the “Lumiere Brothers” created the first motion apparatus. Since then, history has held a long list of exemplary cinematographers (also known as director of photography) with their unique cinematography styles and techniques. 

Etymologically, ‘cinematography’ is derived from the amalgam of two Greek words ‘kinesis’ (movement) and ‘grapho’ (write or record). Hence, cinematography means ‘writing or recording with movement’. 

Cinematography is a visual story-telling consisting of elements like lighting, composition, camera movement, framing, and the use of colours. The arrangement of these visual elements differs among the cinematographers, the style of their preference, and the context of the story. It takes great accountability to curate the perception among the audience. 

The use of lights helps to create a dramatic effect. Colour composition or grading provides the notion intended by the story. It navigates the audience to comprehend the story in-depth. The cinematography keeps the viewers connected to the story and lets them flow with the time scale of the movie. 

“Cinematography should never stand out on its own. And if it does, you have failed as a cinematographer,” says renowned English cinematographer Roger Deakins. According to Deakins, the cinematographer should remain invisible in the eyes of the audience so that they can focus more on the story of the movie. The cinematography should not be distracting, leading the viewers to lose their grip on the story. 

He believes, “People confuse pretty with good cinematography.” 

A great misconception resides among people that beautiful frames and imagery are what ‘good cinematography’ means. In the absence of dialogue and background music, cinematography carries the story. 

On the other hand, British cinematographer Federich A. Young says “I find dialogue a bore for the most part. And incidentally, I think people in the movie business are going to concentrate more on pictures than on dialogue. Because fortunately, you boys have got to sit people down like me and have them talk and talk and talk. Well, I think we can beat you by showing pictures.” 

The contradictions are general as the audience divides into two bases.

One base of the audience tends to focus more on the photography of the movie and observe the movements of the camera, angle, colour, and proportion of the frames. Overall visuals are noticed more than the story being told in the movie. This base feeds upon their acquired taste in cinematography and photography. 

Meanwhile, the other base is more attentive to writing, dialogues, and execution of the movie. Cinematography happens to be the last thing they would discuss. 

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