Creating Cinematic Images
Updated: Nov 25, 2019
One of the biggest faults of recent filmmakers trying to achieve "cinematic" cinematography is by attributing a "cinematic" image from the camera. Although the camera gives more latitude and plasticity in image control, whether it is film or digital, the camera itself does not create a cinematic image; It is what is in front and behind the camera that dictates if the quality of the image is "cinematic". Don't get fooled by camera manufacturers or YouTube influencers. You can achieve a "cinematic" image with any cheap camera and smart phones nowadays.
What is a "cinematic" image, or to go deeper, what does it mean to be "cinematic"?. I would define what some people call cinematic by the standards of Hollywood practices. One might judge a cinematic image by using a shallow depth of field, lens flare, high resolution or having a broad dynamic range both in color and contrast. Basically, if the image looks like the big budget movies like James Cameron's Avatar or any Marvel films, it is considered cinematic. Although these images are common in most feature films and television shows, do they really define what a "cinematic" image is?
What cinematic means today is the latest fad in world of cinematography.
If anything, I believe breaking out from the latest fad in image capturing, and creating a language so different while complementing the story is a bolder move.
I understand that there are filmmakers, who just wants to achieve a certain level of quality to appeal to work in commercials, music videos, corporate, and even feature films. A consistent cinematographer can go further than an experimental one, because the images are guaranteed to look a certain way. Directors and producers will look for cinematographers that have a consistent look. While this is true, what separates a good cinematographer from the best ones, is their contribution to enhance the story of the director. Ones that will break the Hollywood standard of cinematography to tell the story. Cinematographers like Gordon Willis, Conrad H. Hall, and more (Check out the previous article of experimental film-making). Directors also have their own style of cinematography like Ozu, Fincher, Kurosawa and more. These filmmakers experimented and evolved the cinematic language.
Cinematic ideas have become its own category at this point as it describes the use of other worldly or extraordinary worldly representations.
A cinematic image, in my understanding, is the proper use of framing, lighting, blocking, foreground/background, color contrast/complementary, movement, art design, and in general having a good eye. Painter were the firsts to create cinematic images. They inspired photographers and cinematographers how to create a balanced and emotional image. Painters had different tools: It was not the tools that made a good painting, it was how they used it. There were similar attributes but even then the style changed throughout art's conception. This is the same for cinematography. What people in the 1920s found cinematic is different from what we consider cinematic today. Back then, hard lighting and deep focus were common due to the influence of theater.
In professional films, a great cinematographer uses many creative tools to tell the story properly. As long as the cinematography complements the story well, he achieved his/her goal.
To create a cinematic image you:
- Don't need an expensive professional camera
- Don't need high resolution
- Don't need a lot of crew
- Don't need to be professional
- Don't need to be a gear head
- Don't need to be in the film union
- Don't need big budgets
- Don't need a fast/shallow/expensive lens
Level Nine Productions