Elements of Cinematography
Updated: Nov 24, 2019
Here are some of the cinematographer's tools that they utilize to create a film language. Although some or most of the decisions are based on practical reasons and limitations, here are some of the tools that is considered when creating a shot. Breaking down these elements will make it easier to create the type of mood and effect of the shot.
Not all of these elements need to be thought of, but being mindful of these elements and their effect on the film, will be very helpful.
I will only list the mechanical or basic camera elements that does not include a multi-layered or creative decisions such as framing, blocking, line perspective, lighting contrast and more. I recommend watching movies and pausing the frame and study their effect in the film to get the other elements I did not list here.
Locked camera on tripod
Fluid-head or wheels
Speed of tilt, pan, focus, iris, dolly
Each camera movement creates a very different feel of the shot. These elements are complemented with the mood of the scene or shot. Next time you watch a film, pay attention to how the camera moves, why the director or cinematographer moves the camera that way and how it makes you feel.
Type of camera (Difference in look, dynamic range and digital debayering)
Frames per second
Grain/ Noise (Push or Pull film/ Digital noise)
Sensor size (70mm, 65mm, 35mm, 16mm, 8mm/ or APS-C, Full frame, other crop factors)
These are basic camera setting that can make a big different to the mood of the shot. Frame rate can be used for slow-mo or a much choppier movement. Resolution can also be a creative choice with the grittiness of low resolution (360p) to the cleanliness of high resolution (HD). Aspect Ratio can make the vastness of the location more breathtaking with 70mm in Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight", or can create a claustrophobic atmosphere in Xavier Dolan's "Mommy."
Height of Camera
Angle of tilt
Angle of Dutch
It might not seem important, but these elements have a big effect on the perception of the film. Where the camera is placed is where the audience sees the film from. What is being seen or perceived is a very important tool of the director or cinematographer.
Zoom or Prime
Speed of lens
Macro, Tilt-shift, Fisheye, Lens baby, Portrait lens, Fraizer lens
These lens element change the effect of how the audience sees the film. The lens further enhance the eye and the effect of how an image is perceived or interpreted. The effects can be subtle or very obvious. An example of extreme creative lens choice is Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream", with the use of very wide lens.
Image Manipulation on Lens
Color conversion filters
Soft filters (Black pro mist, Glimmer glass)
Lens net (frontal and back lens)
Optical Effects (Star filter, glare filter)
Crystals, Lens Smacking.
Some of the image manipulation elements can be for practical reason such as gradual ND for day exterior establishing shots. An extreme example of optical effects is Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," with the POV shots of waking up.
If I missed any elements, I would really appreciate the feedback. I want these articles to be a learning process for everyone including myself. I hope you guys look closer in these elements which are used to create a look of the film.
Level Nine Productions