Understanding Cinematography

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Cinematography is a work of artistic visualization of the story in cinema using camera, light and sound with movements. During the early production of the motion pictures, understanding of cinematography was very limited. Since there were limited technical resources, the film makers had to work within the available applications. The process of film making became more sophisticated with the growing knowledge in film making, by adopting novel ideas and technology with high end devices. For example, the camera has seen a big change in the last hundred years with many applications and high picture quality. From a fixed camera shot to moving camera shots and crane shots, this enhanced the level of visual experience. Today, camera can capture the scenes in an existing manner and the audience can be really thrilled. This is increasing the scope of the story telling cinematically, and also opening new visual interpretations. Though we don’t deny the other areas of film production such as editing, compositing and special effects in creating a cinema with good visual appeal, we can acknowledge the cinematography as one of the most critical contributors to its success.



Carol Reed, Odd Man Out, 1947, stills from a black-and-white film in 35 mm, 115 minutes.


High quality Cinematographic work in Avatar film, 2009 

As we all know, Cinematography is one of the key technical element of visualization in cinema and camera is the device that captures the shots using Cinematic elements such as focus, exposure, framing, depth of field and scale. Light is another key element which illuminates the scene and when artistically used can produce wonderful image quality.

Colour is also one of the most interesting elements in impacting the visual quality of the composition of the frame. This can actually grow beyond the mere visual effect to symbolic and

metaphorical representation to convey the content, mood, emotions with cultural and social implications. Today, the computer technology is helping the cinematic language in presenting mesmerizing visual impact. A film by James Cameron’s, “Avatar” is a good example for how C.G technology, such as motion capture can be used.

Cinematography is the “Art and technology of motion-picture photography. It involves the composition of a scene, lighting of the set and actors, choice of cameras, camera angle, and integration of special effects to achieve as desired by the director.” Cinematography focuses on relations between the individual shots and groups of shots that make up a scene to produce the film’s effect.

 Colour – contrast and Light

Colour is a product of light.  Colour in association with light and  helps to set up mood in a composition.  Variation of light means variation of colour which means change in composition and visual experience. In a day from morning till evening light constantly changes. The intensity of light in the morning is not the same as the intensity in the afternoon and dawn. Our eyes, brain and the body are very sensitive to the changes in light. To understand the phenomenon of light and colour impact on visual experience in cinema we need to discuss about few shots of the film.

Here I am going to discuss more about the aesthetical part of the lighting. In cinema, every frame is a work of art. Here two aspects we need to know is frame is a visual representation of the story and every frame will be having a visual composition. Light and colour are the two visual elements that elevate the composition. And they can distinguish the composition of a particular frame from the rest of the frames.

Mood in a composition is associated with emotions of the character/ characters and the situation in the story. . For example, sad, happy, scary etc moods can be achieved through using specific colours and lights in a cinematic frame.  Observe the below images:


A still frame from the film, Suspiria- Directed by: Dario Argento

In the above still, Suspiria, a film by Dario Argento’s, masterly crafted frames were used to create supernatural ambiance of the story. The director tried to explore all the possible camera angles, sound and light. The sets are simply like paintings with unusually blended with warm colours. And there are lots of coloured graphics appear as negative images. In the above one, to emphasize a scary situation in the scene, the red light is thrown from side of the frame.



Rich coloured sets and the costumes in the film, “Curse of the golden flower”

Authored by:


Academic Head & Mentor – Animation & Visual Effects

iNurture Education Solutions


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