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 the photographic images desired by the director. Cinematography focuses on relations between the individual shots and groups of shots that make up a scene to produce a film's effect. Well-known cinematographers include Nestor Almendros, Gregg Toland, and Sven Nykvist.
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Cinematography (from Greek: kinesis κινησις (movement) and grapho γραφω (to record)), is the discipline of making lighting and camera choices when recording photographic images for the cinema. It is closely related to the art of still photography, though many additional issues arise when both the camera and elements of the scene may be in motion.
The first attempt at cinematography can be traced back to the world's first motion picture film, Roundhay Garden Scene. It was a sequence directed by Louis Le Prince, French inventor and showman, on October 14 1888 in the garden at Oakwood Grange in Roundhay, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. This groundbreaking event happened seven years before the Lumière Brothers' Sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon made the first paid exhibition on December 28, 1895 at Le Grand Café, in Paris, France.. This date is known as the birth of cinema since it was the first time the cycle of production-distribution-exhibition happened. The European city soon became the motion picture capital of the world.
Cinematography is an art form unique to motion pictures. Although the exposing of images on light-sensitive elements dates back to the late 1600s, motion pictures demanded a new form of photography and new aesthetic techniques.
In the infancy of motion pictures, the cinematographer was usually also the director and the person physically handling the camera. As the art form and technology evolved, a separation between director and camera operator emerged. With the advent of artificial lighting and faster (more light sensitive) film stocks, in addition to technological advancements in optics and various techniques such as color film and widescreen, the technical aspects of cinematography necessitated a specialist in that area.
Cinematography was key during the silent movie era - no sound apart from background music, no dialogue - the films depended on lighting, acting and set.
In 1919, in Hollywood, the new motion picture capital of the world, one of the first (and still existing) trade societies was formed: the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), which stood to recognize the cinematographer's contribution to the art and science of motion picture making. Similar trade associations have been established in other countries, too.
The ASC defines cinematography as
Aside from the film gauge selection — 8 mm (amateur), 16 mm (semi-professional), 35 mm (professional) and 65 mm (epic photography, rarely used except in special event venues) — the cinematographer has a selection of stocks in reversal (which, when developed, create a positive image) and negative formats along with a wide range of film speeds (varying sensitivity to light) from ISO 50 (slow, least sensitive to light) to 800 (very fast, extremely sensitive to light) and differing response to color (low saturation, high saturation) and contrast (varying levels between pure black (no exposure) and pure white (complete overexposure)).
Advancements and adjustments to nearly all gauges of film created the "super" variety wherein the area of the film used to capture a single frame of an image is expanded, although the physical gauge of the film remains the same. Super 8 mm, Super 16 mm and Super 35 mm are all formats that utilize more of the overall film area for the image than their "regular" non-super counterparts.
The larger the film gauge, the higher the overall image resolution clarity and technical quality.
In the realm of digital imaging, various film stocks are no longer applicable, but the cameras themselves feature image adjustment capabilities that go far beyond the abilities of one particular film stock. The cameras can be adjusted to varying degrees of color sensitivity, image contrast, light sensitivity and so on. One camera can achieve all the various looks of different emulsions, although it is heavily argued as to which method of capturing an image is the "best" method. It should be mentioned that the digital method of image adjustments (ISO, contrast etc) are executed by estimating the same adjustments that would take place if actual film were in use and are thus vulnerable to the cameras sensor designers perceptions of various film stocks and image adjustment parameters. Sensors generally have an optimal ISO rating past which faster speeds will result in noticeable increases in image noise, thus compromising the quality.
In Citizen Kane, cinematographer Gregg Toland used tighter apertures to create very large depth of field in the scenes, often rendering every detail of the foreground and background of the sets in sharp focus. This practice is known as deep focus. Deep focus became a popular cinematographic device from the 1940s onwards in Hollywood. Today, the trend is for more shallow focus.
To change the plane of focus from one object or character to another within a shot is commonly known as a rack focus.
After the "widescreen wars" of the 1950s, the motion-picture industry settled into 1.85:1 (which is a cropped version of 1.37:1) as a standard for theatrical projection in the United States and the United Kingdom. Europe and Asia opted for 1.66:1 at first, although 1.85:1 has largely permeated these markets in recent decades. Certain "epic" or adventure movies utilized the anamorphic 2.39:1.
In the 1990s, with the advent of high-definition video, television engineers created the 1.78:1 (16:9) ratio as a mathematical compromise between the theatrical standard of 1.85:1 and television's 1.33:1, as it was not physically possible to safely create a television tube with a width of 1.85:1. Until that point, nothing had ever been originated in 1.78:1. Today, this is a standard for high-definition video and for widescreen television.
Cameras have been mounted to nearly every imaginable form of transportation.
Most cameras can also be handheld, that is the camera operator literally holds the camera in their hands and moves from one position to another while filming the action. Personal stabilizing platforms came into being in the late 1970s through the invention of Garrett Brown, which became known as the Steadicam. The Steadicam is a body harness and stabilization arm that connects to the camera that allows the operator to move naturally while completely isolating the movements of their body from the movements of the camera. After the Steadicam patent expired in the early 1990s, many other companies began manufacturing their concept of the personal camera stabilizer.
For examples of many in-camera special effects, see the work of early filmmaker Georges Méliès.
However, by varying the speed at which the image is captured, various effects can be created knowing that the faster or slower recorded image will be played at a constant speed.
For instance, time-lapse photography is created by exposing an image at an extremely slow rate. If a cinematographer sets a camera to expose one frame every minute for four hours, and then that footage is projected at 24 frames per second, the event that took four hours to record will now take 10 seconds to present (1 frame per minute for 4 hours equals 240 frames, projected at 24 frames per second equals 10 seconds). This compresses the event that took place in four hours into just 10 seconds. At this speed, one can present the events of a whole day (24 hours) in just one minute. The inverse of this, if an image is captured at speeds above that at which they will be presented, the effect is to greatly slow down (slow motion) the image. If a cinematographer shoots a person diving into a pool at 96 frames per second, and that image is presented back at 24 frames per second, it will take 4 times as long to watch the dive as it did for it to actually happen.
In motion pictures the manipulation of time and space is a considerable contributing factor to the narrative storytelling tools. Film editing plays a much stronger role in this manipulation, but frame rate selection in the photography of the original action is also a contributing factor to altering time.
"Ramping" is a process whereby the capture frame rate of the camera changes over time. For example, if in the course of 10 seconds of capture, the capture frame rate is adjusted from 60 frames per second to 24 frames per second, when played back at the standard film rate of 24 frames per second, a unique time-manipulation effect is achieved. For example, someone pushing a door open and walking out into the street would appear to start off in slow-motion, but in a few seconds later within the same shot the person would appear to walk in "realtime" (normal speed). The opposite speed-ramping is done in The Matrix when Neo re-enters the Matrix for the first time to see the Oracle. As he comes out of the warehouse "load-point", the camera zooms into Neo at normal speed but as it gets closer to Neo's face time seems to slow down, perhaps visually accentuating Neo pausing and reflecting a moment, and perhaps alluding to future manipulation of time itself within the Matrix later on in the movie.
Directors of photography make many creative and interpretive decisions during the course of their work, from pre-production to post-production, all of which affect the overall feel and look of the motion picture. Many of these decisions are similar to what a photographer needs to note when taking a picture: the cinematographer controls the film choice itself (from a range of available stocks with varying sensitivities to light and color), the selection of lens focal lengths, aperture exposure and focus. Cinematography, however, has a temporal aspect (see persistence of vision), unlike still photography, which is purely a single still image. It is also bulkier and more strenuous to deal with movie cameras, and it involves a more complex array of choices. As such a cinematographer often needs to work co-operatively with more people than does a photographer, who could frequently function as a single person. As a result, the cinematographer's job also includes personnel management and logistical organization.
Modern digital image processing has also made it possible to radically modify pictures from how they were originally captured. This has allowed new disciplines to encroach on some of the choices that were once the cinematographer's exclusive domain.