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There are two main approaches to the use of lighting in film these are:
Realistic lighting (high key). This involves the use of a key light (the main source of light), fill light and back lighting to create a natural look to the scene (this is called three point lighting).
Lighting can be adapted to suggest different times of day eliminate shadow and pick the subject out from the background
The use of camera movement allows the filmmaker to alter the framing of an image whilst filming. Different types of camera movement include:
pan – horizontal movement of the camera from a static position.
tracking – camera moves on tracks to follow a subject at close proximity. This effect can also be created using a dolly (a platform on wheels) or a steadicam (a camera mounted on the body which uses weights and balances to create smooth movement). Click here to see a steadicam used in The Shining (Kubrick, 1980)
tilt – a subtle movement on the vertical (up or down)
crab – a subtle movement on the horizontal (left or right)
crane – the camera is mounted on to a crane so that it can move dramatically up or down and from side to side. Sometimes cranes are put on tracks to create spectacular tracking and craning movement. Click here to see a tracking and craning shot from Touch of Evil (Welles,1958)
handheld – a shaky movement the follows the movement of the camera operator. Often used to create realism, urgent and sudden figure movement or to create a point of view shot (we are seeing things through the eyes of a character). Click here to see the use of handheld camera in The Blair Witch Project (Myrick/Sanchez,1999)
zoom lens – creates the illusion of movement by altering the lens length.
The distance between the camera and the subject. The position selected relates to the information the filmmaker is trying to communicate. Camera distances can be defined as follows. All the examples below are from Fargo.
The way a frame is composed can help to convey important information. A basic convention of composition dictates that a framing should be balanced according to the principle of the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is a compositional rule of thumb in photography.
The rule states that an image can be divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines.
The four points formed by the intersections of these lines can be used to align features in the photograph.
Proponents of this technique claim that aligning a photograph with these points in mind creates more tension, energy and interest in the image than simply centering the subject would. Click here to find out more about this technique.
A frame’s depth of field refers to the focal length.
Where a frame shows everything sharp or in focus this is called deep focus.
When a particular part of the frame is picked out and the rest of the frame is blurred or indistinct it is called selective focus.
When the focal point changes within the frame this is called pull or ‘rack’ focus.
To get an idea of how this works put your finger in front of your face and concentrate on it. The finger will appear in focus and the background blurred. Now concentrate on the background, the human eye ‘pulls’ focus from the foreground to the background.
The duration of a shot will usually reflect the narrative context.
Generally speaking short shot duration conveys action and urgency (say in a chase sequence). Click here for a chase sequence from Die Another Day.
Whilst long duration conveys intensity and intimacy within the narrative, it allows us to focus upon facial expression and other aspects of mise en scene which would otherwise be missed. Click here for a scene with long shot duration from Secrets and Lies (Leigh, 1996)
A shot can be further lengthened or shortened by over cranking or under cranking.
Over cranking involves speeding up the camera so that when it is projected at normal speed the movement appears slower. Under cranking does the opposite slowing down the camera speed so that it appears faster when projected at normal speed.
The effects of this process are called slow motion and fast motion. Click here to see the use of slow motion in Blade Runner (Scott,1982)
In Classic Hollywood cinema the purpose of editing is to maintain continuity within the narrative. In other words the editing process is smooth and does not detract from the story. There are various techniques used by editors in order to maintain continuity including:
180 degree ‘rule’ – this convention helps to maintain continuity by ensuring that the action within a sequence takes place in front of an imaginary 180 degree line. If the line is crossed the change in perspective can be disorientating and confusing for the audience.
In this example, the two characters appear to have swapped places when the 180 degree line is crossed. 180 deg ree line Click here to see this ‘rule’ explained further.
this convention dictates that when film is cut the camera should move more than 30 degrees otherwise it creates an awkward abrupt cut known as a jump cut. Click here for an example from Breathless (Godard,1959)
a common convention to maintain continuity, a character looks at something and in the next shot we see what they are looking at.
Match on action The Maltese Falcon (Huston,1941)
a similar technique where two shots are linked by an action. For example in the preceding shot we see someone walking towards someone and then in the next shot they are completing the movement. Shots can also be matched through dialogue, by cutting mid sentence.
crosscutting – a devise used to convey the impression that two or more events are occurring simultaneously. This involves cutting back and forth between different locations.
split screen – where the frame is split into sections so that we can see different events occurring at the same time. This technique was used recently on the TV series 24.
sound bridge – playing the same soundtrack over two or more shots is sometimes used to aid continuity. Sometimes a cut may coincide with a particular sound and then a similar sound occurs in the next shot.
Click here for more on continuity editing in the film V for Vendetta (McTeigue, 2005)
Montage involves a rapid succession of shots used in conventional cinema to show specific detail within a context, show a rapid passage of time or to convey frenzy or panic. Sometimes used in alternative filmmaking to break continuity, or to build thematic and/or symbolic links between shots.
Non-diegetic sound is sound which has been added to support the mood and atmosphere that the filmmaker is trying to convey.
This is usually in the form of added music, e.g. the ominous music that signals the approach of the shark in Jaws. Jaws ( click here ).
Non-diegetic sound is usually used to support what is going on in the narrative ( parallel ) although sometimes non-diegetic sound is used which contrasts the images ( contrapuntal). Click here for an example of contrapuntal sound from A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick,1971)
Don’t confuse this distinction between sound that is recorded in production and sound that is added in post production! Sound effects e.g. the sound of gunfire, is often added in post production but it is still diegetic, i.e. we would here gunfire if we were there.