Cinematography : Part 2All the techniques referred to so far consider the framing when the camera is static. However, as you willbe well aware, cinematography is rarely static in film and the framing outlined previously will work incombination with movement. The distinguishing factor of film as a visual art above all others is that unliketheatre or painting, the frame has the capability of fluidity and change, which is able to take us into andaround the make-believe world that is created. This movement of the camera relies on some basic,common techniques, which you must be able to identify correctly in conjunction with the framing if youare to describe and analyse the film effectively.The movement of the camera can add meaning to a scene and encourage the viewer to read a scene in aparticular way. Movement may be actual, or, in the case of a zoom shot, generated by the use of aparticular lens.CAMERA MOVEMENTPANNING SHOT: the word ‘pan’ comes from the abbreviation of ‘panoramic’, as this shot can survey thewhole scene with its movement from left to right or right to left. (If it often used in Westerns to capturethe magnificent panorama of the imposing desertlandscape) With a panning shot, the camera tripodstays in the same position and only the camerahead moves from side to side, or in some cases thewhole 360 degrees.A pan can be slow or quick depending on therequired effect. If the pan is very quick andappears to blur the images it is referred to as a whip pan. TRACKING SHOT: In this shot the camera is mounted on a ‘dolly’ (device with wheels or runners), which is then mounted onto a track. The whole camera is then able to move along the track, either from left to right/right to left or backwards/forwards. This is either done manually, and is pushed along by the grips (people responsible for the rigging on set) or it is done by remote control. The cinematographer will usually sit upon the dolly to control the shot and focus. A similar effect can also be achieved through other means and as the setting up for tracking shots takes a long time and is expensive, on low-budget productions the camera may be attached to any device with wheels to obtain the ’tracking’ motion. Again tracking shots can be quick or slowdepending on the desired effect.TILT SHOT: In this shot the tripod or base of the camera remains still and onlythe head of the camera moves. The movement is up and down only, creatingan angle on the subject being shot. If the camera is tiled down it will obviously be able its subject and if thecamera tilts up, it will be below.CRANE SHOT: A crane shot is when the camera (and cinematographer) are mounted on a crane and arelifted high in to the air to get a grand overhead shot. The crane can move in all directions (aided again by
the grips), and this can achieve a ‘swooping’ effect like a bird. Cranes come in various sizes with thesmallest ones being called ‘jibs’ which may be just above shoulder height (basically, a little too high for atripod shot). Crane shots are complicated and expensive because of the equipment necessary and the timethey take to set up. Hence very low-budget films tend to have fewer, if any, of them and the best examplesare from high budget Hollywood studio films.AERIAL SHOTS: In an aerial shot, the cameraperson (usually a second unit or specialised crew) will shootfrom a helicopter or small plane. These shots are always shot mute (with no sound) as the noise of thetransport and the wind would render the sound unusable).CAR MOUNTED SHOTS: The camera can be attached either to the side or windscreen of a moving car whenthe car is in shot. In this way speed can be exaggerated or a conversation between two front seatcharacters can be filmed without cuts. The camera can also be mounted to a different car which travelsalongside the vehicle in the film to follow the action.HANDHELD SHOTS: Even though a shot may look handheld, with film it often is not.In the 1970’s a piece of apparatus was developed which is worn by thecinematographer and onto which the camera is mounted. This is called the‘Steadicam’. The apparatus acts as a ‘shock absorber’ as the cameraperson freelymoves around while filming; avoid sharp jarring movements and allowing certainstability even when running. True handheld shots are jumpy and hard to focus witha film camera (remember this is not video) but are sometimes used for effect ofchaos.ZOOM SHOTS: With this type of movement the camera itself does not move at allbut instead it is the lens on the camera that creates the effect. Different types ofzoom can be used to create different meaning. A slow zoom can be an indication of realisation, as in theslow zoom of a letter as it is being read or the slow zoom into a characters face as an idea dawns. It canalso indicate a growing intimacy with character(s) as it draws the audience in. A fast zoom can also indicaterealisation but with an unsettling effect. When combined with the moving camera and the quick pulling offocus it can create a disturbing ‘trombone’ effect (see the famous beach shot in Jaws or the balcony scenein La Haine where the background appears to rush forward).SPECIAL EFFECTSThe special effects department on a large film works as part ofcinematography and post-production (editing). When a scene isbeing shot the cinematographer will know which shots are goingto have special effects added and will shoot accordingly.Sometimes this will mean shooting in a studio against a ‘bluescreen’ or ‘green screen’ where action will be added later to theshot. For example, in a scene where someone is hanging over acliff, the actor will be shot ‘hanging’ in the studio against a greenscreen and a shot of a real cliff will be filmed elsewhere. The twoshots will then be merged optically to create one combined shot.Other special effects may mean shooting on location knowingthat most of the actual location will be ‘painted’ out or will havenew scenery added by the use of ‘CGI’ (Computer GeneratedImagery). Filmmakers can therefore add or delete unwanted imagery. However, this process is veryexpensive and time consuming and is usually reserved only for large-budget productions. Each frame of theshot has to be ‘composited’ (altered slightly differently, somewhat like the process of animation), andthere are 24 frames in every second of film! The film Gladiator famously used extensive CGI to re-createthe coliseums of ancient Rome.
Despite this, it is worth remembering that ‘special effects’ do not just refer to dramatic events usingexplosions and rockets etc many films that look as though there would be no need for special ‘effects’often contain scenes that have been altered. For example, period dramas, where elements of thecontemporary skyline have to be removed to create authenticity.Types of Special Effects CGI – Computer Generated Imagery, used to create otherwise impossible sequences. Can you think of any recent examples? Wire Work – a technique developed in martial arts films, allowing for the presentation of massive acrobatic feats Chroma Key – the actions is filmed against a blue or green screen, so that the background can be added afterwardsDEPTH OF FIELDThe depth of field is a photographic term, which refers to the amount of focus in the shot. If everything inthe shot is in focus then the depth of field is ‘deep’. However, it is common to ‘pull focus’ to one object orperson and keep the background out of focus. In this case the depth of field would be ‘shallow’ and thefocus for-grounded. There is a credit on the end of feature films for ‘focus puller’; their main job is to assistthe cinematographer and to align focus.FOCUSCamera can be equipped with lenses of various focal lengths, and this gives thefilmmaker control over what is or is not in focus at any time.DEEP FOCUS is used when the detail of an entire scene needs to be shown. It meansthat everything that is visible, near to and far from the camera, is in focus. SELECTIVE FOCUS simplifies the image. It reduces the importance of certain elements within the frame by showing them blurred. PULLING FOCUS changes the subject of selective focusOTHER ELEMENTSFILM STOCK - ‘Grainy’ / ‘Speckly’FILM COLOUR - Black & White (mono) & ColourIdentification of shots is a necessary element of film analysis but is only part of the required knowledge atthis level. Once confident with the types of shots it is even more important that we understand why acertain type of framing is used at a particular point in the film and what effect it creates. This is how we
develop film language. There is no point in knowing what a close up is, if we cannot say when its use isappropriate or what meaning it conveys.SUMMARYCinematography, then, is just one of the cinematic codes (micro elements), and although these pastlessons we have sought to look at it in isolation, a full analysis of any film requires that all the microelements combine to create meaning. It is only when cinematography is considered in conjunction withlighting, editing, sound and mise-en-scene that we have the full range of film language and expression, andtherefore the most information on which to base a ‘reading’ or interpretation of meaning.