Movies are not plays. The power of cinematography consists of evoking extreme emotions of delight, sadness, or fear through the mastery of a cinematic syntax that has been developed for more than a century. Shot sizes, angles, and movements are the heart of an exceptional camerawork, which, coupled with a lighting crafted to enhance emotions, forms the essence of cinematography.

A good cinematographer does more than merely light a scene. They study the script and create an elaborate lighting setup that provokes emotions and strengthens the plot. They communicate a character’s dream, hope, despair, or joy based on where camera and lights are placed. 

Cinematography ranks among one of the most complex and challenging areas of filmmaking.

films to watch

while you watch

think about innovation: you’ll learn about some of the standard camera shots and angles in the activity below, but even if you’re unfamiliar with how cameras work, what moments in the movie stand out to you? Make note of when the camera seems to do something cool and think about how they might have pulled it off. Many of the films on this list use innovative camera work and impressive cinematography–from Alfred Hitchcock’s development of the “dolly zoom” to capturing the world of Wakanda.

think about movement: how does the camera move, and how does it follow characters when they move? Some of the most interesting camera movement may be subtle or slow, so be on the lookout! How does camera movement complement the story being told? The Last Black Man in San Francisco, for example, is a story about social mobility and gentrification, so the camera plays with the idea of mobility, both in long sequences and in short moments.

think about framing: a camera provides a frame for a character or a scene, but we can take it even further and think about frames within frames.  What frames do you notice while you watch? When do characters move in and out of frame? Do you notice any creative framing techniques?

activity: tik tok / vine storyboard

 In this activity, we’ll review some of the most common camera angles, from establishing shots to extreme close-ups. Then, find your favorite vine, tik tok, or Youtube video and create a storyboard by identifying each of the different shots used.

view activity