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 angles: we’ve included a list of the most common camera angles below. Think about where the camera might be placed to film certain scenes. Can you tell if one camera is being used or multiple? And how do camera angles apply to animated films, like How to Train Your Dragon, when there is no camera?!

think about movement: how does a camera capture the movement of characters in a scene, and does the camera ever look like it might be moving, too? In Wadjda, does the camera ever feel like a bicycle, or does the camera ever seem to be floating in The Red Balloon? In March of the Penguins, how does the camera help tell the story of the penguins long journey over time?

think about framing: when you take a picture, you focus on certain things and leave others out. Pause a scene from the movie you’re watching and think about everything you can see on the screen. In A Series of Unfortunate Events, think about all the windows and telescopes we see in the film–in what ways is the camera similar?


activity: storyboard

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common camera shots used in movies. Can you find examples of these shots in the films you watch?