Cinematographers are the eye behind the camera when shooting for commercials, TV shows, movies, and more. Their job is to possess creative control over the film’s visual elements by directing and planning the camera operations.
If you have landed here searching for ‘how to learn cinematography’ you are bound to be interested in knowing more about what a cinematographer does and what value they hold in the filmmaking process.
So, let us tell you that, also known as the Director of Photography, cinematographers are considered the top most essential people in the process of film creation. They help establish the film’s overall visual appeal and align it with the movie director’s vision.
Steps To Learn Cinematography at Home
- Be familiar with the basics
- Move along with the following steps: lighting, blocking, storyboarding, and focus pulling
- Advanced concepts: color theory, color grading, lighting theory
- Find your voice
- Understand different kinds of shots and angles
- Have a mentor
- Join film school if you want
- Take up a self-paced online course
- Study a graphic novel
- Study great cinematographer’s work
- Be creative to experiment
- Start small
- Show your work for feedback
Before we get to the learning guide, let’s get some basics straightened out.
What Are The 5 Cs of Cinematography?
As an aspiring cinematographer, you must dedicate time to finding ways to perfect the art of camerawork and photography. You can read as many guides on ‘how to learn cinematography online for free,’ but the truth is the real value and knowledge comes through practice and experience.
To understand cinematography to its core, you must be thorough with the five Cs outlined by Joseph V. Mascelli. These are the fundamentals vital for filmmaking. So, now let us point out the five Cs of cinematography below:
1. Camera angles
These are the inclinations for the camera positioning during filmmaking. You employ several angles to push the story forward and develop a narrative. For instance, if you wish to make the subject look more dominant and immense in the frame, you will use the low-angles. Thus, the primary role of the cinematographer is to follow a storyline with the proper camera use.
The consistency of the film’s dynamic and static elements is the continuity in the cinematography. At all times, the film should flow naturally to make sense to the viewer. Further, record the shots, assuring no inconsistencies in the subject matter, plot, or characters.
You must ensure that the objects, sets, and clothing do not fumble between the shots from one scene by maintaining continuity. As a cinematographer maintaining continuity is vital to ensure that the objects do not disappear, appear, or change suddenly.
The detailed shots of a subject are known as the close-ups. Close-up can make even the minute details appear huge on the screen. A close-up can have different degrees – extreme or medium close-up. These shots are filmed during a conversation over a subject’s shoulder to focus on another character. In the close-up, a camera moves from the primary scene to draw attention to specific objects.
It involves arrangements of all the elements in the frame, such as the tone, mood, space, color, lighting, and context to the camera’s view. Depending on the number of characters on the screen, it might be a composition of two, three, or four shots.
Lastly, in a movie, the strength typically lies in how every scene is cut, edited, and put together. When different scenes are stringed together, they should appear free-flowing and evoke in the viewer the desired effect. Thus, the cinematographer must know how one scene transitions to another smoothly.
How To Master Cinematography Skills?
Below, we will discuss some ways how to learn cinematography at home.
1. Be familiar with the basics
To be well-versed with cinematography, you must spend some weeks or months acquiring the practical and technical knowledge necessary to work as a cinematographer.
Firstly, you need to get well-acquainted with various camera types, which can help you produce top-notch content. However, cinematography goes beyond camera manning. Please be well-acquainted with the working of the whole production.
Thus, simultaneously, you must also be thorough with the cinematography fundamentals. It involves acquiring knowledge on subjects like ISO, camera types and their respective exposure, lenses, white balance, sensor sizes, and which camera is best suited for which situation.
2. Move along with the following steps: lighting, blocking, storyboarding, and focus pulling
Now that you have clarity on the basics, you should move ahead with relatively more challenging subjects. Some important aspects you must cover here are:
- How much light do you need for every scene?
- Adjusting the light
- Lighting fast
- Creating shadows
- Lighting choices (color temps, diffusion, direction, brightness)
- Knowing how light will look in different locations
- Understanding how light reacts and feels at various times of the day and year
- How to use hard and soft lighting
- Knowing the feelings of hard and soft lighting creates
- Knowing how to have the frame moving
- Assessing where the actors will be in the scene
- Having a plan
- Respecting the shot lists
D. Focus pulling
- In focus pulling, you learn to change the lens’s focus distance setting about the moving subject’s distance from the focal plane.
- Precision and practice to ensure there is no chance of error
3. Advanced concepts: color theory, color grading, lighting theory
What and how to learn cinematography after you have acquired basic and intermediate knowledge? Well, you need to proceed further and move towards advanced concepts. Under this, you need to cover topics like:
A. Color theory
- What is the color palette?
- Learning how different colors on the color wheel work together to produce visual effects
B. Color grading
- Tweaking the color and look of the film
- Working with the color palette
- Giving recommendations to the colorists on how the color palette must look
C. Lighting theory
- Knowing how cinematic lighting can invoke different feelings
- Learning about the following types of lighting:
- Key Lighting
- Fill Lighting
- Back Lighting
- Side Lighting
- Practical Light
- Hard Lighting
- Soft Lighting
- Bounce Lighting
- High Key
- Low Key
- Motivated Lighting
- Ambient Light
4. Find your voice
A very crucial step of how to learn cinematography guide is to find your voice. If you wish to stand out, you need to have your unique voice, different from others in the industry. So, know what this voice is for you, and make it work.
5. Understand different kinds of shots and angles
There are several kinds of shots and angles you must understand to succeed in your role as a cinematographer. These include:
1. Close-up – A shot of an object or a person in close range to capture the subject’s minute details.
2. Extreme close-up is when the frame’s surface area is filled by its face. So, the subject appears bigger or tightly framed.
3. Medium shot – Also known as the waist shot, it is captured at a medium distance from the subject. Such shots help in shooting the back-and-forth dialogue scenes.
4. Long shot – Also known as the wide shot, these are the film’s establishing shots. It helps set the character’s place within the scene.
5. Extreme long shot – It is a step ahead of the long shots, and in this, the view is so far that, at times, even the subject is not the focus anymore. Herein, the focus shifts to the subject’s vicinity.
1. High-angle is when the camera points to the subject from above to make them appear weak, powerless, or vulnerable. Such angles are prevalent in horror movies.
2. Low-angle is when the camera is positioned below the eye line and looks up at the subject or the object. It helps the viewer to get a relatable feeling with the hero, make them feel vulnerable, or adds height.
3. Over the Shoulder – It is a shot wherein two characters are communicating with each other.
4. Bird’s eye is an aerial view shot with an overhead camera to capture all the sequences below.
5. Dutch Angle/Tilt – It helps create a dramatic effect to evoke emotions in the viewer
6. Have a mentor
Regardless of your medium of learning cinematography, you might need a mentor at some point. It has to be someone more experienced than you. Do you want to know how to learn cinematography at home? Well, you can find a digital mentor.
The internet is full of blogs and filmmakers who share their knowledge on the subject. Try to learn from them and keep getting better at whatever knowledge you acquire.
Alternatively, you can also consider volunteering on the shoot with any local filmmaker in your area. If not, look for internships where you can learn several things. When you discover newer things, it is easier to put them to practice.
7. Join film school if you want
We are sure before reaching here, you performed a Google search on, ‘how to learn cinematography?’ One of the most common things that may have popped up is joining a film school. While some people are against joining one, others believe it is necessary to be well-versed in all aspects of cinematography. Below, we will discuss both sides of the coin to help you decide for yourself:
A. Why consider it?
- Is it expensive? Yes! So, if you think you can pay for it, there is every reason you must consider going to a film school.
- You wish for an expert’s insight into the business, and a film school will provide you with just that. Naturally, if you consider doing it yourself, you will have to find people at every stage to guide you. With a film school, you have all the help handy.
- If you go to a renowned film school, they will have the right connections and networks, which can pave a path for you to land up on the film set.
- A degree will add value and credibility to your profile.
But, not everyone who goes to a film school becomes a top-class cinematographer, and not everyone who does not go fails.
B. Why avoid it?
- Budget is an issue.
- This is just a hobby for you
- You only want to learn one specific aspect of filmmaking and not the whole thing.
- You are driven and enjoy learning at home at your pace.
So, weigh the reasons, and make your choice.
8. Take up a self-paced online course
For instance, you decide against going to a film school. So, now how to learn cinematography online for free? The internet has several self-paced online courses where you can learn filmmaking at your pace. You can find free and paid classes.
In most cases, the paid ones are offered by top accredited universities and fetch you a certification that can be a validation for your skill and help you with the job. Check out some of the most rewarding cinematography courses here.
9. Study a graphic novel
A graphic novel can be your go-to pick if you enjoy the traditional learning process. Some graphic novels that prove to be an excellent read for aspiring filmmakers are:
- 300 Hardcover – December 15, 1999
- V for Vendetta Paperback – November 17, 2020
- Watchmen (Absolute Edition) Hardcover
10. Study great cinematographer’s work
What better way than getting inspiration from some of the Oscar-nominated best cinematography? While you absorb these movies, try to figure out what you enjoy doing.
Do you wish to tell a breathtaking story? Do you want to be a part of the whole crew working for the success of a film or show? Do you independently wish to create meaningful cinema? Regardless, you need to be clear about the goal that inspires you and stick to it.
11. Be creative to experiment
Try different styles, experiment, and see what works best. The more you perform trial and error, the better you get at it.
12. Start small
You do not have to make a whole movie. As you start, you can work on an ad, an independent short film, or anything of any length that you find comfortable. If nothing, you will have something to include in your portfolio when looking for a job.
13. Show your work for feedback
When you create different things, you will want to show them to others who can objectively give you feedback on your work. It will help you perfect your skills and make amends before displaying them to an expert. The best thing is it comes free.
Frequently Asked Questions
Ques 1. How can I improve my cinematography skills?
Ans. Here are some tips to better your cinematography skills:
- Study a silent film – When there’s no audio, the whole focus is on the visuals. Consider watching Charlie Chaplin, Erich Von Stroheim, D.W. Griffith, G.W. Pabst, Cecil DeMille, F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, and King Vidor.
- Enroll in an intensive cinematography school
- Study your equipment, and know how to use it.
- Study photography that has no humans in it.
- Study graphic novels, and watch their adaptations.
Ques 2. What are the different techniques of cinematography?
Ans. Some prevalent cinematography techniques you must know are:
- 180-degree rule
- Aerial shot
- Bridging shoot
- Camera angle
- Continuity technique
- Camera dolly
- Dolly zoom
- Eyeline match
- Establishing shot
- Ellipsis (linguistics)
- Fill light
- Flash forward
Ques 3. How much do cinematographers make?
Ans. On average, the cinematographer’s national average salary is around $65000. But, if they work on low-budget projects, they may earn relatively lesser. In contrast, the compensation will be higher if they work with a high-budget production.
To Sum Up..
The cinematographer has one of the most coveted jobs on the film set. The primary role of the cinematographer is to materialize the director’s vision with their creativity, technical know-how, and artistic eye.
We have mentioned above how to learn cinematography at home. Begin with a routine, get your basics clear, make yourself friendly with the camera, and then opt for an online course. Side-by-side keep watching other cinematographers’ work. This way whatever you learn through courses, you can observe in actual movies.
But in the end remember, this is a creative art. Of course, you need to be careful with technical aspects but there are no absolute rights or wrongs when it comes to creativity. Learn and create your own style and seize the audience through your camera.