Cinematography is a creative and interpretative process that culminates in the authorship of an original work of art rather than the simple recording of a physical event. Cinematography is not a subcategory of photography. Rather, photography is but one craft that the cinematographer uses in addition to other physical, organizational, managerial, interpretative and image-manipulating techniques to effect one coherent process. These visual images for the cinema, extending from conception and preproduction through postproduction to the ultimate presentation and all processes that may affect these images, are the direct responsibility and interest of the cinematographer. The images that the cinematographer brings to the screen come from the artistic vision, imagination and skill of the cinematographer as he or she works within a collaborative relationship with fellow artists.
(John Hora, ASC – Definition of Cinematography, The American Cinematographer Manual)
Indeed the vast variety of the cinematographer’s duties span all the stages of a cine-audivisual production, from the conceptual, practical and technical research and design, testing, quality control and implementation of the preproduction phase, to the actual shooting – planning, blocking, lighting, preparation, photography – and eventually the post-production: additional photography, timing (color and density), quality control, telecine/color correction, publicity and restoration/archival.
In order to successfully carry out such a complex and demanding array of duties the cinematographer must possess many skills, such as:
- Having a good artistic eye for photography, or in other words, being able to frame and create effective shots.
- Knowing the technical in-depths of photography — how to make lighting work as a narrative tool, how to use lenses, and how film and digital sensors speeds and exposures work.
- Having knowledge of film-and-digital-specific cinematography equipment and techniques, such as lenses and formats, film or digital cameras on dollies and cranes, hand-held cameras, the steadycam and the blue/green screen techniques (both operating and/or supervising)
- Being experienced with the filmmaking process from preproduction through postproduction, including working with a film house to prepare the final print and/or the DCP (digital cinema projection format).
- Being able to collaborate with the director in developing an artistic vision for a film and then producing it.
- Having the flexibility and problem-solving skills to handle production when scenes don’t go as planned due to weather, equipment problems, budget limitations or artistic changes. This includes being able to make fast, instinctive decisions about which film, technique or equipment works best for a particular scene.
- Keeping up with ever-changing advances in film and digital technology and knowing when to shift to or drop in new technology instead of the old.
- Being able to manage a budget and a crew (camera, grip, lighting), and coordinate with other departments like costumes and production design to successfully achieve the final look of the film.
Filmmaking is a collaborative art and Cinema ultimately is “a tale of sight & sound“, in such framework, the cinematographer, by defining the look of the images through the language of light, gives an essential contribution to the deep meaning and purpose of any story told by this beautiful medium.