Film Discussion: Cinematography

(This is part of my series on how to better dialogue with and about films. See more here)

Now we're at the camera. The department who captures what goes on the screen, that chooses the perspective the audience needs to best interact with the story told.

Maybe you don't notice the camera angles, the lens choice, aperture setting, shutter speed, or any of the other many settings and decisions that go into the shots you see on-screen. But you have felt their effects. These are all key components for the filmmaker in creating the look and feel of your experience with the world on the screen.

Some questions to get you started:

Note the sorts of shots that are chosen in the film and what angles they are from. Are you often above/below characters? Are the angles natural? Or does something about them make you on-edge and uncomfortable? What do the shots emphasize or diminish? How do they change throughout the story?

Are a lot of the shots really wide and open? Or do they punch in on the characters, staying close and personal? Does it change with each scene? If so, what does it draw out of each scene?

What is in focus in the shot? What is clear? What is pushed into the background? Does this tell you where to focus in the story?

Is the movement of the camera quick and jittery? Or still and smooth? Does it make you feel trapped? Does the movement of the camera match what is going on in the scene?

There is a lot you can explore when it comes to the camera. So just take note of what you can, and see how that plays into your experience of the images. How it makes you feel and what it causes you to notice is key. So pay attention and see what you can find!


Take a movie you know pretty well. Now, turn off the sound and just watch the visuals. What do you notice? Really focus on what the camera is showing you, and what it isn't. See if you notice anything unusual, and see what it tells you about the film and the story. As always, write what you find in the comments!


(Image thanks to Lock, stock and 2 smoking barrells!!)