Exploring Cinematography

When I watch a movie the last thing I think of is how the people who put it together decide what to film and what to edit out.  Nor do I think of what goes into all those decisions.  I know that I do enjoy a good movie, especially the classics, and of late I really have been enjoying the Masterpiece classics that are shown on PBS. The story is what gets me, draws me in. 

But for this latest assignment in Kat’s class, we were asked to watch a movie and note the cinematography, or how the person in charge of the photography chose to create the images that  tell the story.  Prior to this I had already been paying more attention to the junk on TV, how camera angles, lighting, and focus determine the quality of the images we view.

Though the movie I saw is not a classic, it was one that we had a chance to see with our friends yesterday. “Courageous” is what I am calling a faith based movie that focuses on encouraging men to become better fathers to their children.  I was impressed with the story and how well the movie was produced. 

I paid attention to the cinematography this time even though I did really get caught up in the story. The focus was what stood out the most. When a character was struggling with a life challenge, often the camera focused very closely on their face, the background blurred. What really struck me was how clean and crisp the focus was on the subject. The camera pointed you to what the director wanted you to notice by focusing on it. What became blurred in the foreground or background became secondary.  

Then there was the use of light. I did notice that for some shots of a character’s face there was some extra reflective light used to prevent too much shadow. Occasionally there was some back lighting, giving the individual a rather soft glow that I liked. There was a scene in a hospital that was very sad, and the light was cold and clinical, the motion slowed down as though time had stopped. 

The lesson in this for me was all about focusing, using a wide open aperture, and paying closer attention to the available light. 

As I thought of how the cinematographer controls what you see in a movie I wondered what photo I could share here that illustrates that. This one of a copper kettle over an open fire is the one I had to choose. I edited this image so that you would see the lovely patina of the copper, the steam coming from what is cooking, and the flame of the fire below.  

9 Comments

  1. I love what you decided to focus on. It is a lovely picture. I also find that light is so important in the pictures that I am taking. Now that I am actually aware of its importance because of our class, I am sure I will be taking pictures in a whole new way.

  2. What a fantastic photo – I especially love the golden reflection in the pot.

    Before photography entered my life, I never cared about the "how" or "whys" of the film-making process. I too was simply caught up (or not) in good story-telling and the emotional connection I made to that story. But I am now gaining a much greater appreciation for the cinema as an artistic expression.

  3. Isn't it amazing what we now see through the eyes of a photographer! Your image is wonderful. It gives me such a warm, nostalgic feeling of long ago times when my family went camping. I can almost smell the wood smoke!! Really great post!!

  4. Beautiful image and love your words. Your lesson is my lesson now, thank you for sharing.
    Btw, I have nominated you for a blog award, details on my blog. 🙂

  5. Lovely summary Deborah! You learned some great storytelling techniques for this movie alone. I look forward to seeing what you find in the next movie you watch too. You chose a wonderful companion image, it tells a story all on its own! I can imagine this image combined with another one or two and a few words to tell a complete story of a time or a place or a gathering… Right now I'm just imagining my own story.

  6. Deborah, there's something about your images and posts that always touch my heart. I had the same response as Cathy to this photograph. And I had specifically noticed the copper, the steam, and the flame before reading your intention in creating the image. I'd say you succeeded!

  7. You made such great observations…the one about the sad hospital scene. I'm going to look for things like that next time I'm watching a film. I too noted the focus between characters. I do hope we'll be able to just sit back and watch films and be caught up in a story. I sense we're going to be watching from both sides of the camera.

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