As we’ve covered on the site in the past, there’s an almost odd fixation by so many film and video pros with the term “cinematic” and its meaning. To many, cinematic simply means something shot on film.
To others though, cinematic is the highest compliment one can bestow on any video project. I’ve always taken this to mean that a DP or filmmaker was able to shoot something with a digital video camera that looks so good, that it feels like it belongs on the big screen as it feels worthy of a cinema-level display.Regardless of your thoughts on the term, it’s not a bad goal to give yourself as a cinematographer in particular (and let’s face it, if you’re calling yourself a cinematographer, you’re probably chasing after this cinematic look).
So, in that vein, let’s take a look at these tips for turning your regular video work into true cinematographer-level cinematic cinematography.
Shoot at 24 FPS
As you can see in the video above from YouTuber Luc Forsyth, when first starting off in film and video it can be kind of confusing to learn and understand all of the intricacies that have to do with frame rates. Here’s a good primer, but in short Forsyth recommends that for those starting off and looking to get more cinematic footage, to shoot in 24 frames per second as standard practice.
There are of course several instances where you might want to eventually shoot in different, and often higher, frame rates. But if you’re looking to simply transition from a videographer mindset to a cinematographer one, 24 fps is going to be your best friend.
Create Shallow Depth of Field
The next section of the video has to do with depth of field, which is a huge part of the art of cinematography. Now, this has much more to do with lenses than with cameras, so understanding things like f-stop and focal length is going to be a big part of your depth-of-field equations.Forsyth recommends selecting lenses that will allow you to record video with shallower depth of field as a way to find and create more bokeh, which is a term for those beautiful (and cinematic) out-of-focus elements in a shot that often seem to sparkle in the background
How to Use Your Zoom
Now this is a particularly unique piece of advice that you won’t often find discussed in many tutorials going over the basics of cinematography. When many start off in the video, they’re often going to be recommended to start with a kit lens for a camera, which is often a zoom lens.
For good reason, zoom lenses will give you more coverage and the ability to shoot at different focal lengths. And while zoom lenses are technically more expensive than fixed lenses, it can save money and time in the short term to just invest in one zoom lens, rather than an array of prime lenses.
However, just because you have that zoom set up on your camera doesn’t mean you need to use it all the time! In fact, Forsyth argues that you should only rarely use your zoom mid-shot, and if you do you should only zoom slowly and evenly. The rest of the time your shot is probably best staying set.
The Importance of Lighting
Now, this is going to be a huge understatement itself. But lighting is super important to cinematography. Pretty much by definition, cinematography is the art of lighting itself. So to think that you might want to get better as a cinematographer without a deep focus on lighting would be a bit silly.
There's so much to learn about lighting and how to set up lights for different looks, or simply how to best use natural lighting available to you, but Forsyth does a good job of going over some of the basics and his recommendations for backlighting and other tricks should be quite helpful for those starting off.Those are just some of the very basic elements of cinematography though. If you’d like to learn more about the art of cinematography though, you should check out our No Film school course on how to make money as a cinematographer here.
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