Cinematography Filmmaking Lighting

The top 12 cinematography tips you MUST know as a filmmaker

Cinematography is an amazing thing, you use it to paint pictures, tell your story it’s a craft in its own sense. It’s about creating your own image, creating shots and lighting to tell your unique story – Cinematography is a powerful tool.

We discuss top tips for improving your cinematography style and creating your own unique creative vision.

What is cinematography?

Cinematography is the art of camerawork and photography in filmmaking. Cinematographers understand everything when it comes to filmmaking and how to make the best use of the light, angles and movement to tell a story.

What is a cinematographer?

CinematographyA cinematographer, also known as a DP (Director of Photography) is the head of the crew that oversees the camera crew, lighting crew and video production team. They are brought in for the most part of the production to work with the Director on all things video, so everything that’s seen onscreen is down to the Cinematographers work and choices made pre-production, on set and post-production.

Our top cinematography tips:

1. Know the script

Make sure you know your script inside out. Seriously, it’s amazing how many cinematographers and DP’s focus on the technical aspect of the film but let the story slip a little.

It’s great to have the technical set up and know what equipment you will be using and where – but if you don’t know the story the creative slide can really slip. Always make notes in your script and leave yourself visual notes to help build the creative aspect of cinematography and match it with your technical skills.

This will bring out your filmmaking style and pair it well with the story.

2. Master the techniques

Master all the techniques you can imagine. Make sure you are always learning and practising. By mastering all of the techniques, it will broaden your arsenal of filmmaking shots and craft your cinematography style. This will slowly develop into your own very unique style.

3. Create a shot list

Creating a shot list is key. This will help you organise your shots and determine what lenses you need in each shot.

Having this organised will save you huge amounts of time on set as you’ll know exactly the shot type, the lens you need and the lighting set up immediately.

READ MORE: A guide to framing: 6 essential camera angles to tell your story

4. The story is KING

Cinematography: The Story is KINGRemember you are always looking to tell a story, we know sometimes creating new, zany shot angles can be fun, but does this fit with your story? Make sure you stick to portraying the story as the primary task, and your cinematic style second – trust us you’ll still portray your own cinematic style, but it will entwine with the story perfectly.

5. Study, study, study!

Always study further. It will keep you inspired and there’s nothing better than studying the great cinematographers of the past century. You’ll pick up new tweaks to your work and it will keep you motivated and hungry to improve.

You can use ideas from the great’s to help form your own style of storytelling.

6. Always look through the frame

Even if it’s not through the camera monitor, use some sort of frame. This is what the audience will actually see, so by having a reference you can make the perfect tweaks to ensure you are creating and producing something that will encapsulate your audience.

7. Develop a workflow

Sounds a little tedious, but trust us this will help you out beyond belief. By creating a workflow or a process this saves you a lot of time in the long run and increases the efficiency on set. The staff know what they’re doing, you know where everything is and at what height, shot and so forth.

It makes your job a lot easier, and the whole process smoother – leaving your mind freed up for that creativity.

8. Have fun with the lenses

james-bold--PcZLgzmoIY-unsplash (1)Get as creative as you like with the lenses. Try out different shot types with a multitude of lenses, what works, what doesn’t. This will help your craft your own style but also open your mind to styles that you thought would never work, but look incredible!

9. Always look to add depth

Finding different ways to add depth to a shot is an incredible attribute. We all know it’s a bit of an illusion, but there are numerous ways to find depth in a shot. For an in-depth view check out 5 ways to add more depth.

10. Change up your colour

Mix your colour around. Have a look at the different contrasts that may play well off of a scene. These can add another dimension to the shot to bring the scene to life.

Wes Anderson's Colour Palettes
Another Magazine
Wes Anderson’s Colour Palettes

11. Understanding the different lighting techniques

Understanding the different lighting techniques is incredibly important. The different lighting techniques and sources create different feelings and captivate the audience in different ways.

For instance, hard lighting is harsh lighting and creates a lot of shadows, used mainly to show the subject directly, whereas the soft lighting doesn’t have one specific target.

These techniques all have many levels to them to help you and your director create a scene will multiple layers of emotion from the lighting, acting, shot list and the set decoration.

Check out below an in-depth film lighting technique article:

READ MORE: 9 essential film lighting techniques every filmmaker should know

12. Clear decision making

Your crew will respect you for it. One of the best tips for a cinematographer is to have clear directions and actions for the crew, they’ll respect you for it and you’ll be far more efficient in the scenes you wish to set up. The time saved will also allow you to experiment with shots etc. It will also keep you on target in terms of timekeeping and it’s a plus for the production company.

Time save = money saved = happy production company.


We hope this was a helpful article, please do stop by our YouTube channel and check out our latest tutorials, and if you haven’t signed up yet to our newsletter, sign up today!

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