Essential Techniques Every Cinematographer Should Know

If you have aspirations to become a cinematographer like Chase Rubin, there are some techniques that you need to know in order to help bring a film to life. Here are just a few of the most important:

Over the shoulder

This is a deceptively simple shot which is actually quite difficult to execute correctly. However, it can serve a vital narrative purpose, and for that reason it belongs in every cinematographer’s repertoire. This technique helps to create a sense of intimacy, and makes the viewer feel like they are seeing/participating in something private. The key to these shots is getting just the right amount of shoulder in the shot, and for this reason the over the shoulder shot can actually be quite difficult to set up.

Extreme close-up

Not to be confused with a zoom shot, the extreme close-up puts emotional intensity front and center. There is a loss of context that can come with an extreme close up in the sense that you are focused on the subject of the shot to the exclusion of everything else. However, there are times when this is entirely appropriate, such as when you want to signal the significance of a small action – the ticking of a second hand, a shift in a subject’s eyes.

Extreme wide

In this shot, the viewer sees a view that is so wide that the subject of the shot may not even be visible, or may be very small. These shots can be very important because they establish the scene of future action. They can also be used to convey as sense of scale or scope of the action, and the insignificance of the subject in that context. Imagine for example a battle scene from the perspective of an extreme wide shot – the emphasis shifts from “the hero” to the insignificance of the hero in the broader context.

Cut in

These shots can be used very effectively as edit points as an alternative to the extreme close-up as a way to convey emotion. For example, a subject may be speaking calmly about something but a shot of twisting fingers or other fidgeting can stand in contract to that calm demeanor to point to an inner conflict. This shot can also be used to effectively capture reactions, perhaps of a person in a conversation.

Cut away

Like cut in shots, these shots are effectively used as edit points to establish a contrast or continuity with what the subject is saying or doing. In this sense cut away shots can be illustrative of the subject’s perspective or can they can be used ironically or as a way to contradict the statement of the subject. For example, a cut away could be used as a parent is speaking about an activity their child likes – a shot of the child enjoying the activity confirms the subject’s words, whereas a shot of the child unhappy in the activity adds a sense of irony that undermines the subject’s perspective.

As illustrated by these examples, cinematography plays a key role in conveying meaning in a film by capturing emotion or helping to convey an intended meaning to an audience. These are just some of the important techniques that cinematographers use to do so.

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