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Cinematography Everything You Need To Know Essay, Research Paper

Cinematography: Everything You Need To Know


Cinematography is the technique and art of making motion pictures, which

are a sequence of photographs of a single subject that are taken over time

and then projected in the same sequence to create an illusion of motion.

Each image of a moving object is slightly different from the preceding one.


A motion-picture projector projects the sequence of picture frames,

contained on a ribbon of film, in their proper order. A claw engages

perforations in the film and pulls the film down into the film gate,

placing each new frame in exactly the same position as the preceding one.

When the frame is in position, it is projected onto the screen by

illuminating it with a beam of light. The period of time between the

projection of each still image when no image is projected is normally not

noticed by the viewer.

Two perceptual phenomena–persistence of vision and the critical flicker

frequency–cause a continuous image. Persistence of a vision is the

ability of the viewer to retain or in some way remember the impression of

an image after it has been withdrawn from view. The critical flicker

frequency is the minimum rate of interruption of the projected light beam

that will not cause the motion picture to appear to flicker. A frequency

above about 48 interruptions a second will eliminate flicker.


Like a still camera (see CAMERA), a movie camera shoots each picture

individually. The movie camera, however, must also move the film precisely

and control the shutter, keeping the amount of light reaching the film

nearly constant from frame to frame. The shutter of a movie camera is

essentially a circular plate rotated by an electric motor. An opening in

the plate exposes the film frame only after the film has been positioned

and has come to rest. The plate itself continues to rotate smoothly.

Photographic materials must be manufactured with great precision. The

perforations, or holes in the film, must be precisely positioned. The

pitch–the distance from one hole to another–must be maintained by correct

film storage. By the late 1920s, a sound-on-film system of synchronous

SOUND RECORDING was developed and gained widespread popularity. In this

process, the sound is recorded separately on a machine synchronized with

the picture camera. Unlike the picture portion of the film, the sound

portion is recorded and played back continuously rather than in

intermittent motion. Although editing still makes use of perforated film

for flexibility, a more modern technique uses conventional magnetic tape

for original recording and synchronizes the recording to the picture

electronically (see TAPE RECORDER).

If the number of photographs projected per unit time (frame rate) differs

from the number produced per unit time by the camera, an apparent speeding

up or slowing down of the normal rate is created. Changes in the frame

rates are used occasionally for comic effect or motion analysis.

Cinematography becomes an art when the filmmaker attempts to make moving

images that relate directly to human perception, provide visual

significance and information, and provoke emotional response.

History of Film Technology

Several parlor toys of the early 1800s used visual illusions similar to

those of the motion picture. These include the thaumatrope (1825); the

phenakistiscope (1832); the stroboscope (1832); and the zoetrope (1834).

The photographic movie, however, was first used as a means of investigation

rather than of theatrical illusion. Leland Stanford, then governor of

California, hired photographer Eadweard MUYBRIDGE to prove that at some

time in a horse’s gallop all four legs are simultaneously off the ground.

Muybridge did so by using several cameras to produce a series of

photographs with very short time intervals between them. Such a multiple

photographic record was used in the kinetoscope, which displayed a

photographic moving image and was commercially successful for a time.

The kinetoscope was invented either by Thomas Alva EDISON or by his

assistant William K. L. Dickson, both of whom had experimented originally

with moving pictures as a supplement to the phonograph record. They later

turned to George EASTMAN, who provided a flexible celluloid film base to

store the large number of images necessary to create motion pictures.

The mechanical means of cinematography were gradually perfected. It was

discovered that it was better to display the sequence of images

intermittently rather than continuously. This technique allowed a greater

presentation time and more light for the projection of each frame. Another

improvement was the loop above and below the film gate in both the camera

and the projector, which prevented the film from tearing.

By the late 1920s, synchronized sound was being introduced in movies.

These sound films soon replaced silent films in popularity. To prevent the

microphones from picking up camera noise, a portable housing was designed

that muffled noises and allowed the camera to be moved about. In recent

years, equipment, lighting, and film have all been improved, but the

processes involved remain essentially the same. RICHARD FLOBERG


Bibliography: Fielding, Raymond, ed., A Technological History of Motion

Pictures and Television (1967); Happe, I. Bernard, Basic Motion Picture

Technology, 2d ed. (1975); Malkiewicz, J. Kris, and Rogers, Robert E.,

Cinematography (1973); Wheeler, Leslie J., Principles of Cinematography,

4th ed. (1973).



film, history of


The history of film has been dominated by the discovery and testing of the

paradoxes inherent in the medium itself. Film uses machines to record

images of life; it combines still photographs to give the illusion of

continuous motion; it seems to present life itself, but it also offers

impossible unrealities approached only in dreams.^The motion picture was

developed in the 1890s from the union of still PHOTOGRAPHY, which records

physical reality, with the persistence-of-vision toy, which made drawn

figures appear to move. Four major film traditions have developed since

then: fictional narrative film, which tells stories about people with whom

an audience can identify because their world looks familiar; nonfictional

documentary film, which focuses on the real world either to instruct or to

reveal some sort of truth about it; animated film, which makes drawn or

sculpted figures look as if they are moving and speaking; and experimental

film, which exploits film’s ability to create a purely abstract,

nonrealistic world unlike any previously seen.^Film is considered the

youngest art form and has inherited much from the older and more

traditional arts. Like the novel, it can tell stories; like the drama, it

can portray conflict between live characters; like painting, it composes in

space with light, color, shade, shape, and texture; like music, it moves in

time according to principles of rhythm and tone; like dance, it presents

the movement of figures in space and is often underscored by music; and

like photography, it presents a two-dimensional rendering of what appears

to be three-dimensional reality, using perspective, depth, and

shading.^Film, however, is one of the few arts that is both spatial and

temporal, intentionally manipulating both space and time. This synthesis

has given rise to two conflicting theories about film and its historical

development. Some theorists, such as S. M. EISENSTEIN and Rudolf

Arnheim, have argued that film must take the path of the other modern arts

and concentrate not on telling stories or representing reality but on

investigating time and space in a pure and consciously abstract way.

Others, such as Andre Bazin and Siegfried KRACAUER, maintain that film must

fully and carefully develop its connection with nature so that it can

portray human events as excitingly and revealingly as possible.^Because of

his fame, his success at publicizing his activities, and his habit of

patenting machines before actually inventing them, Thomas EDISON received

most of the credit for having invented the motion picture; as early as

1887, he patented a motion picture camera, but this could not produce

images. In reality, many inventors contributed to the development of

moving pictures. Perhaps the first important contribution was the series

of motion photographs made by Eadweard MUYBRIDGE between 1872 and 1877.

Hired by the governor of California, Leland Stanford, to capture on film

the movement of a racehorse, Muybridge tied a series of wires across the

track and connected each one to the shutter of a still camera. The running

horse tripped the wires and exposed a series of still photographs, which

Muybridge then mounted on a stroboscopic disk and projected with a magic

lantern to reproduce an image of the horse in motion. Muybridge shot

hundreds of such studies and went on to lecture in Europe, where his work

intrigued the French scientist E. J. MAREY. Marey devised a means of

shooting motion photographs with what he called a photographic gun.^Edison

became interested in the possibilities of motion photography after hearing

Muybridge lecture in West Orange, N.J. Edison’s motion picture

experiments, under the direction of William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, began

in 1888 with an attempt to record the photographs on wax cylinders similar

to those used to make the original phonograph recordings. Dickson made a

major breakthrough when he decided to use George EASTMAN’s celluloid film

instead. Celluloid was tough but supple and could be manufactured in long

rolls, making it an excellent medium for motion photography, which required

great lengths of film. Between 1891 and 1895, Dickson shot many 15-second

films using the Edison camera, or Kinetograph, but Edison decided against

projecting the films for audiences–in part because the visual results were

inadequate and in part because he felt that motion pictures would have

little public appeal. Instead, Edison marketed an electrically driven

peep-hole viewing machine (the Kinetoscope) that displayed the marvels

recorded to one viewer at a time.^Edison thought so little of the

Kinetoscope that he failed to extend his patent rights to England and

Europe, an oversight that allowed two Frenchmen, Louis and Auguste LUMIERE,

to manufacture a more portable camera and a functional projector, the

Cinematographe, based on Edison’s machine. The movie era might be said to

have begun officially on Dec. 28, 1895, when the Lumieres presented a

program of brief motion pictures to a paying audience in the basement of a

Paris cafe. English and German inventors also copied and improved upon the

Edison machines, as did many other experimenters in the United States. By

the end of the 19th century vast numbers of people in both Europe and

America had been exposed to some form of motion pictures.^The earliest

films presented 15- to 60-second glimpses of real scenes recorded outdoors

(workmen, trains, fire engines, boats, parades, soldiers) or of staged

theatrical performances shot indoors. These two early tendencies–to

record life as it is and to dramatize life for artistic effect–can be

viewed as the two dominant paths of film history.^Georges MELIES was the

most important of the early theatrical filmmakers. A magician by trade,

Melies, in such films as A Trip to the Moon (1902), showed how the cinema

could perform the most amazing magic tricks of all: simply by stopping the

camera, adding something to the scene or removing something from it, and

then starting the camera again, he made things seem to appear and

disappear. Early English and French filmmakers such as Cecil Hepworth,

James Williamson, and Ferdinand Zecca also discovered how rhythmic movement

(the chase) and rhythmic editing could make cinema’s treatment of time and

space more exciting.

American Film in the Silent Era (1903-1928)

A most interesting primitive American film was The Great Train Robbery

(1903), directed by Edwin S. PORTER of the Edison Company. This early

western used much freer editing and camera work than usual to tell its

story, which included bandits, a holdup, a chase by a posse, and a final

shoot-out. When other companies (Vitagraph, the American Mutoscope and

Biograph Company, Lubin, and Kalem among them) began producing films that

rivaled those of the Edison Company, Edison sued them for infringement of

his patent rights. This so-called patents war lasted 10 years (1898-1908),

ending only when nine leading film companies merged to form the Motion

Picture Patents Company.^One reason for the settlement was the enormous

profits to be derived from what had begun merely as a cheap novelty.

Before 1905 motion pictures were usually shown in vaudeville houses as one

act on the bill. After 1905 a growing number of small, storefront theaters

called nickelodeons, accommodating less than 200 patrons, began to show

motion pictures exclusively. By 1908 an estimated 10 million Americans

were paying their nickels and dimes to see such films. Young speculators

such as William Fox and Marcus Loew saw their theaters, which initially

cost but $1,600 each, grow into enterprises worth $150,000 each within 5

years. Called the drama of the people, the early motion pictures attracted

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