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Caleb Pearson
July 27, 2020

25 Powerful Cinematography Techniques For Cinematic Shots

Cinematography is the art of visual storytelling. It requires more than setting a camera on a tripod and hitting the record button. The art of cinematography comes in when you are able to control the way in which the image is presented and how the viewers see it, a “show don’t tell” approach to the story. Since the film is a visual medium, the best-shot films are the ones in which a viewer can tell what is going on even without listening to the dialogue. If you have gone to film school, most- if not all- of these techniques should be familiar to you. But there’s nothing quite like a practice that can really get you comfortable with the creativity behind the camera.

The camera operator, First AC, and second AC may be the ones physically using the camera and camera gear, but the cinematographer is the one who oversees and designs the shots. The cinematographer (a.k.a. Director of Photography) is the one translating the director’s vision for the shot and making it a reality with help of cinematography techniques, the film crew, production design, color graders, video editing software and even the script breakdown.

Cinematic techniques will help you when it comes to shooting videos, tracking shots, dealing with film editing and film production and they will also assist you greatly when it comes to the addition of special effects, dramatic effect, and application of editing techniques using editing software. Applying film and camera techniques and using focal length and items like image sensors appropriately will help you up to your game.

1. Be creative when it comes to conversation

In every film at least two characters hold a conversation. Most cinematographers start by taking a shot of both characters, followed by over the shoulder shot and then reverse over the shoulder shot. Although there is nothing wrong with this, it can be boring since your characters will tend to talk to each other a lot. It is advisable to mix it up by embracing the single. You can also give your characters an action as they ponder on their life choices or allow them to walk and talk. This will kill the boredom.

2. Avoid exposition and embrace the push

Instead of telling your audience the importance of something, you should show them. You can do this by pushing in, in a slow-motion, and then move the camera nearer to your subject. You should push sparingly and appropriately in order to create an attractive tension and imply meaning instead of forcing your point inside the minds of your audience.

3. Use defensive camera movements

You can make a character appear particularly menacing. Wondering how? Here is an example. If the script consists of characters who are arguing a lot, you can make the audience feel the heat by having one character stepping towards the camera. As the character steps towards you, shift back slightly. You should also play around with camera angles. Ensure that you make the camera inferior before shooting the menacing characters from a low angle. This will allow you to bring life into the film thus allowing your audience to experience the heat in the cinematography room.

4. Extreme long shot

This type of shot captures a very wide area and you can use it as an establishing shot. You can use it, especially when changing from one big city or area to another. You can also use this kind of shot to show subjects of a comparatively enormous scale. For instance, consider a person who is climbing a mountain represented as a small speck against a huge area of snow. This kind of shot conveys the relative irrelevance of the person struggling in opposition to their environment. This is a study in majesty and scale.

5. Long Shot

Note that the distance of your camera from its subject will also reflect an emotional distance. When the distance is long, your audience will not get as emotionally involved in the things going on as they would if the characters were closer. If you use a long shot, you make viewers casual bystanders. You can use a long shot to keep viewers in suspense.

6. Medium shot

This type of shot is commonly used by cinematographers who specialize in news programs or documentaries. If you use this kind of shot, you will allow your views to move in more closely in an enlightening way. In this shot, you will only view an individual from his or her waist upwards. You can also use this kind of shot when engaging with your characters on a personal level.

7. Bird’s eyeshot

The bird's eye shot is related to extreme long shot when captured at a higher angle. You can use this type of shot as an establishing shot for scene transitions and introductions.

8. Use Dutch angle to show drunkenness, desperation, and disorientation

This is a technique where you tilt your camera to attain a subtle cue. You can use a Dutch angle to portray the emotional or unbalanced mental state of the characters. You can also use this angle to make the scene feel uncomfortable.

9. Zoom shot

You can use this kind of shot to enhance the focus of an object, character, or scene.

10. Use crane shot

In this kind of shot, you move the camera up and down through the use of a crane to add depth to your production. Note that nowadays cinematographers use drones instead of cranes and they are more effective.

11. Whip Pan

Whip pan is a great filmmaking technique and you can use it to convey rhythm and urgency. It is the quickest way to get from one point to the other. You can amaze the audience by using this technique for instance to maintain pace and hide whatever you do not what the audience to see.

12. Use the Mise en Scène setting

Mise en Scène simply means placing on stage. You can use it to create a place of sense for your audience and they may realize it or not.

13. Use the 180-degree rule to disorient your audience

You can use this technique, especially if you are producing a horror film. For instance, when your character is on one side and jumps to the other. The viewers will feel, disoriented, confused, or scared.

14. Let your character lead your camera

You can achieve this by ensuring that your camera is moving only if the character is the first to move. Let your character lead in dance and then follow. It will appear as if the camera as well as the story is being pushed by the character.

15. Pin the hit in the nail using a long lens technique

You can use this technique to make your character appear closer together. Through this technique, you are able to bring about an appearance of less depth between background, midground, and foreground. You can use it to convince the viewers that the characters are fighting while they are not. It sounds funny, doesn’t it? You just need to pair what the audience is viewing with a good sound effect.

16. Give your film life using the quadrant system technique

You can use this to blow the mind of your audience. Wondering how it works, your frame is divided into three, two, or four equal parts and every single part portrays a different story. You can use it to distinguish each character’s arch or moods among other emotions.

17. Panning shot

You can use this shot to portray the surroundings in a situation where there is action in the film.

18. Low-Angle Trunk Shot

This is a shot from inside the car’s trunk. How is this possible? You can use hatches and fake walls since it is impossible to confine a full-sized film and a camera operator in a trunk.

19. Create a mood board

As a cinematographer, you are accustomed to thinking visually. As you converse with the director to plan how the film will look, collect film stills using a mood board, patterns, photographs, and paintings. Many mood boards are available, including Pinterest and film-specific tools.

20. The Jonathan Demme Close up

The late Jonathan Demme spoke glowingly about Tak Fujimoto, his long-time cinematographer/collaborator. They became popular for the Jonathan Demme Close up. This is the kind of shot where the actor delivers his/her lines while staring directly down the lens’s barrel. This move creates an uncomfortable intimacy between the viewer and the character.

21. Pre-visualize like a professional

Whether you attended a film school or not, it just takes practice to master cinematography. Test out the camera movement and find out which ones work best for you and which ones do not. You may even invent a signature move that other cinematographers will blog about.

22. Have the mentality of an editor

The final storyteller in your film is the video editor. Nothing is more embarrassing than getting into the film editing room only to realize that a certain part of your footing is not functioning. You can avoid this by thinking big and assuming you are the editor. Picture how the final edit will be like and ensure your film is no different from that.

23. Shoot Film

Note that you do not have to rely on the shortcuts offered by shooting digital. Trying relying on your eyes rather than shooting digital. Utilize a light meter and train yourself on how to eyeball the thirds rule without the grid. You should also ensure that you have covered the viewfinder. This way you will end up doing better than you thought and when you choose to use digital you will be in a position to work faster.

24. Keep your viewers guessing

You can do this by changing your perspectives every now and then when you play with the viewpoint of the camera. Try to switch from an objective point of view to a subjective and the other way round. Tell the story as if your main character is the camera. Then allow your main character to walk into the frame. This way, you will be creating a voyeuristic feeling. You will also be insinuating that something bigger is going on.

25. Use up-to-date equipment

Tools change every now and then and it is, therefore, essential to keep on learning. Some of the things you need to learn is reading false colors on external recorders and monitors and how it can assist you to achieve your desired look. You can do this by practicing your craft, working under other cinematographers to learn from their techniques, or studying tutorials.


Professional cinematographers use various visual elements on-screen such as framing, lighting techniques, composition, camera angles, camera motion, zoom, depth of field, color theory, film technique, film selection, lens choices, focus, filtration, exposure, and other techniques. If you are new to the cinematography world or want to improve your craft, consider filming creative shorts with your peers, and build up your techniques to produce high-quality shots that you can add to your reel.

Practicing these cinematography techniques can help you start thinking outside of the box. Treat your camera like another character as you film any scene. Try a number of camera angles, exercise correct framing of subjects, and use different types of shots. When you understand the language of visual story-telling, you can open up a new dimension to your films.

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