Cinematography: The Ultimate Guide (2022 Edition)

From the rocket ship stuck on the moon’s surface in A Trip to the Moon (1902) to the epic and visceral world of the desert planet in Dune (2021), 120 years later, Cinematography is responsible for some of the most memorable scenes in film, television, and new media. As Cinematography is the foundation of filmmaking, the very first filmmakers were Cinematographers, working without sound and editing. Today, Cinematographers are finding new and innovative ways to bring stories to life through powerful imagery. 

When pursuing long-term creative goals in the field, there are many paths that aspiring Cinematographers can take to learn how to tell a compelling narrative. In this resource guide, we’ll share tips, techniques, and tools that amateur Cinematographers can use to inspire their journey in this exciting discipline. 

What is Cinematography?
The Role of a Cinematographer in Film and Television
How to Become a Cinematographer
How to Learn Cinematography in 2022
Must-Know Techniques and Methods
Creating Your First Cinematography Reel
Cinematography Resources

What is Cinematography?

Cinematography is the art and craft of photographing motion pictures, where a series of images are created to tell a story visually. Like photography, the art of Cinematography requires a keen eye, close attention to detail, and a big imagination. In just a short scene, a Cinematographer can transform a mood or convey a feeling. This is accomplished using lighting, camera movement, color, shot selection, and size.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is one of the best examples of cinematography. Source: The American Society of Cinematographers

The Role of a Cinematographer in Film and Television

The Cinematographer (sometimes called a Director of Photography) is a key role on the set of a film or television show. Cinematographers also work on newer media projects, such as a web series. The Cinematographer manages framing, lighting, and camera movement, collaborating with the Director, Production Designer and other key personnel. It is the Cinematographer’s job to design a unique look for each creative project.


From the very beginning of a project, a Cinematographer is essential. After a project is “green-lit”, the Director and Cinematographer start to plan out the look and feel of the visual components. The visual components support the narrative of the film or television show. Storyboards and shot lists may be used to sketch out and present their ideas. This part of the pre-production stage helps Cinematographers prepare necessary tools and resources.

Woman in dark room shines flashlight onto office window and sees her reflection

Cinematographer Manuel Billeter chose classic 1940’s noir lighting to capture the darkness of Netflix’s 2015 hit Jessica Jones. Source: Studio Daily


During production, a Cinematographer manages visual components of the project.

They collaborate with the Director on:

  • The design of all the shots needed for the scene
  • The best focal length and camera angle, as well as the camera setup, placement, position, and movement for each scene
  • Lighting the scene to create contrast, depth, and color in the image
  • Moving the camera to dramatize a specific moment in the scene
  • Supervising the camera, grip, and electric departments
  • Advising on the initial selection of the camera equipment, including the choice of format (such as film vs. digital, etc.)

Cinematographers and Directors must also be able to improvise. A Cinematographer is also an artist, manager, and technician, overseeing three key departments.

For most American productions, these departments and roles include:

The Camera Department

Camera Operator
First AC
Second AC
DIT or Media Manager

The Electric Department

Best Boy Electric
Set Lighting Technicians

The Grip Department

Key Grip
Best Boy Grip
Dolly Grip

Woman with red hair stands behind woman with blonde hair

In The Danish Girl (2015), Director Tom Hooper and Cinematographer Danny Cohen did an unplanned focus pull during filming to convey the merging of feminine souls. Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Cinematographer vs. Director of Photography

The job title “Cinematographer” is the same as the role of “Director of Photography.” Both these terms describe the same job with the same responsibilities.

Cinematographer vs. Videographer

A Cinematographer works in film, television, and entertainment. They capture the Director’s vision through images, light, color, and much more. A Videographer is responsible for some of the same duties, however, tend to work at events and in content creation. A Cinematographer may work an event or create content, however, it is not common for a Videographer to work in place of a Cinematographer on a film or television crew.

Cinematographer vs. Director 

On a feature film, the Director provides the overall vision that guides the project, having creative input in all areas of the production. The Director works closely with the actors to shape their performances, and consults with the various department heads to discuss how each aspect of the filmmaking process can serve the storytelling.

The Cinematographer works under the Director as one of their closest collaborators, focusing on how to enhance the visual design of the film using camera and lighting. The Cinematographer will supervise the camera, grip, and electric departments as they execute this plan, and work to realize the Director’s vision of the film.

Farm landscape with small house and old automobile.

Director of Photography Rachel Morrison, the first woman to get an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography, and her work on Mudbound (2017). Source: Robert Ebert website.

How to Become a Cinematographer

Like any other creative, competitive field, success in Cinematography depends on multiple factors. Many successful Cinematographers have been in the industry for decades, and have used a combination of natural talent, training, network, and unique circumstances to find opportunities in film, television, and entertainment. A single component, such as having connections or having a degree, does not necessarily guarantee success.

To work towards creative goals in Cinematography, ambitious visual artists should use their perseverance and determination to:

  • Develop your basic photographic skills (exposure, composition, understanding focal length, etc.)
  • Learn the different components of a reflex camera (how do you assemble the camera, lens, put on a filter, etc.)
  • Volunteer to work on set for student film productions, ideally in the camera or lighting departments
  • Study color and color theory in filmmaking 
  • Learn how to work as a team and collaborate with the director and other key team members
  • Shoot your own short films to start building material for a reel
  • Collaborate with local artists and musicians on visual projects (music videos, promos, photographs, etc.)
  • Find opportunities to get practical training in the camera, grip and electric departments

In addition to these tips, seeking creative opportunities related to photography, filmmaking, and directing in industries such as advertising, production, and marketing can help improve a creative and technical skillset.

Do You Need a Cinematography Degree?

A formal degree is not required to find success in Cinematography. However, in a dedicated degree program, students have the chance to get ongoing mentorship and feedback from industry experts, as well as a highly creative environment to study and learn fundamental and advanced techniques. 

Here are a few advantages to pursuing a Cinematography degree:

  • Many Cinematography degree programs (such as a BFA or MFA) provide a lot of practical training and hands-on experience
  • At many Cinematography schools, students have designated time to build up their portfolio and strive to improve the quality of their work
  • Students can start to build their network and community with their peers
  • Cinematography degree programs provide opportunities to build fundamental and advanced knowledge in the craft 
  • Cinematography schools give students the chance to build skills in related fields, such as filmmaking, directing, and producing
  • Access to an equipment package suited to the needs of each project
  • Education provides one-on-one mentorship and guidance from industry experts

While it’s very possible for students to learn the basics of Cinematography on their own, an education in Cinematography provides a full-immersion experience. Additionally, if creative skills change, a BFA or MFA can be useful in a variety of other fields.

Scene from the film Jurassic Park. Large dinosaur foot stands in front of overturned car and man holds his hand over a child's mouth to keep them quiet

Stephen Spielberg and Cinematographer Dean Cundey used scale to terrify audiences in Jurassic Park (1993). Source: Rolling Stone

How to Learn Cinematography in 2022

A lot of aspiring visual storytellers want to know how to learn cinematography.  In an episode of our 20/20 Series, NYFA’s Creative Director of Filmmaking and Cinematography, Liz Hinlein, spoke to Cinematographer Anka Malatynska. 

Here’s what Anya had to say about learning Cinematography: 

“Cinematography is this interesting art that is really on the intersection of magic and logic,” said Malatynska. “It’s a visual language that has fundamentals of grammar. If you were learning English as a second language, you would need to learn the grammar.”

Strengthening Creative and Technical Skills

Cinematography requires both creative and technical skills. One of the best ways to learn it is through the process of strengthening those skills. In our experience, prospective Cinematographers can start building knowledge and experience by:

  • Study different films, including everything from silent movies to the contemporary classics
  • Watch films with the sound off to see how the Cinematographer tells the story visually
  • Learn how to take photographs with a DSLR camera
  • Learning how to use a light meter
  • Make a short film with your cell phone camera 
  • Read novels, short stories, graphic novels, and comic books to learn about storytelling
  • Draw storyboards to illustrate the shots for a short story
  • Take a workshop or pursue higher education
  • Learn the fundamentals of visual storytelling
  • Study iconic shots (see examples from the ASC’s list of “100 Milestone Films for 20th Century Cinematography“)
  • Volunteer to work on student films at local colleges or universities
  • Writing about Cinematography on their own blog or website
  • Podcasting or posting video reviews about Cinematography on their own channel

Aspiring visual artists who want to pursue a new passion for Cinematography can learn a lot of the basics online. For instance, students can learn through online courses or tutorials. Short-term workshops or even higher education can provide a framework to level up to more advanced skills or techniques. Students can also learn from professional Cinematographers and Filmmakers.

Cinematography Tools for Beginners 

Cinematographers cover a lot of ground on a production, and there are a number of tools that they need. In our experience, here are the basic cinematography tools that some Cinematographers use.


A storyboard is the blueprint for a film or television show. Directors and Cinematographers use storyboards to outline and map out their vision for a film using images and notes.

A storyboard featuring the famous chestburster from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979).

A storyboard featuring the famous chestburster from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). Source:

Similar to a writer, Cinematographers use outlines to plan their shots, framing, angles, and more.

Shot Lists 

A shot list includes every shot of a film, television show or webisode. It also includes other essential details for the camera and lighting crew, such as:

  • The scene and shot numbers
  • The location of the scene
  • The subject of the scene, such as the characters involved
  • A brief description of the shot
  • The size and angle of the shot

Cinematographers use shot lists throughout production, and are a vital resource during a project.

DSLR Camera

There are a range of available Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras to choose from that range in quality and price. When choosing a camera, some considerations to make include:

  • Sensor Size
  • Features
  • Size/Weight
  • Resolution
  • Monitor size
  • Maximum ISO sensitivity
  • Range of available lenses that will fit this camera

For beginners who aren’t ready to buy a camera, there are options to rent. 

Light Meter

There are a few different types of light meters. On set, Cinematographers often use an incident light meter. This is the most accurate and important tool to maintain consistent exposure within a scene. A spot meter can also be useful, as it can measure reflected light in a very specific area of the set. Some meters combine both an incident and a spot meter in one model, which can also be convenient.

Smartphone with Cinematography Apps 

For Cinematographers using a smartphone, there are a lot of apps dedicated to supporting the craft. These include everything from technical calculators to sun-path tracking to viewfinders and more. A few of the best apps available are:

  • Artemis Director’s Viewfinder
  • pCAM Film+Digital
  • AJA DataCalc
  • Helios Sun and Moon Position Calculator
  • Shot Lister
  • The Grip App
  • Digital Cinema Pocket Guides

Gel Roll with Different Cuts of Gels 

Cinematographers are always looking for different ways to shape, control, and modify light. By using gels, you can create different colors in lighting design. These can range from strong blasts of saturated color to subtle variations that add depth and realism to a scene.

Cinematographers can also use different types of diffusion to soften the quality of light, spreading and softening it to wrap around the subject. Some diffusion is very light and just takes the edge off of a hard source. Heavier diffusion materials will soften the source even further.

You can purchase gels and diffusion in small sheets or as a longer roll. Longer rolls are usually 4′ wide, which can be cut into smaller pieces as needed (a box cutter is handy for this). When cutting gels, use a permanent marker to label each piece. You should label the pieces with the name and strength of the gel for later reference.

These pieces or “cuts” can often be reused.  A gel roll can be useful to store all of these cuts so they are ready to go for future projects.

Ditty Bag

Crew members operating under the guidance of a Cinematographer use ditty bags to carry everyday cinematography tools. These tools may include anything from a light meter to grip gloves. There is no “right” ditty bag to buy, but generally, bags with a variety of large and small pockets work well.

A few items that the NYFA Cinematography faculty recommend keeping in a durable ditty bag include:

  • Light Meter
  • Smartphone with Cinematography Apps (such as technical calculators, sun-path tracking, viewfinders, etc.)
  • DSLR Camera
  • Gel roll with different cuts of gels and diffusion

The contents of a ditty bag will also vary based on the department.

A scene from Avatar

Avatar (2009) combined groundbreaking technical innovations with traditional filmmaking methods

Must-Know Techniques and Methods

Cinematography is an exciting, evolving field, and Cinematographers continue to find new ways to tell engaging stories. In addition to mastering traditional techniques, many use new technology to tell highly imaginative stories and build new worlds.

Emerging Cinematographers can experiment with new technology and tools, including:

Drone Cinematography

Aerial cinematography, or shots taken on a drone or similar vehicle, has become a significant trend in Cinematography. For Cinematographers who wish to get sky-high views, with the use of a drone, it’s easy to get started in aerial cinematography. Although many have a high price tag, cheaper options are becoming available as the method becomes more popular.

There are a lot of different types of drone shots, which can all be used for chase scenes, birds-eye view, establishing shots, war scenes, and more.

Film Cranes

There are a number of shots that Cinematographers can learn to execute. A great example is a crane shot, or a shot that uses a film crane. Crane shots used in famous scenes range from the massive Titanic set in James Cameron’s 1997 film to the wounded soldiers in Gone with the Wind (1939). A crane shot can be helpful in establishing a scene, building tension, and more.

Film cranes are powerful tools that create impressive shots. However, they are also large, complex and potentially dangerous pieces of equipment. To operate one safely, a great deal of training and a full crew is required.

Natural Lighting

Cinematographers often face the challenge of creating lighting that looks realistic, and immerses the audience in the world of a harsh or unvarnished story. Sometimes this will be achieved using traditional lights to create light sources that feel motivated within the reality of the scene. The effect appears to be realistic (sunlight through a window, a bedside lamp, etc.). However, the illumination is actually provided by film lights that are positioned and controlled.

Cinematographers may also choose to use natural or “available” light. This allows them to work with the lighting conditions that exist in the location. Films such as Tree of Life (2011), Dallas Buyers Club (2013), and others take this realism to another level. In these films, Filmmakers restricted the available tools while embracing the subtle variations and details of the actual sources.

When working with available light, Cinematographers can use sun-tracking software. This software helps them plan ahead and anticipate the path of the sun throughout the shooting day. This way, they can schedule specific shots at the best time.

When Cinematographers anticipate changes in light, they can maintain a consistent look for each scene. This helps them find ways to get shots that cut together with effective lighting continuity.

Nature documentary cinematographer Gavin Thurston filmed 1,000 meters underwater. Source: American Cinematographer Magazine

Underwater Cinematography

Over the years, underwater Cinematography has been used in films from The Graduate (1967) to Splash (1984) to Alien: Resurrection (1997). It is also used in many documentary and nature films, television shows, and even music videos. To achieve challenging underwater shots, Cinematographers work with special crew members. For instance, underwater camera operators and professional stunt divers can capture these unforgettable scenes.

Creating Your First Cinematography Reel

A cinematography reel is a short compilation of your best work as a Cinematographer. A reel should include shots that successfully showcase visual storytelling skills, such as:

  • An aspiring Cinematographer’s best compositions
  • Different styles of lighting and different times of day
  • The ability to move the camera

An aspiring Cinematographer should concentrate on creating one reel that shows the range of their skill. However, without substantial experience, it may be difficult to have a lot of examples to choose from. To build up experience, aspiring visual storytellers can create their own opportunities by:

  • Creating their own short 3-5 minute films and getting critique from peers
  • Creating a photography series or visual essay using a digital or manual camera
  • Collaborating with local businesses, artists, musicians, bloggers as the Cinematographer create projects
  • Shooting for aspiring Directors, Filmmakers, Screenwriters on independent films 

If you want to pursue creative goals in a specific genre, it may be useful to tweak your reel. For example, a reel can be edited to feature drama, horror or comedy clips. As you get more experience, your reel can evolve. Cinematography reels will should be updated to feature new work.

In Apocalypse Now (1979), Director Francis Ford Coppola and Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro made a brief, but historic cameo. Source: American Cinematographer Magazine

The Best Cinematography in Movies and Why They’re Great

A great way to start learning Cinematography is from the pros. From There Will Be Blood (2017) to Slumdog Millionaire (2008), there are many great examples of Cinematography in movies, television, and new media. Aspiring Cinematographers can study and watch these films to learn more about lighting, shots, color, and more.


Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki used camera tricks and several long shots to make the award-winning Birdman (2014) feel like a single take. Lubezki practiced for the film by building a similar set and blocking out shots, which helped the production team determine how to hide transitions and where to place actors.

Breaking the Waves

We asked Piero Basso, AIC-IMAGO and NYFA Cinematography Chair, about his favorite films. In addition to Paris, Texas (1984) and The Conformist (1970), he also discussed his appreciation for Breaking the Waves (1996).

“I have a deep sentiment of admiration and gratitude for Breaking the Waves,” Piero said.

“It has taught me how Cinematography doesn’t require that the aesthetic quality of the images must be preserved at all costs and instead showed me how a story can be told with gritty, unperfect and dirty images if this style fits the story.”

Life of Pi

Life of Pi (2012) used advanced special effects shots and photography to create it’s award-winning Cinematography. Due to the importance of water in the film, Director Ang Lee and Cinematographer Claudio Miranda worked together to create realistic looking water and natural light. They even constructed a self-generating wave tank built around their lighting needs.

Pan’s Labyrinth

In the eerie fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and Director Guillermo del Toro worked together to balance light and dark. A lot of the filming was done during the day to capture the night scenes, as darker locations, such as a forest, would be difficult to light artificially. 

While these films can inspire aspiring Cinematographers, many of the techniques are extremely advanced, and achievable after years of practice and experience behind the camera.

Famous Cinematographers: Tips from the Professionals

Experienced Cinematographers have a wealth of experience to share. From working with Directors to making choices about lighting, here are some great tips from the professionals.

Anthony B. Richmond

Anthony B. Richmond, BAFTA-Winner, and NYFA Los Angeles’ Cinematography Chair, is known for his role as Director of Photography for films such as Men Of Honor (2000), Someone Like You (2001), Legally Blonde (2001),  Shade (2003), Just Friends (2005), Good Luck Chuck (2007), The Comebacks (2007), and more. Richmond is also an accomplished member of the Academy Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (A.M.P.A.S), British Academy of Film & Television Arts (B.A.F.T.A), American Society of Cinematographers (A.S.C), and British Society of Cinematographers (B.S.C).

He spoke with NYFA’s Creative Director of Filmmaking and Cinematography, Liz Hinlein, for our 20/20 Series about collaborating with Directors.

“A director is going to choose someone who will have their back and who they can collaborate with,” Richmond said. “You have to be understanding, there can only be one captain of the ship (the director), so you need to be okay with that.” 

Ellen Kuras

Ellen Kuras, Director of Photography on films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Away We Go (2009), spoke about the creation of a film’s visual story.

I’ve always been very opinionated about blocking, for example, which is essentially how the actors move around in the set. That’s something you probably wouldn’t think about. How does this character walk into the room? What’s the point of view of the camera? Is the camera over his shoulder, or is it on the other side of the room, watching him?”

Roger Deakins

Oscar winner Roger Deakins, known for his work on acclaimed films such as The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), A Beautiful Mind (2001), No Country for Old Men (2007), and Blade Runner 2049 (2017), explained in an interview with NPR why he prefers simplicity in cinematography.

“I like using natural sources,” Deakins said. “I like images to look natural — as though somebody sitting in a room by a lamp is being lit by that lamp.”

A Little Princess (1991) earned Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’ his first Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. Source: IndieWire

Emmanuel Lubezki 

Emmanuel Lubezki is known for films like The Birdcage (1996), The Tree of Life (2011), Gravity (2013), Birdman (2014), and The Revenant (2016).  In an interview with Indiewire, Lubezki described his experience working on Song to Song (2017), originally titled Weightless, where Director Terrence Malick encouraged him to show up on set without a plan. 

“It was incredibly exciting to not know what we were going to do, but knowing that we wanted to find something great,” said Lubezki. “I didn’t know who the characters were and how they were related. You start shooting though, and you start to understand their connections and the arcs of their stories. It was almost like watching the movie as you were shooting it.”

Ari Wagner

Ari Wagner, Cinematographer for Zola (2020), discussed her experience working on The Power of the Dog (2021) in a recent interview, describing what she calls as a “set of values” she created with Director Jane Campion.

“I usually love creating quite specific visual rules for films, but for this project I’d say what we landed on would be better described as a set of values – unadorned, deliberate, non-judgmental photography, no emotionally-manipulative camera moves, no shots that were trying to convince an audience about anything,” Wagner said. “Shots that could show a character feeling something without telling a viewer what they should feel about it.”

Top Organizations 

Many professional Cinematographers join prestigious organizations all over the world, many within the International Federation of Cinematographers (IMAGO).

These include: 

  • American Society of Cinematographers (ASC)
  • Australian Society of Cinematographers (ACS)
  • British Society of Cinematographers (BSC)
  • French Society of Cinematographers (AFC)
  • Italian Society of Cinematographers (AIC)
  • Polish Society of Cinematographers (PSC)

As a professional organization with members from around the world, IMAGO represents the interests and goals of all Cinematographers. 

Another great resource for aspiring Cinematographers is The International Cinematographer’s Guild, or the  union that represents cinematographers. Also known as “Local 600” which is the local that represents the camera department, Cinematographers must qualify to join the union by earning a certain number of days working professionally on independent or non-union productions. They must also pay an entrance fee to join. 

Joining the union is a goal that many young cinematographers and other crew members strive for, as it represents an opportunity to work on bigger productions, and a chance to earn higher rates than non-union jobs.  They also work to ensure safety standards on set, such as mandatory safety training for union members.

Cinematography Resources

For Cinematographers looking to stay updated on the latest news and events, there are many trusted Cinematography resources available. These resources include websites and publications, which offer up-to-date information about new film and television releases, interviews with professionals, industry events, festivals, as well as product news and reviews on technology and equipment. 

A few of the best publications include:

In addition to traditional media, there are active Cinematography communities on Reddit, as well as forums, including

The Art and Craft of Cinematography 

Cinematography is an artistic, exciting field that challenges visual storytellers to build advanced creative and technical skills. While there are many paths to pursue cinematography, to master the craft, it’s essential to work hard, dedicate yourself to the field, and persevere.

Drone Cinematography: 5 Great Camera Drones for Aerial Shots

Drone Cinematography can be a great way for filmmakers to get unforgettable aerial shots. Cinematographers work with drones to get interesting shots that help tell a compelling visual story, contributing to memorable scenes in major feature films such as We Are Blood (2015), Skyfall (2015), and many more.

5 Great Camera Drones for Aerial Drone Cinematography

Film-grade camera drones have never been more accessible. Price points for high-definition aerial filming rigs are becoming affordable, making it easier to learn about drone Cinematography. With a wide array of options to choose from, we’ll be taking a look at some of the best beginner filmmaking drones on the market. All prices are approximate at the time of writing—be sure to hit the HD settings on each YouTube player to see the demo footage at its best. Please note that some drones may no longer be in production, but may still be sold online.

DJI Inspire 1

Price: $2,800
Weight: 2935g
Drone Specs: 18 minutes maximum flight time, 48mph top speed, 4500m altitude, 5m/s ascent speed
Camera Specs: 4k video at 24 FPS, 12.4 megapixels, 100-3200 ISO range for video

It’s easy to see why the DJI Inspire 1 has become the go-to, professional-grade drone for 4K aerial filmmaking. As well as packing an impressive set of specs, the gimbal-mounted, super-high-resolution camera allows for a fine degree of control over the shooting angle.

For those who are a little divided over the price, it’s worth noting that the Inspire 1’s design is modular, so it can be easily upgraded further down the road without having to buy a whole new drone.

DJI Phantom 3 Advanced

Price: $999
Weight: 1280g
Drone Specs: 23 minutes of flight time, 35mph, 6000m altitude, 5 m/s ascent speed
Camera Specs: 2.7k at 30FPS, 12.4 megapixles, 100-3200 ISO range for video

The Phantom range of aerial drone cameras have become something of an industry standard, and the third iteration strikes a good balance between cost and quality. The Phantom 3 comes in two flavors—the “advanced” and the “professional” below, which ups the specs at a higher price point.

DJI Phantom 3 Professional

Price: $1259
Weight: 1280g
Drone Specs: As above
Camera Specs: 4k at 25FPS / 2160p at 30FPS / 1080p at 60FPS

For an extra $259, the Professional version of the Phantom 3 will give you greater resolution and framerates without sacrificing any of the maneuverability.

Parrot Bebop

Price: $500
Weight: 420g
Drone Specs: 22 minutes of flight time, 29mph, 6m/s ascent speed, 200m altitude
Camera Specs: 1080p recording with a 14 megapixel fisheye camera

Lightweight and extremely zippy, the Parrot Bebop is a smart choice for those who want HD stabilized video without having to spend a king’s ransom—there are cheaper drones out there (and even some lesser-priced models in the Parrot range)—but the Bebop gets the balance right and is one of the best drones you’ll find for $500 or under…if you can live with the slightly limited operating range.

Phantom Flex 4k Drone

Price: $110,000 and up
Weight: About 13 kilograms
Drone Specs: Unknown, but it can lift a cinema camera.
Camera Specs: 1,000 FPS at 4k and up to 3,000 FPS at 720p (in five second bursts). Stores 2TB of RAW data.

We’ve covered the more budget-end of the drone filmmaking spectrum, so now let’s look at what is currently the most expensive (and impressive). Clocking in at over 30lbs once the camera and lenses are installed, the Phantom Flex 4K is less of a drone and more of an aircraft. The price tag is eye-watering, but the footage speaks for itself.

Learn How To Use Cinematography Tools and Tech

From one time courses to immersive non-degree programs to an MFA track, NYFA offers a variety of options for prospective cinematographers eager to learn the fundamentals of composition, lighting, and more. Visit our Cinematography Programs page or read our introductory guide to Cinematography to learn more.

Q&A With NYFA Cinematography Graduate Naeem Seirafi on Joining The International Cinematographers Guild and His Advice for Incoming Students

Iranian-born Naeem Seirafi got his first taste of being on set when he was 19 years old and quickly began to realize that the world of cinema was where he belonged. His most recent work as director of photography includes In This Gray Place and 1st Born starring Val Kilmer and Denise Richards. Seirafi attended the NYFA’s inaugural MFA Cinematography class in 2011 and has since joined the International Cinematographers Guild (IASTE Local 600).

NYFA had the opportunity to catch up with the cinematography alum to joining the International Cinematographers Guild, his advice to incoming students, and what work is really like behind the camera.

Prime DNA Lens Test with Naeem Seirafi

New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

Naeem Seirafi (NS): I was born in Iran, and I’m currently a US Citizen. I went to engineering school in Iran while I was establishing a name as a set photographer in the Iranian cinema. My first professional set experience was in 2003 when I did my first feature film as a set photographer at the age of 19. In 2010 when I came to the US, I knew it was time for a bigger challenge. I started looking up film schools in LA immediately after my arrival. I was looking for a program that was focused on cinematography and had the most hands-on experience. New York Film Academy became my top choice, and I’m really happy about the decision I made.

NYFA: Why have you decided to focus on cinematography?

NS: My dad is a photographer, and as a kid, I always had the privilege of playing with his cameras, lenses, and unlimited rolls of 35mm film. There was always something unique about taking a picture, making sure to get all the technical aspects right, and at the same time try to tell a story in one frame. When I was 18, I started my professional career as a set photographer. A couple of years later, the director I was working with on his feature film, asked me to start thinking about making a career switch to cinematography. He mentioned that he liked my compositions, choices of lenses, color grading, and framings better than what his cinematographer was doing at the time. I knew it wasn’t an easy task but I also knew that it’s not impossible. My goal was to finish engineering school and make this switch after I arrive in the United States.

NYFA: How did your career change after joining the IATSE Local 600 guild?

NS: From the moment I started my career as a cinematographer, I realized that I need to belong to a bigger family of filmmakers who have been doing this for decades. By joining ICG (International Cinematographers Guild), I’m now assured that I can have a future in the film industry. The rights, wages, health plans, overtime rules, and any other musts that can go missing in film productions, are always there. I also knew that in order to be able to accept offers from an IATSE affiliated project, I need to be an active member. In general, it’s always good to have a union behind you. 

Val Kilmer (Left) and Naeem Seirafi (Right) on the set of “1st Born”

NYFA: Can you tell us about the features you’ve DP’d on?

NS: In 2019, two of my feature films got released on major VOD networks. One is called In This Gray Place, a drama suspense genre that was shot in one location. Aleksander Ristic, Rudi Womack (my fellow NYFA alumni), and I decided to make a feature film in a garage which we used to build our main set, a bathroom. We’ve worked on multiple projects together, and I’m glad our latest collaboration worked out really well.

My other feature film is called 1st Born, starring the iconic actor Val Kilmer, with Robert Knepper, Tom Berenger, Denise Richards, and Taylor Cole. It’s a fun comedy project we shot here in LA. This movie also was shot mostly in sound stages with limited shooting days. 

NYFA: How is your process different when shooting a feature vs shooting a short film?

NS: No one would think this but sometimes shooting a short film is more challenging than shooting a feature film. When shooting a short film, you’re supposed to tell a story in a way shorter timeline compared to a feature film. Other than that, you might have limited equipment, crew, number of days, and even access to the locations you’re using. I’ve shot 24 short films so far, and I really enjoyed working on every single one of them. At the end of the day, it’s all about who you are collaborating with.

On the other side, when shooting a feature film, you have more time to visualize what’s written in the screenplay. By the time I finish reading the script for the first time, I’ve already shot it once in my head by visualizing it scene by scene. That’s also when I know if I would want to work on the project or not. As a cinematographer, I’m looking for projects that are challenging, and I can bring more dynamics, visuals, and creativity to the table. A bigger and more professional crew would certainly ease the process of making a feature film. Unfortunately, I had to turn down two projects last year.

Phil LaMarr and Naeem Seirafi on set for “Diamond Dayze”

NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?

NS: At the moment I’m in the late development stages of 2 feature films. One is called My Favorite Season and it was my first ever large-format movie. It was shot on Alexa 65 and Prime DNA lenses, and the same package will be used for the feature version.

My second project is called The Bishop’s Man. It’s a drama based on the best-selling novel, and that is as much information as I can give at the moment. 

NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you apply directly to your work?

NS: Almost everything I needed to start my career as a cinematographer, I learned at NYFA. Thanks to Michael Pessah who was running the cinematography program at the time, we were able to practice and learn a lot of basics, and techniques, especially on 35mm film. There is a lot that you can learn in film school, that you may not be able to learn on a film set. There is no margin for mistakes and errors on a real film set, especially if you’re the head of your department. At the end of the day, it’s all up to the students, to decide how much and what they want to get out of the film school. Learning is a never-ending process in our careers.

NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA

NS: As I said, it all depends on the student to make the most out of the program they’re attending. You can learn from every single moment and person while at school, even your classmates. NYFA is a big nationwide and worldwide family. They should take advantage of this opportunity. While you’re a student, there are a lot of open doors, resources, equipment, and people who are willing to help you. Even a lot of rental houses, studios, and post-production companies would help you as a student to make your movie. I’m sure you’re going to miss all that once you are out of school.

New York Film Academy would like to thank NYFA alum Naeem Seirafi for taking the time to share more about his career, what life is like behind the camera, and for sharing advice to incoming students and creatives alike.

Q&A with New York Film Academy Australia Alum Leroy Button

New York Film Academy Australia alum Leroy Button started his professional career even before graduating the Filmmaking program in 2018. He’s worked on several professional commercials and television shows as well as multiple blockbusters, including Aquaman, Fast & Furious 9, and Dora and the Lost City of Gold.

Button has found a niche in state-of-the-art drone cinematography, but has had a passion for all aspects of filmmaking since he was a child. His first (but not his last) success was his award-winning short film Sense, made while he was still in high school.

Leroy Button

NYFA Australia alum Leroy Button

New York Film Academy spoke with NYFA Australia Filmmaking alum Leroy Button about Sense, his work on multimillion dollar film sets, and the best advice he’s learned from both school and his fellow crewmembers:

New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and what brought you to New York Film Academy Australia?

Leroy Button (LB): I’m 21 years old and hail from Cairns, a small city in Far North Queensland, Australia. The origins of my interest in the industry really started as soon as I was brought into the world,—well, that’s at least what my dad claims as he recorded my birth on his brand new Hi8 camera. I’ve always had an interest in cameras, acting, and entertaining people—my dad was a frustrated filmmaker and he always had the latest digital camcorder, film camera, DSLR… you name it he had it, so naturally I was either in front of a camera or behind it as I grew up. We were always avid film goers, with Dad, my older brother, and myself always attending the latest blockbuster release—if it involved spies, sci-fi, superheroes, or a car chase we were there.

I really enjoyed all of my primary and secondary school years, I wasn’t really a math or science guy, I just loved working with my hands making things and was considered by my teachers to be very artistic. Throughout high school I fell absolutely in love with movie making and film class, which was part of my curriculum from Year 9 at Cairns State High. 

My film teachers, Mr. Clyde Williams and Ms. Greta Evangelista, said that I had an eye for filmmaking and perhaps I should pursue it as a career. My teachers encouraged me to enter my films into film festivals and that ultimately brought me to what jump-started my career—my first short film, Sense. I entered Sense into the Understory Film Festival, which is a local festival in Cairns that had a student film category. I entered that film not knowing the freight train of success I was going to receive from it. 

On the night of the film festival, Sense won three awards—Best Student Film, Runner Up, Best Film, and the Audience Choice Award. To cap off a lovely evening, I also won $1000 prize money (of course I spent that on film equipment right away) and was filled with a feeling of elation that propelled me into pursuing a career in the film industry… With Sense winning the Understory Audience Choice Award, this led to its inclusion in another festival—winning the KickArts Curator Award, Cell Art Space Energy Exhibition Award, Creative Generation Award, and later ‘Best Sense Film’ at the Stuffit Film Festival. Because of the Creative Generation Award, Sense was put on display at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane where it was shown on a screen loop for six months for the 2017 student exhibition.

These awards opened the doors at a number of universities and film academies and certainly helped secure my position at the New York Film Academy Australia, where I started my Diploma in Filmmaking. At NYFA Australia I continued to pursue my craft and the feeling of recognition and success that I craved. I shot both good films that won me more awards and some pretty questionable film—films I hope are never seen again, haha. I was loving every moment. I really started to hone my skills as a cinematographer and learned how to manage my own business by filming weddings, corporate videos, and promo events.

Leroy Button Sense

NYFA: What have you learned at NYFA Australia that you apply to your work today?

LB: I’d say the biggest thing that the New York Film Academy Australia taught me was that networking was everything.

For one of our cinematography lectures, we had the choice of going to Panavision Queensland at Village Roadshow Studios. I knew that this was an opportunity to mingle with the people who work with the biggest and best of what the Australian Film Industry has to offer. So I was there with bells on. It happened to be the one day I actually packed my lunch box and brought it with me—and that ultimately allowed me to stay behind whilst the rest of the class went out to get a feed during the break. So here I am, one-on-one with the manager of Panavision Queensland, Pat Auge. I had the opportunity to ask him anything I wanted to know. What do I need to do to get into the industry? This question, amongst many others, was asked in hopes of figuring out what I was going to do after I completed my diploma.

All I wanted to do was get on set and work on a major motion picture. Pat answered every single one of my questions, and told me “it’s all about who you know.” In addition to that, the biggest thing I learned from the New York Film Academy Australia was that networking is very important—this is an industry where who you know goes a very long way.

Pat contacted me the following week and said that he was impressed by my attitude, eagerness, and professionalism towards him and wanting to get into the industry. He asked if I would be interested in doing some work experience with them and initially got me in for three days—I was incredibly dedicated while there, as has always been my work ethic, drilled into me by family, and this lead to an offer of part-time work while studying at the Academy. 

During this time, Aquaman was filming at Village Roadshow Studios and the camera department contacted Panavision asking if they knew of anyone that could help out on set. They put my name forward and I jumped straight into the camera department on one of Australia’s biggest feature films. Frankly, I was scared and crazy nervous but also really excited.

Leroy Button

NYFA: Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been doing and what your responsibilities have been on the sets of films like Aquaman, as well as Dora the Explorer, Fast & Furious, and others?

LB: I kept my cool with my head down and bum up. They had me camera assisting, splintering with second and third unit, slating scenes with Nicole Kidman and her stunties, on location at Hastings point for the lighthouse scenes—it was wild, some of the most unforgettable weeks of my life. I turned into a sponge metaphorically (and sometimes physically, thanks rain machines), absorbing as much information and technique as possible from the camera department. At the end of each day we wrapped and I felt like I could sleep for a week. Long hours, hard, stressful work—but I loved it. I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

I continued to juggle work for Panavision, Event Cinemas, and studying at NYFA Australia and I resigned from the Cinemas pretty soon after as I was asked to start working 5 days a week 9-5 at Panavision. Now that leads me to working for XM2—work after Aquaman slowly dried up, I was getting on commercial jobs and the odd TV show here and there as a 2nd AC, but things weren’t looking too good…

One weekend I was returning some film equipment I had borrowed from Panavision to shoot a music video when Panavision called asking how far away I was. They told me that there were two gentlemen at the office right now and they wanted to talk to me—Stephen Oh and Aidan Kelly, the CEO and COO of XM2. I rushed into the studios knowing exactly who these guys were and well, Panavision opened another door for me. XM2 were looking for a young gun to join the team and manage their new office on the Gold Coast. I was pretty shocked. They asked if I wanted to help out on Dora the Explorer and there was no hesitation in my mind. I had just landed one of the coolest job opportunities that the industry has to offer.

A little background for you—XM2 specialises in aerial cinematography, lidar scanning, and VFX—catering to the major motion picture industry. As the only drone operator in the world with complete design, manufacture, build, and operational capabilities, XM2 can adapt and incorporate custom payloads onto aerial and ground-based platforms, creating constant advancements in performance and capability.

XM2 CEO Stephen Oh

XM2 CEO, Stephen Oh

The team is comprised of pilots, camera operators, engineers, and creatives allowing for a unique service environment, taking care of all aspects of the operation. Constant technological developments combined with a deep understanding of on-set work-flow creates a highly-skilled, precise, and efficient unit that is able to produce any creative vision. We continue to demonstrate the ability to operate in the most technically, logistically, and environmentally demanding locations around the world. This is achieved while applying thorough risk mitigation and a safety-first culture that meets and exceeds international standards. I don’t want to toot my own horn but… yeah, a pretty cool job. 

I completed those days with them on Dora, worked my ass off, and must have impressed them because they now have me working full time managing our Gold Coast office here in Queensland. I get to travel extensively between our other bases around the globe helping on productions wherever they may be. Two of our teams and I have just returned home from Georgia in Europe, Thailand, and Scotland after finishing principal photography on Fast & Furious 9 and the next James Bond film, No Time to Die. I am literally living the dream and I couldn’t be happier with what I have achieved at my age.

On our latest project, Fast and Furious 9, I was a drone technician on second unit while also managing our custom VFX array head. We developed the “MANTA” stabilised remote head to hold three Alexa Minis in a toe-in position to achieve 220 degrees of stich-able horizontal angle. This rig ultimately became my pride and joy as I worked on Fast 9. Due to the shooting schedule I had to pull it apart and put it back together half a dozen times. The VFX department could use this rig to reframe shots, recreate reflections, and project the surrounding environments onto blue/green screens in studio sound stages. I was working one on one with the VFX supervisor, while camera operating this platform from an ATAV for the off-road portions of the film. 

I was also on splinter unit where I was camera operating our smaller drone. Those shots were my first shots on a feature film—a pretty awesome accomplishment. This was all thanks to my boss and mentor, Stephen Oh, for trusting my skills as a camera operator. Thanks to XM2 I get to travel the world doing what I love, working on major motion pictures.

These are the productions I have recently worked on (not in any particular order):

  • Aquaman (Feature Film) (2nd AC, Truck Loader)
  • Fast and Furious 9 (Feature Film) (Drone Technician, Drone Camera Op, VFX Array Op, and Technician)
  • Dora the Explorer (Feature Film) (2nd AC, Drone Technician)
  • Westworld Season 3 (HBO TV Series – Airing) (Drone Technician)
  • Godzilla Vs Kong (Feature Film – Post-production) (2nd AC)
  • Monster Problems (Feature Film – Post-production) (2nd AC)
  • Bloody Hell (Feature Film – Post-production) (Drone Technician & Drone  Camera Op)
  • Reef Break (TV Series – Airing) (Drone Camera Op)
  • At Last (Chinese/ Australia Co-Production) (2nd AC)
  • The End (TV Mini-Series – Post-production) (2nd AC)
  • Leaving Neverland (HBO Documentary) (Drone Technician)
  • QANTAS 2020 International Commercial (Post Production) (Drone 
  • Camera Op)
  • Halifax Retribution (TV Series – Post Production) (Drone Camera Op)
  • Hyundai VENUE, USA TVC (Drone Technician, BTS)
  • KIA Telluride, USA TVC (Drone Technician, BTS)

leroy button jane

NYFA: What are some of the biggest differences you’ve noticed working on a blockbuster film set as opposed to an indie or student film set? What are some of the similarities?

LB: The biggest differences I’ve found between blockbuster features and indie/student films is obviously the budget.

Being on big sets is an interesting experience. It’s fascinating and truly unbelievable how big some of the sets are and the lengths people go to get the shot how they want it—or how they compromise to achieve it another way. These crew members are truly professionals of their respected craft. Watching hundreds of people work for a common goal of completing the shot list for the day is like working in this complicated factory of cooperation, task mitigation, and frantic timed execution. 

Everyone has a role and that role is important in one way or another. There are literally hundreds of different jobs on set and they all matter and keep the production flowing. The PA that stays back to make the production coordinator a coffee might have just kept him/her awake an extra hour to recheck the SFX budget so they can afford to blow up an extra car the next day, which allows the director extra freedom with the cut and the rest of the crew get to see an extra explosion—thumbs up all round. 

Every role on set matters and they all affect the flow of production—no matter the size. The men and women on big sets usually have many, many years of on-set experience and this really shows when there’s half an hour left in the shooting day and there are still five shots to get—as you can imagine, someone like me stepping in with the “big boys” was very daunting and quite nerve-racking. I learned pretty quickly to present yourself professionally, act older than you seem and keep your head down, mouth shut, and ‘bum-up’ as is always a good idea when trying to fit in and impress the varying crew.

The cool thing with crew on major feature films is that oftentimes once the working week had finished, a lot of the crew would split into their respected friend groups and shoot passion projects, music videos, or short films—a lot of the time asking anyone and everyone if they would be free to help out. In an industry where a good word and who you know goes a long way, these opportunities are sometimes just as good as the production you may be on. Yes, you might only get paid in pizza, but you might just get a chance at focus pulling or helping with lighting or branch out from your usual role to try something different. These guerrilla style films are a great way to make new friends and test your abilities, learn new skills, and have a good laugh outside of the pressure that big productions put on you.

On the other hand, the biggest similarity between big and small budget productions is passion. The passion for filmmaking is always there whether it’s a low-budget indie or a multimillion-dollar action flick. One of the things I love about working in the film industry is the on-set etiquette. No matter the production, people are generally more than happy to lend a helping hand and impart some of their knowledge on to you. A lot of what I’ve learned about on-set lingo and practices has been through conversation between setups or while on lunch. The more time you spend in those environments with those varying levels of experience, the more you’ll learn.

Leroy Button

NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on, personal or otherwise?

LB: Unfortunately, I can’t say what I’m working on with XM2 at the moment; however, I’m currently writing a sequel to one of my short films I shot while at NYFA Australia. It’s being filmed with a bunch of fellow NYFA Australia graduates and alumni.

NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA Australia?

LB: The best advice I could give to students starting out at NYFA Australia would be to get your films into film festivals. No matter how good or bad that film is, get it into a festival circuit and put your name on it. The more people that see your film, the more contacts you’re connecting with—people talk and word spreads; if it’s positive, then you’ll become known and people will start calling you, it’s that simple. 

Absorb as much as you can. Do research online and ask questions (even the stupid ones) because at the end of the day you’ll either be none-the-wiser or know exactly what you’re talking about. Finally, keep creating, every single time your camera is rolling you’re learning something new—nine times out of ten it’s because you did something wrong—learn from that and you’ll become a better filmmaker.

Things to remember and be ready to answer:

  • Never “burn your bridges.” It’s a big industry, and everyone talks.
  • What is your attitude?
  • How are you different from the guy next to you?
  • And why should they get you on set?

NYFA: Anything I missed you’d like to speak on? 

LB: The film industry is a brutal beast – it can be so incredibly hard on you one day, yet so very rewarding the next—it’s not for the faint-hearted. With short films and personal projects, I learned pretty quickly that you can’t impress everyone. I decided to stop trying to impress others and began simply trying to impress myself and this worked out pretty well for me. I am very humbled with the opportunities that I have been given and I thank everyone for the part they have played in my story. Never forget to thank those who got you to where you are.

New York Film Academy thanks NYFA Australia alum Leroy Button for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his burgeoning career on-set, and wishes him the best of luck moving forward!

4 Tips to Create Depth in a Shot

When it comes to 2D images, like a standard photograph or a film you’re watching projected on your local multiplex’s screen, depth is an illusion. From cinematography to photography to painting to hand-drawn animations, artists must fool the human eye into thinking it’s viewing something in a three-dimensional plane when it’s actually flat.

Piecing together a captivating story becomes easier when you master different techniques proven to add depth (or the illusion of depth) to a shot. Here are four tips that will help give your cinematography the power to convince viewers that they are experiencing a world as real as their own.

Shallow Focus

Focus is perhaps the most powerful (and common) method of creating depth in both photography and film. Our human eyes have evolved to do this wonderfully—hold out your finger in front of your eyes, focus your vision on it, and notice how everything behind it becomes a blur.

This lens technique, called shallow focus, allows filmmakers to achieve depth by fooling our brains into naturally believing there’s space in between the plane in focus and the one that’s out.


Light and Shadow

If there’s one natural agent that influences our depth perception in the real world, it’s light. Point a light at something, whether near you or behind other objects, and your eyes will be drawn to focus there. By using high contrast lighting, filmmakers are able to inject both depth and dimension to their compositions.

Whereas soft lighting can make an image appear flatter, sharper lighting delivers harsh shadows that help add an illusion of depth. Usually, the higher the contrast you create between shadow and light, the stronger depth you’ll get in a shot.

Linear Perspective

If you want a quick (and fun) way of better understanding linear perspective, take out a blank sheet of paper and draw from the perspective of someone looking down a long hallway, bridge, or railroad tracks. You’ll notice that to match a realistic sense of depth you’ll have to draw converging lines that start wide near the bottom and become closer as they recede toward the vanishing point.

By using camera placement in combination with wide angle lenses, you can add depth by making the horizon seem farther away. Veteran cinematographers learn to get creative by utilizing different camera placements to achieve depth and energy via varying perspectives.



Though it may seem like a simple concept, occlusion is a powerful tool for creating depth, especially in CGI films and video games. Occlusion refers to the visual obstruction of a distant object with another object in the foreground. Similarly, for astronomers, occultation is all about studying what stars become visible and hidden depending on the course of the Moon’s orbit around Earth.

In filmmaking, this technique works alongside parallax to create depth. Usually, this effect comes naturally when filming people and objects positioned in front of other things. But if you ever find yourself with a tracking shot that feels like it’s lacking depth, considering having more objects in order to have a sharper occlusion effect. If there’s one filmmaker who learned how to make the tracking shot his own by using different techniques, including occlusion, it’s Steven Spielberg.

You can find more information about studying cinematography at New York Film Academy here.

5 Cinematography Books Filmmakers Should Check Out

While there are plenty of YouTube videos and other visual aids to supplement your cinematography school education, there’s a tried-and-true source that works even when the wi-fi is down—books.

What’s great about books is that you can study each page at your own pace, and often books on cinematography come with simple yet informative visual aids. Also, if they are still in print, there’s a good chance they’ve had the time to prove themselves a useful resource.

Here are some books on cinematography you can check out:

Cinematography: Theory and Practice: Image Making for Cinematographers and Directors
by Blain Brown

A lot of the core tenets of cinematography have stayed the same for the last 100 years or so, but with the advent of digital filmmaking that is no longer the case. Blain Brown’s definitive 2016 book covers a broad range of cinematography topics and includes much of the modern, digital equipment and techniques that come along with them. This book makes a great basic blueprint for you to familiarize yourself with the craft before honing your skills in a hands-on cinematography program. In general, you should always try to get the most updated print; currently, Brown’s book is in its third edition.

FilmCraft: Cinematography
by Tim Grierson and Mike Goodridge 

By working on set with state-of-the-art equipment, cinematography school is a great way for you to master a complicated craft. However, the value of some books is how they can hone in on very specific projects or people, and use these examples to explore the practical techniques you’ve learned. FilmCraft’s Cinematography book is a prime example of this—by looking closely at iconic films like Psycho, Chicago, and Hero, and through discussions with veterans of the art form like Vittorio Storaro and Christopher Doyle, this book lets you see cinematography in action.

On Suspiria and Beyond: A Conversation with Cinematographer Luciano Tovoli
by Luciano Tovoli

Even more specific is On Suspiria and Beyond, a book that focuses on one specific director of photography, Luciano Tovoli. By devoting an entire book to an interview with Tovoli, you can get firsthand knowledge from a veteran who has worked with such esteemed and talented directors as Dario Argento, Michelangelo Antonioni, Andrej Tarkovskjj, Julie Taymor, and many others. Tovoli was passionate about the use of color and goes into vivid detail about specific sequences from his work on the mind-bending horror film Suspiria. This book looks at cinematography in a hyperfocused manner you won’t find elsewhere.

Painting with Light
by John Alton

Academy Award-winning director of photography John Alton (An American in Paris, The Big Combo) first published Painting with Light in 1949, but his writings on the art form still hold a lot of weight. Once you’ve mastered the tools and craft in cinematography school, Painting with Light will help you explore how to use image making to determine the visual mood of a film, incorporating lighting, camera techniques, location choices, and more. As a plus, the book is not afraid to use non-technical language, so even beginners can delve into Alton’s work, perhaps as a precursor to taking cinematography classes.

Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers
by Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salivate

This book features fifteen conversations with modern cinematographers to give a firsthand look at how directors of photography work on set and approach their jobs. Authors Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salvato are both film critics, while the newest edition of Masters of Light features a preface by veteran cinematographer John Bailey. This is a must read for anyone looking to get inside the heads of contemporary cinematographers.

2019 Academy Awards: Best Cinematography Nominees

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced the nominees for the 91st annual Academy Awards, to be given out during ABC’s televised ceremony on Sunday, February 24. The Oscars will cap off a months-long awards season featuring industry veterans, newcomers, and as always, endless debates about who deserves to go home with the golden statue.

New York Film Academy (NYFA) takes a closer look at this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Achievement in Cinematography:

Cold War, Lukasz Zal

Polish director of photography Lukasz Zal was previously nominated by the Academy for Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, which he co-shot with Ryszard Lenczewski. Both Ida and Cold War showcase Zal’s immense talent with black and white photography. He has shot mostly documentary shorts and a few short films, making the nominations for two of his only features that much more notable.

The Favourite, Robbie Ryan

This is the first Oscar nomination for Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan. He has shot previously for director Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, American Honey) and Stephen Frears (Philomena). In total, Ryan has been director of photography for over 80 features, shorts, commercials, and music videos, including the films Wuthering Heights, The Last Days on Mars, and Slow West.

Never Look Away, Caleb Deschanel

Caleb Deschanel is a veteran director of photography who has shot such Hollywood films as Being There, The Right Stuff, The Natural, National Treasure, The Passion of the Christ, and Jack Reacher. This is Deschanel’s sixth Oscar nomination for cinematography; among others, he was nominated for Fly Away Home and The Patriot. His next film will be Disney’s live action remake of The Lion King.

Roma, Alfonso Cuarón

In addition to writing and directing Best Picture nominee Roma, Alfonso Cuarón also shot the semi-autobiographical film, a rare distinction for Hollywood directors. Roma was filmed in black-and-white on an Arriflex Alexa 65 digital camera, giving it a stark, unique look that has been near-universally praised. Other cinematography credits for Cuarón include several short films in the 1980s, as well as the television series Hora Marcada. While typically Cuarón delegates the role to other talented directors of photography such as Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki, this is his first credit as a cinematographer in nearly three decades.

A Star Is Born, Matthew Libatique

Matthew Libatique is a Queens-born Filipino American cinematographer who has previously worked with directors such as Spike Lee, Jon Favreau, and Darren Aronofsky, and was previously nominated for an Oscar for shooting Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Libatique was director of photography for the first film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man, and is currently working on the latest DCEU and Harley Quinn film, Birds of Prey. His other cinematography credits include Requiem for a Dream, Gothika, Everything Is Illuminated, Inside Man, Straight Outta Compton, and Venom, among many others.


Check out the New York Film Academy Blog after this year’s ceremony for a full list of the 2019 Oscar winners and losers!

A Q&A With New York Film Academy Cinematography Instructor Matt Kohnen

New York Film Academy Cinematography Instructor Matt Kohnen has been making movies since the mid 1990s. As an independent filmmaker, he’s seen the best and the worst of what the industry has to offer. His films can be seen all over the world thanks to Amazon Prime Video.

Here, he speaks with NYFA Correspondent Joelle Smith about his passion for film, his favorite classes to teach, and how he creates movies on an indie budget.

Matthew Kohnen Directors Reel 2018 from Matt Kohnen on Vimeo.

NYFA: When did you first know you were in love with cinema?

Kohnen: It was a gradual process. I’ve always loved movies. More than film, I loved stories. I devoured books. I got into theatre in high school and I stuck with it through undergrad, but I quickly realized I was not a good actor. So, I turned to writing and directing. In the late ‘90s, the indie film scene was hitting its stride, and I liked that atmosphere of creative risk. I haven’t looked back since.

NYFA: What kinds of stories did you start off wanting to tell?

Kohnen: I like stories with a touch of the fantastic to them. I’ve always been a fan of science fiction, or any work that goes beyond our current understanding of reality. Not because of the escapism — I like sci-fi because it allows us to take society, and its current trajectory, to the extreme.

I still write science-fiction, but the reality of indie filmmaking is that the price point is usually too far out of reach. My brother, Sean, and I have been working on telling small stories with big emotional impact.

NYFA: When did you decide to become a director and why did you choose this career path?

Kohnen: It’s hard to say there’s a “decisive moment,” per se. It’s not like when you apply to college. I never chose this particular path. It was a gradual thing. I became a director because, at UC Irvine, where I earned my undergrad in theater, the best roles were reserved for grad students and current faculty members.

I had to hustle and tell my own stories if I wanted to get something done. I found it very empowering. So, I kept at it. Learning that hustle turned out to be a great thing.

If you don’t get pulled into the studio orbit, which is very rare and hard to do, then you have to do it yourself — otherwise, you won’t do it at all. Most of my choices were less deliberate and more about finding a way into the industry. You just have to take the plunge, scary as it is.

NYFA: Your films Aaah! Zombies!! and The Funeral Guest center on death, and how such an event can bring people together. What is it about the theme of life after death that inspires you?

Kohnen: Funny, I’ve never heard my two features linked in that way. Not sure it’s the “death” issue that links them to me as much as it is the “outsider” parts. Both films feature the perspectives of people who are on the outside of something, looking in.

In Aaah! Zombies!!, the theme of life and death that inspired me was a funny idea that Sean and I had about subverting the classic horror genre. But as we wrote, the script took on a life of its own. The story became more about the characters who were dissatisfied with their current lives in some way. The humorous irony of it was this incident, in most zombie movies, would have been the “end” of the story. Instead, this incident sparked the “beginning” of our story because we stayed with their POV. It took death for them to begin living.

I like to look at perspectives that are outside what we are normally given. The perspectives we do not expect to see are often much more interesting; to see that something that is considered a monster can, in fact, be as human as anyone else. What connects these two films is the bond formed between characters.

In The Funeral Guest, the main character is on the outside of life, looking in on others. She doesn’t have a life of her own. Funerals are the place where the emotions and love and connection that she craves are on full display. Again, it takes the tragedy of someone else’s loss, and her being mistaken for someone that she’s not, to allow her to forge a true connection.  

NYFA: Tell us about your latest project.

Kohnen: Currently, I’m in the writing phase of a couple new scripts. One of the scripts we will be producing ourselves on a very-low-budget. The other script has a different path. I’m trying to launch that project with a larger production company. I’m not really in a place to talk much about either of those projects right now.

The Funeral Guest is available on Amazon and Amazon Prime, now. Go get it!

NYFA: What was the most challenging aspect of making this film?

Kohnen: Both of my features have had relatively low budgets. Cost presents a challenge all its own.

For Aaah! Zombies!!, it was more of an FX-driven piece, but it also took place at night. For three weeks we were vampires, staying up all night. (Get it? Vampires? Because we were working on a zombie film?) After that, Sean and I said we’d slap whichever one of us wrote “EXT.  NIGHT” in a script ever again. A pact we promptly broke, of course.

Overall, the issue facing most low-budget films is that they require every single person to be on top of their game. There’s no money to paper over mistakes. There isn’t any time to “find it” on set. Indie sets will shoot as many as five or six pages per day.

Trying to stay creative and focused, while still allowing for the play and flexibility that is required to make it all good, is probably the hardest part.

NYFA: What is your favorite thing about teaching at NYFA?

Kohnen: I love working with my students. People who come to NYFA have prepared to commit to this field. They love film. Many students arrive having already experimented with making their own films. When they make a breakthrough, I love seeing their eyes open and that “ah-ha” moment spread across their face, when they figure out what had been missing from their creative toolbox. Watching their art move up another level is extremely rewarding.

I also love that NYFA is international. Every day I watch students from vastly different worlds interact. Our students are bonded by their passion for film.

One of my favorite outcomes of the intersectional interaction that takes place at NYFA occurred when Co-Instructor Nick Sivakumaran and I, on one of our early Cinematography Practicum shoots, sat a kid from the middle of nowhere Montana next to a young woman from India. These are two people who would never have met in any other iteration of the world. They wound up married. They still are. I love that.

NYFA: What’s your favorite class to teach at NYFA?

Kohnen: Second Semester Cinematography in the MFA program is my favorite class to teach. It’s great because the students have received a good base from semester one. When they arrive in Second Semester Cinematography, we start introducing students to the dolly, advanced lighting, and camera. I love seeing them rise to the challenge.

NYFA: Is there a piece of advice you give your students as they head toward graduation?

Kohnen: Keep your eyes focused on the horizon, and put one foot in front of the other, every day. Even if it’s only one step, have goals, and know that as hard as it may seem, good work will always be recognized. Good luck!

Ready to learn more about Cinematography? Check out our Cinematography School offerings at the New York Film Academy.

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The Academy Awards: Our Favorite Cinematography Wins of Last 10 Years

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

While the acting and Best Picture awards typically dominate the buzz and conversation leading up to the Academy Awards, the cinematography category often has — quite literally — the showiest nominees. While typically the director has a say in how a film will look, as well as how specific shots will be laid out, their director of photography is usually the one tasked with creating this look.

Lighting, camera angles, camera movement, focus, and depth of field are just some of the choices a film’s cinematographer will make, with or without the director’s input. They will also have a say in the types of film stock and camera equipment used on set. All of these decisions culminate in a film’s final look, which is why it’s the director of photographer who will take home the Oscar when a film wins the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

While all of the nominees made the short list because of their unique, harrowing, complex, or gorgeous looks, here are just some of our favorite wins from the past decade:

Life of Pi – Claudio Miranda

Ang Lee adapted the novel Life of Pi and perfectly captured its otherworldly tale of a young man trapped in the middle of an ocean with a tiger. The movie is bright, colorful, and larger than life. In addition to taking place mostly on water, it incorporates magical islands and neon-infused skies, making it one of those films that should be illegal to watch on your phone. This deserves the 4K widescreen TV treatment at the least. No wonder it managed to beat out cinematography legend Roger Deakins’s outstanding work on the James Bond smash hit, Skyfall, as well as the other nominees in 2013.

Check out Life of Pi co-star and New York Film Academy alum Vibish Sivakumar here

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

La La Land – Linus Sandgren

Another colorful entry in this list is 2016’s La La Land, though the backdrop was less ocean fantasy and more theatrically artificial Los Angeles. But by combining traditional filmmaking techniques with modern sensibilities, Sandgren managed to put the audience in the world of writer/director Damien Chazelle’s making. La La Land earned multiple nominations and was a certified hit that left smiles on lots of faces.

La La Land

La La Land

Gravity – Emmanuel Lubezki

With nearly the entire action thriller taking place in space, you’d think there wouldn’t be much to shoot outside of star Sandra Bullock in an astronaut suit — but that’s partly why Lubezki’s work on Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is so impressive. By using outer space as negative space, Lubezki was able to capture a loneliness and isolation on levels rarely seen in cinema. Conversely, by using the bright blue Earth as a massive, larger-than-life backdrop in certain shots, the film never lost its sense of place, even as Bullock drifted aimlessly into a black nothingness.



Birdman – Emmanuel Lubezki 

Lubezki won a second consecutive Oscar for his work on Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, a film comprised of several long, complicated takes edited together to look like a single, continuous shot. This technique was used to some extent in Lubezki’s previous film Gravity, as well as Children of Men, but it was here where he really mastered the technique, transforming it from a mere gimmick into a statement about acting, theatre, and filmmaking in itself.



The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki

Emmanuel Lubezki appears frequently on this list because he became the first person to ever win three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography in a row, a distinction that shows just how brilliant he is behind the camera. His third win came for The Revenant, again directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, and again filled with seemingly endless one-shots. Even more impressive was that The Revenant used only natural lighting and was shot nearly entirely outside in the wilderness on very cold days. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, The Revenant manages to be one of the most gorgeous looking films of the last decade.

The Revenant

The Revenant

Who will win this year’s award? Could it be Roger Deakins for his expansive work in Blade Runner 2049? Or Dan Laustsen’s grimy fairy tale noir look for The Shape of Water? Or maybe Rachel Morrison, the Black Panther cinematographer and first ever woman nominated in the category for her work on Mudbound? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Interested in studying cinematography and taking home an Oscar or three yourself in the future? Check out New York Film Academy’s cinematography programs here.


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How to Style Your Cinematography like Steven Spielberg

From “Jaws” to “The Color Purple,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Schindler’s List,” Steven Spielberg has given us many of the most iconic moments in cinema. We have already extolled the genius of Spielberg in this previous NYFA article, but today we examine some of the specific cinematographic techniques he employs to achieve such spectacular results to help inspire your own cinematographic stylings.

Sideways tracking shot.

A sideways tracking shot follows the movement of the characters. Although it is a classic technique, Spielberg makes it his own. Spielberg adds considerable visual texture to the shots by putting all manner of objects and extras between the camera and the two main subjects, to enhance the richness of the frame and the visual perception of movement.

Spielberg also uses the variant of having the actors approach the camera after tracking, ending in a close-up, as exampled by the scene in “Jaws” when the camera tracks Brody and his wife to the fateful boat.

Introducing a character.

As the below video essay details, Spielberg often uses either action or fraction (glimpses of body parts or features) to introduce his protagonists, and some of his most memorable introductions employ both. Think of one of the most iconic character introductions of all film time: to Indiana Jones in the first “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

The long take.

A long take, aka a “oner,” is a continuous shot played out in real time. Unlike other directors, Spielberg’s long takes tend to be less stylized and more emotionally driven. As this No Film School article puts it, “Spielberg disguises these long takes in a number of ways, allowing audiences to become immersed in the dramatic energy of the scene without feeling the kinetic energy of the camera.” For some examples from everything from “Saving Private Ryan” to “Jurassic Park,” check out this video by Tony Zhou.

Over the shoulder.

Over the shoulder shots are common enough in cinema, but Spielberg uses dramatic and claustrophobic over the shoulder shots to create effects that push the boundaries of classic cinematographic framing. The dramatic shot uses a wide lens, making the character in the foreground look bigger than the other character, which conveys a feeling of dominance. The claustrophobic shot increases the amount of shoulder in the frame, pushing the main subject away from center. 

Frame within a frame.

A cinematic frame within a frame utilizes physical objects–mirrors, windows, doors, power lines–to divide the frame and create striking composition. In “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” Spielberg and his cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, use a circular lamp fixture, and in “Minority Report,” they use a headset held by one of the characters in the foreground. The novelty of these framing devices suggests how you can use everyday objects for brilliant aesthetic effects.

What are your favorite examples of Spielberg cinematography? Let us know in the comments. Learn more about cinematography at the New York Film Academy.

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The Best Cinematography The 59th Annual Grammys has to Offer

Beyoncé set the bar high with her HBO video extravaganza that dominated the MTV Music Awards last summer. But it’s not just “Lemonade” that’s got the cinematography geeks all a buzz. From Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” to Bowie’s heartbreaking “Lazarus,” many of this year’s Grammy-nominees enlisted top-notch directors and cinematographers to bring their music to filmic life. Here we pull back the curtain on the magicians behind the cameras, who made the year’s best songs look great.

Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”

Up for 11 Grammys, the tour-de-force album celebrates black women, the South, and music itself. The HBO spectacular testifies to Beyoncé’s ability to direct the look as well as the sound of her art with its four Emmy nominations. Beyoncé employed a talented roster of cinematographers to capture her star-studded cast. Malik Sayeed took home the MTV best cinematography award for his work on “Formation,” and other notable cinematographers include Dikayl Rimmasch (who also wears his hat as director on the project), and Meadowland director Reed Morano. As Film School Rejects concludes: “There’s a reason why Beyoncé’s special looks and moves like artful cinema: there’s a team of talented artists behind her.”

Radiohead’s “Daydreaming”

In a recent article, we examined the most filmic music videos by Radiohead, and looked forward to the next single off “Moon Shaped Pool,” up for alternative album of the year. Radiohead did not disappoint! Paul  Thomas Anderson directed and, as this article at Flavorwire suggests, likely acted as cinematographer for the much-analyzed “Daydreaming.” From domestic interiors to snowy cliff exteriors, Anderson pulls the camera through endless doors to create a symbol-laden look that invites film and music fans alike to watch and re-watch.

Adele’s “Hello”

“25” is up for eight Grammys, including album of the year. The single “Hello” is up for song of the year. The video for “Hello,” directed by Xavier Dolan and with cinematography by André Turpin, is an intimate portrayal of loss and regret. Actor Tristan Wilds was cast opposite Adele and it seems  the singer and her talented team approached “Hello” as they would a short film. Despite the flip phones, the look packs an emotional punch, causing Adele to say, “It’s my best video and I’m so proud of it.”

Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?”

It’s not a big surprise that Bieber’s “Purpose” is up for album of the year, but finding him (or at least his video) a topic of discussion at No Film School is a bit of a surprise. Yet it’s not the heartthrob the indie film buffs are interested in, but rather the work of cinematographer Joshua Reis. “Breaking Down the Cinematography in Justin Bieber’s ‘What Do You Mean’ Music Video” praises Reis for his designed color theme, which ties together the traditionally lit exteriors with the innovatively lit interiors (shot in an actual hotel room): “Reis does some beautifully intriguing things with light and color in the music video — the harsh shadows and the neon greens and reds create what Matt [Workman] describes as a ‘modern film noir’ look.”

David Bowie’s “Lazarus”

The heartbreaking video of impending death and impossible resurrection was released three days before Bowie’s passing. With the help of cinematographer Crille Forsberg, director Johan Renck (of “Breaking Bad” fame) created a look that helped Bowie turn “hospice care into high art,” according to Pitchfork, who listed the video as #2 in its list of the Best Videos of 2016. Bowie is up for five posthumous Grammys for his final album “Blackstar.”

What are your picks for the most cinematic moments in music videos this year? Will you be watching the Grammys on Feb. 12? Let us know in the comments below!

Cinematography Jobs: How to Shoot Stylish Wedding Videos


If you’re a cinematographer, you’ve probably thought of all the avenues to explore where you can apply your skills and expertise – movies, of course, but also serial television, commercials, corporate videos, music videos, and web series; but one of the most enjoyable cinematic endeavors may be one you have not yet considered – wedding videos.

While it is certainly fun and uplifting to caputure couples in love on their big day, it’s not without its pressures, especially given that you may be the sole party responsible for capturing exceptionally personal footage (and there’s only one opportunity to get it right.)

Luckily you’re a cinematographer, ergo you’re already far more qualified than the bride’s drunk Uncle Tom. So, let’s get started!

1. Communication > Videography


Poor communication skills won’t only create a bad impression (and therefore stymieing future recommendations), but it’ll also leave you woefully under-prepared for the couple’s big day.

No two weddings are alike, and the same goes for the couple’s expectations. Will there be any outside-the-norm events they want you to capture? Has the groom got a special surprise he wants you to be there for? Any particular guests or parts of the venue that need extra attention?

Even just agreeing on the times you’ll be there and shooting need to be established long in advance so that everyone is on the same page.

This doesn’t just stop at the couple, either. It’s imperative to speak to the venue, too, and find out the rules, regulations, logistics and possible restrictions that you may face on the day. Same goes for the DJ or band, although for different reasons (more on this later.)

And when the day is done, you job isn’t. There’s an element of customer aftercare in wedding videography; naturally you’ll  want to carry out editing and post-production work, but also ensure they’re happy with the footage you deliver. If you’d set up expectations properly in the initial steps, this should be easy to achieve and you’ll be rewarded with a glowing testimonial.

2. Pack for Expedience


By all means pack your car with as much videography equipment as you like, but bear in mind that when the action starts, it’s no understatement to say that you’ll be running around like a lunatic. Capturing a wedding video is a full-contact sport!

To help you get from one side of the venue to film the bride’s make-up session to the other side of the venue to film the groom’s side of the wedding party, try to limit yourself to no more than a single camera and two lenses (three, at a push).

You can always return to the car during brief reprieves to swap out gear ahead of the evening’s festivities.

3. Two Halves of the Equation


A wedding photographer need only worry about light; you’ve got the envious job of not only capturing video, but audio too.

Avoid the crying baby at the back of the venue, use multiple audio recording devices (especially if the one in your camera isn’t great) and consider putting a lavalier on the groom and/or wedding officiant – be sure to allow for extra setting-up time to arrange this!

The other consideration to make is the evening’s entertainment – needless to say, bands and DJs can be louder than your portable mics can handle without peaking. If possible, ask the act if you can plug directly into the PA system (not always doable, but great if you can.)

4. Hit the Same Beats as the Photographer…

… but keep out of their way! Definitely liaise with the photographer before the ceremony if you get the chance, but either way, don’t get under their feet when the fun begins.

Giving the photographer room to move comes with another benefit: the more you blend into the background, the more relaxed the couple will be. Being constantly aware that you’re being recorded is enough to make anyone paranoid!

Otherwise, your aim as a videographer is to capture the same key moments that the photographer will be aiming for, albeit in live-action format.

5. Keep Calm and Carry On


The run-up to the ceremony itself can be the most tense and nerve-wracking moments of anyone’s life. Don’t let the atmosphere get to you personally; a videographer running around in a fluster only exacerbates things.

Stable video is also the main goal – given that tripods aren’t usually effective (aside from the main ceremony), it’s doubly imperative that you remain as calm as possible while in the eye of the storm. Stay focused, keep tabs on the key players, and identify the best shots. The happy couple are counting on you.

Have any great tips for creating the best wedding video? Let us know in the comments below!

10 Cinematography Tricks for Working With Only Natural Lighting

When asked why he preferred shooting with all-natural lighting, Stanley Kubrick simply replied, “Because that’s the way we see things.”


It’s a trend that’s growing in filmmaking. The excellent “Dallas Buyers Club,” for instance, used only all-natural lighting during filming. This sounds like it might make things difficult, but it actually came with its own benefits. Director Jean-Marc Vallee stated that the actors didn’t have to worry about hitting their marks to keep within lighting zones, so it offered a lot more creative freedom for the cast. The sheer heat of artificial lighting rigs was also not missed!

Whether you’re shooting with natural light simply because you’re on a budget or for stylistic reasons, we’ve got some tried and tested tricks on how to get the best out of it.

When Shooting Indoors:


1. If the room has windows, it’s generally a bad idea to shoot towards them. This will lead to overexposure and a nasty, bleached-out effect to the background (as well as anything in front of the windows being underexposed). Rather than wrestle between the two extremes, place place the camera adjacent to the window — to get more of a sidelight. This provides natural lighting from the window and avoids blow-out. This is extra important when interviewing for documentaries!

2. Load up on gel sheets. Specifically, ND gel. When applied to windows, it really cuts down on the amount of daylight and makes exposure a lot easier to manage (more on how ND filtering works here)

3. Aside from lighting itself, the most important thing in any cinematographer’s lighting kit are reflectors.  We cannot understate this: they’re definitely vital outdoors, and even more so when shooting inside using only natural light. It’s by far the easiest way to manipulate and maximize whatever lighting you do have to get rid of problematic shadows. Note: You may find it difficult to get a proper return if you are reflecting indirect light.

4. Shake it up. You can’t always manipulate the light exactly to your liking, so manipulate the subject instead. Extreme planning before a natural light shoot is important so as to not waste time on the day, but be mindful that it’s sometimes best to scrap what you had on paper if it’s not looking right in the camera. Reposition everything if you must, and be mindful of those shadows as you go.

5. Scrims are your best friend. Scrims will not change the quality of light from hard to soft, but it will knock down the intensity by diffusing light. Diffusion may be your best friend.

When Shooting Outside:


6. Take advantage of blue hour and golden hour. Blue hour refers to the sliver of time after the sun disappears over the horizon but the sky is still lit, while golden hour is well known to filmmakers as the hour leading up to sunset (or an hour after sunrise). Blue hour is really handy for when you want to illustrate that it’s nighttime but don’t have any way of lighting a scene during actual darkness, and golden hour simply makes everything look gorgeous. There’s even a website that helps you plan for it in advance. That all said…

7. It’s not all about the golden hour. Keeping track of the sun is a very important factor in outdoor filmmaking, but you’ll also need to be conscious of what might get in between you and the sun at any moment — i.e.: clouds. While there’s not much you can do about the weather, you can note down any trees or buildings that might cast shadows at any given time (ideally when you do your first location scout).

8. Make sure everyone on the crew is prepared ahead of time. As with shooting indoors, you don’t want to be spending any more time than necessary setting up a shot or running through lines with the actors, especially when the sun is rapidly heading towards the horizon.

9. Make use of flags. Just as reflectors give you better control of how much light is going where, you’ll often find yourself in a situation where you’ve got too much light (particularly during summer day shoots). Flags — or cutters — are sections of thick black cloth stretched around a metal frame that allow you to block out sections of light and add some dramatic contrasting to the shot.

10. Pay attention to color and emotion. Getting the optimal amount of light is one thing, but getting the right “flavor” is another altogether. Be sure to check out our guide to color design, since a clinically perfect shot without any emotion whatsoever isn’t very compelling.

So there we have it: Hollywood-style cinematography without a Hollywood budget.

Our immersive 1-year, non-degree cinematography program offers students the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of cinematography through composition, exposure, and lighting. Learn more about the program on our 1-Year Program page.


Ways to Create Space When Filming in a Small Area


If you’re having trouble making a confined area appear larger when filming in a small area, you’re not alone; professional filmmakers also find themselves returning to the drawing board when attempting to create space and illustrate depth and scale in a small area. And even with all the fancy CGI and other advanced technology at their disposal, filmmakers often choose to rely on techniques that have been around for almost as long as cinematography itself.

Below are some of the ways you can make your small space feel much grander and make the most out of a limited area — so that you’re not forced to cut any awesome ideas you had in mind. With enough practice, soon you’ll also have an eye for making even a tiny room appear bigger.



One of the oldest tricks in the book for creating the illusion of depth is called deep space, and can be used to trick the audience’s brain into imagining that the space is deeper than it actually is. Why do we use the word “trick?” Because any screen you are looking at, whether it’s a movie screen, a computer, or your handheld device, the image has height and width but there is no depth. The audiences’ eyes are always focused on the surface of the screen. Depth is an illusion created by photography. But in the look of “deep space,” we are doing everything possible to enhance this illusion.

Here are a number of things you can do to create deep space:

1. Use wide-angle lenses.


Wide-angle lenses expand space, while telephoto lenses compress space. By using the wide-angle lens, we can create the illusion that the space is much deeper than it actually is. The wider the lens, the deeper the space.

2. Use high number F. stops.


Using the higher number F. stops (f. 11, f. 22, f. 32) when exposing your image, will dramatically increase your depth of field.  Depth of field is a technical term used to describe how much of the image is in focus. We can have everything in the frame from three inches to infinity in focus or we can shrink depth of field so that someone’s eyes are in focus and the tip of their nose is out of focus. By using high f. stops, we can put the background into focus; the audience will be more likely to look at it. And when they do, their brains will be fooled into thinking that they are refocusing from the foreground to the background and back again, heightening the illusion of depth.

3. Stage your actors perpendicular to the flat picture plane.


By staging one of your actors in the foreground and another in the background, the audience will be fooled into imagining that they are looking into the distance of the shot.

4. Move your actors perpendicular to the flat picture plane.

Watching the actors move toward or away from the camera will reinforce the illusion of depth in your shot.

5. Move the camera perpendicular to the flat picture plane.

Moving the camera into or out of the shot, even slightly, is like taking the audience by the hand and leading them through the space, giving the depth more credibility.

6. Light with shadow.


Shadow is something our brains use to determine the depth of objects. Just imagine if I drew a circle on the page. It would appear flat. But as soon as I began to shade it, the circle would have the illusion of a third dimension. So use light to create shadow on your actors and your set, to reveal the contours and depth of your image.

7. Place bright objects in the foreground and keep the background dark.

Bright objects have the illusion of advancing, while dark objects have the illusion of receding. By placin actors in bright costumes, against dark backgrounds, we can enhance the illusion of depth.

8. Place warm colors in the foreground and cool colors in the background.

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 3.41.37 PM

Just like bright and dark objects, colors have a similar effect. Warm colors have the optical illusion of advancing, while cool colors have the illusion of receding. So by placing actors in warm colored costumes against cool colored backgrounds, we can, once again, enhance the illusion of depth.


This all sounds good, doesn’t it? But what if you’re shooting in a really small space, say a bedroom in a typical student apartment. It’s probably the size of a closet! Perhaps the room is so small, you can’t even get the camera inside it. Some cameras are large. If you throw in the tripod, assuming you’re using one, you might find that you’ve taken up 2-3 feet just with the camera. In addition, some lenses have a minimum focusing distance. In other words, even after squeezing the camera into the room, you can’t get far enough away from your subject to focus on it.

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 3.48.23 PM

Well, here’s a handy guerilla shooting technique: shoot into a mirror. That’s right. Get a mirror and mount it on the wall and back your camera away. By doing this you can effectively double your distance from your actor. If the mirror is 3 feet from the actor and the camera is 3 feet from the mirror, you’re now 6 feet away from the actor. This means you can use a longer lens if you choose and solve that tricky problem of minimum focus distances. Of course, your image will be flipped left to right. But if that bothers you, you can always flip it back again in the editing room. Naturally, the better the mirror, the less likely you’ll have ripple distortion in the reflected image.  

What’s your favorite trick for capturing expansive footage in a small space? Let us know in the comments below!

Beyoncé Music Video Evolution: 5 Cinematography Lessons

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 1.08.25 PM

Beyoncé may have begun her career as just one member of a commercial RnB band, but Beyoncé has evolved over the past two decades to become the most powerful woman in entertainment and a master of all trades: singer, songwriter, dancer, producer, and business woman.

But Queen Bee has another talent that is frequently overlooked; Beyoncé has an amazing knack for great cinematography when it comes to her music videos.

September 4 marks Bey-Day, so it’s a fitting time to look back on the evolution of a pop icon with five of the most cinematically brilliant Beyoncé videos to date.

Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it)”

The one that put an already unprecedented career right into the stratosphere. With over half a billion views on YouTube, “Single Ladies” will always be a timeless icon of Beyoncé at her best.

Female empowerment is a hallmark of both Beyoncé’s songwriting and music videos, but she’s also got a penchant for black and white cinematography.

Coupled with a clever use of lighting to effectively remove the set entirely, the stark imagery and clean lines accentuate the exceptional dance choreography by putting it front and center. And while there are a few cuts in the video edit, the “Single Ladies” video was shot in one take — making the finished product even more of a technical marvel.

The golden lesson for filmmakers here is that less is often more.

“Run the World (Girls)”

While we all love a bit of stripped-back Beyoncé, she can also take it to feature film-like extremes to great effect, and the video for “Run the World” is a classic example.

Implementing a strong visual theme reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” universe, everything here is cranked up to 11: alongside the usual dance-heavy routine, we’ve got an insane amount of extras, special effects, location and costume changes, props, fire, water cannons, and floodlights.

Oh, and a lion for good measure.

The color pallet is also eclectic, with bright block coloring of the girls’ outfits playing in contrast to the muted tones of the wider set and the monochrome outfits worn by the male extras.

The camera work in “Run the World” is worth singling out, too, since it’s effectively a master class in exploiting visually interesting angles. At one point (the 3:17 minute mark) it even shoots upside down.

The only thing stopping all this turning into a jumbled mess of visuals is a clinically perfect approach to the editing, with every shot exactly as long as it needs to be.


Aaaand we’re back to Beyoncé at her most basic. In fact, it’s the least technical music video she’s ever produced…

… because sometimes, the best approach is to just grab a camera and start filming.

From a musical standpoint it’s perhaps not Bey’s most well known track, but the video itself serves as a delightfully goofy reminder that, above anything else, filmmaking should be fun.


Beyoncé’s most political (and arguably controversial) video output to date, with more than a few overt references to Hurricane Katrina and racial tensions across the country.

The video was directed by Melina Matsoukas, a Grammy Award winner who has worked with Beyoncé on a number of occasions since 2007. Matsoukas stands firmly behind the idea of substance mattering far more than expensive equipment: “It’s not necessary for a quality video. A good video has the right visuals, a well conceptualized story and should be exciting and elicit reaction.”

With “Formation,” all those boxes are well and truly checked.


With the release of this year’s unanimously praised “Lemonade,” the queen of reinvention managed to push the envelope of innovation even further by putting out a 60-minute conceptual film to support the record.

Divided into 11 chapters incorporating poetry by Somali poet Warsan Shire, we couldn’t possibly explore the entirety of the visual extravaganza that is “Lemonade” in this short post. But suffice to say, this piece draws you in with impressive set pieces and a delicate yet purposeful handling of the divisive themes presented throughout. While “Lemonade” often delves into the poetically abstract, it never loses the viewer to outright obscurity and the pacing keeps things moving through both the light and dark of the album.

If this is the direction Beyoncé is heading for the next stage of her career, we’re all about it.

Here’s to 35 more years. Happy birthday, Queen Bee.

How to Incorporate Your GoPro in Your Cinematography

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The GoPro was designed to solve a problem that Nick Woodman discovered while surfing in Australia in 2002; he wanted to capture the intensity of taking on big waves to share with others, but since he couldn’t afford the expensive equipment available at the time he had to settle for filming the surfers from the beach.

Enter the GoPro.

Although they didn’t immediately become widely used in Hollywood, GoPro cameras today are used in many professional productions, such as 2012’s “Leviathan” and 2014’s “Need For Speed.” Like these big-budget movies, you too can create amazing scenes with your GoPro. Of course it’s not enough to just strap it on and see what happens — you’ll need to plan ahead to enhance your cinematographic experience with this innovative tool.

Show Multiple Angles

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One of a cinematographer’s greatest responsibilities is giving viewers a sense of space. Another term used for this is coverage, which involves using several shots to let viewers know where they are. GoPro cameras make it easier to gain this footage since you can pretty much strap one on anywhere you desire.

GoPro cameras are especially useful for action scenes, such as an intense car chase. You know filming the cars from a distance isn’t going to cut it, so what you do is attach a GoPro camera to one of the vehicles. Seeing the action close up as the vehicle zooms past surrounding objects will provide an entirely new level of immersion for the audience.

To really give a sense of space, professionals recommend using more than one GoPro camera. This was done in “Need For Speed” to give them more angles to use with during editing. With more views and footage to work with, they were able to combine together the shots that were more effective at sucking you into the action while not leaving you disoriented.

Use The Protune Setting

Simply put, the Protune setting on a GoPro allows you to capture a higher level of color image quality. You can seamlessly integrate between your GoPro and cinema footage to deliver gorgeous scenes, even if your regular camera is much more powerful. Even though the GoPro footage isn’t enhanced dramatically, but it is enough to be used in professional films.

With the Protune setting you can adjust a number of things, including exposure, ISO, white balance, sharpness, and more. More importantly, its color correction features lets you capture highlights and shadows by setting the color to flat. A flatter look provides more flexibility when looking to improve the footage in post-production.

Take It Anywhere, Shoot Anything


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Getting the most out of a GoPro camera means using it in ways no other camera can be. Arguably the neatest perk is its small size, which means you can easily take it anywhere you go and strap it onto anything. GoPro has given filmmakers all over the world the freedom to deliver video from immersive perspectives that previously required overpriced equipment.

Think outside the box to give an otherwise forgettable scene a bit more memorable. Shooting a scene where a bulky guy is benching hundreds of pounds? Strap the GoPro onto the end of the bar to let the audience feel the heavy weight being pushed up and down. From vivid sports moments and calm nature scenes to an intimate documentary interview, the GoPro eliminates the limitations of a regular camera.

No Surprises: Radiohead’s 5 Most Filmic Music Videos

Karma Police screenshot of fire on road

A shade over twenty years ago, a little indie band from Oxfordshire, England released their debut single. That single was “Creep,” and it immediately put Radiohead on the map.

Having come out of the gate swinging, the band only grew in popularity and managed to stay ahead of the game thanks, in part, to a deep commitment to dramatically evolving their style along the way.

Thom Yorke and his merry band’s penchant for experimentation hasn’t solely been confined to music, either. Their accompanying music videos are also a strange mix—at times avant-garde, at others outright bizarre, but more often than not they’ve served as food for thought for both musicians and filmmakers alike.

With this in mind—and with the new album A Moon Shaped Pool has just landed with the film referencing music video for “Burn the Witch”—let’s take a look back over Radiohead’s five most thought-provoking music videos with a cinematographic eye.

Lotus Flower (2011)

Directed By: Garth Jennings

Black and white, sparsely shot, slightly unhinged, and not making a lick of sense. If that sounds like David Lynch to you, you’re not the only one.

Going on to gain a Grammy nomination, the video was directed by Garth Jennings who notably directed 2005’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which is pretty much the polar opposite in feel to the “Lotus Flower” short. Jennings has never revealed whether Yorke’s white shirt and bowler hat is a nod to Stanley Kubrick.

No Surprises (1997)

Directed by: Grant Lee

Lo-fi simplicity is something of a hallmark of a good Radiohead video, as proven with this visually arresting, one-shot video for one of OK Computer‘s finest songs (and one that the band spontaneously played in one take on getting set up for the album’s first recording session.)

While the song itself is inspired by the nursery rhyme, the music video is very reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s cinematic style—simple ideas executed without distraction, preferring to put the subject at the forefront of the frame.

There’s also a touch of David Fincher about it, owing to the moody palette and lighting, but the take-home here is that a captivating, suspenseful idea usually trumps any visual effects wizardry (and countless similar music videos have followed in the wake of “No Surprises”).

We won’t reveal how they minimized the risk of drowning poor ol’ Thom; for that, you’ll need to see the Radiohead documentary Meeting People is Easy.

Karma Police (1997)

Directed by: Jonathan Glazer

Following deftly on from “No Surprises” was the record’s second single “Karma Police”, which had an equally captivating video to match. Curiously, the idea was originally pitched to Marilyn Manson, who declined.

Directed by maestro Jonathan Glazer (who also directed “Street Spirit” and Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity,” among feature films such as Under the Skin), the video is a typically surreal depiction of an antagonistic situation, and if it looks like it was inspired by some kind of fever dream, that’s because it actually was. But in terms of presentation, the Coen Brothers is strong with this one but Glazer has also admitted borrowing liberally from Kubrick throughout his career.

Of the working process and of getting collaborators on board with bizarre ideas, Glazer says: “It starts with an idea that I’ll be able to articulate, and then it’s about almost putting that idea in a laboratory and inspecting it… and it’s a long process. We don’t start with a story, we start with a feeling, and [that feeling] is your North Star.”

Alas, despite being one of most people’s favorite Radiohead music videos, Glazer himself saw it as a failed experiment.

Just (1995)

Directed by: Jamie Thraves

Even Radiohead’s most conventional music videos have an air of mystery around them.

The overdriven melodrama here is almost certainly inspired by Douglas Sirk, whose influence can also be seen in Pulp Fiction (and directly alluded to by Tarantino, also, when Vincent Vega orders the “Douglas Sirk steak.”) Thraves was picked out especially by the band to direct the short after seeing his experimental University efforts; it was Thraves’ first assignment, and he’s gone on to work with the likes of Coldplay and Damien Rice since.

We can’t help but wonder if the sidewalk guy’s mysterious final line gave inspiration to Sofia Coppola—at the end of Lost in Translation, a similar scenario plays out and also drove viewers up the wall with intrigue.

Pretty clever marketing trick when you think of it.

Burn The Witch (2016)

Directed by: Chris Hopewell

At the time of writing, this one’s fresh on the ‘tubes, so it may be a little premature to call this an enduring Radiohead classic, but we suspect it will be and serves as a great point to close off.

Hugely different from everything that has come before for the band, The Wicker Man is clearly the main influence on this one. The story is as creepy as it always was, but made even more sinister here when presented in the style of a 1960s English kid TV show (a la Trumpton and Camberwick Green.)

In reference to the most glaring contrast between the bright art style and the sinister undertones, animator Virpi Kettu revealed that this was at the behest of the band themselves who wanted to satirize the idea of idyllic rural communities as espoused by right-wing politicians.

It’ll be interesting to see which single follows from A Moon Shaped Pool, but in the meantime do let us know your thoughts—got a favorite Radiohead music video you wish had made the cut? Any neat film tricks you’ve been inspired to try out? We’ll see you down in the comments!

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Cinematography at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

Legalities Of Drone Filming

Establishing shots have gotten a lot easier, grander in scope and, moreover, inexpensive thanks to the advent of drone filmmaking.

Long gone are the days that you’d have to hire a helicopter to get that perfect aerial shot, but the laws regarding drone filmmaking are yet to catch up. Given it’s a topic that comes up frequently amongst our filmmaking school students as they embrace drone technology, today we’re going to delve into the specifics.

Drone legalities

And the overview is quite a snappy one. In a nutshell:

– Do not fly above 400 feet
– Give way to all other aircraft
– No drones weighing more than 55lbs
– Do not fly within 5 miles of an airport (without first getting approval from air traffic control)
– No flying near people or stadiums

All well and good, and really, the above constitutes common sense (and as far as we know, there aren’t any filmmaking drones that weigh anywhere near 55lbs—the heaviest we could find is the $150,000+ Phantom 4K Flex drone clocking in at around 30lbs).

But one line that the FAA issued in recent times has caused quite a bit of head scratching and frustration:

“The aircraft should be flown strictly for hobby or recreational use and not for payment or commercial purposes.”


Obviously, this is of concern to a filmmaker looking to produce a movie that they’ll ultimately sell or show for profit. So what gives with this little rule? Why does your financial situation have any kind of impact on drone flight safety?

Section 333

There’s a lot of literature issued by the FAA on this topic, but to boil it all down, the authority has deemed it necessary to draw a line in the sand when it comes to commercial drone piloting—i.e for-profit filmmakers—because that would come under “civil operating,” and unless the distinction is made there, it means that anyone and everyone could technically self-certify their own unmanned aircraft and commandeer the skies without limits.

Essentially, it’s to avoid unregulated chaos but this does add some extra red tape to us as filmmakers since a Section 333 exemption is required. Applying for one is a rather lengthy process and the average reviewal takes around 120 days—not hugely practical when you’re trying to get a production in the can.

The good news is that there is a lot of pressure being put on the FAA to relax its rules when it comes to filmmaking, and the recent news that it has just granted a blanket exemption to a handful of Hollywood companies suggests it’s considering this.

A Note on Locality & Privacy

As you can probably imagine, locality plays a big part in what is and isn’t permitted. You can fly a drone at 100ft in the middle of Death Valley to your heart’s content and not get into any trouble, but flying in around The Mall in Washington is prohibited and comes with some hefty fines for doing so.

Also, as a responsible filmmaker you’ll want to observe social etiquette and respect the privacy of the public i.e. no flying or filmmaking over or near private property (and even some public land prominently displays ‘no drone zone’ posters, which should be observed.)

Recent Developments

However, the landscape seems to be quickly changing, with two recent developments occurring this month. Firstly, the FAA issued a hefty $1.9 million fine against an aerial photography company that had been flying drones through crowded airspace in New York City and Chicago without permission. And just this week, the Obama administration announced plans for the FAA to start a drone registration program just as the holiday season begins, when drone sales are expected to rise significantly. While details of the plan are still being ironed out, it will effect hobbyists as well businesses.

In conclusion, as the regulation of drones continues to evolve, be sure to keep up to date on all drone-related news, always exercise your common sense, and look up local FAA guidelines and prohibitions where you are (and adhere to them!)

[su_note]Learn more about the School of Cinematography at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.[/su_note]

Cinematography Hacks & Toolbag Essentials No DP Should Be Without!

Cinematography is a highly complex field that relies just as much on sheer intuition as it does technical prowess, with many cinematographers spending years if not decades honing their eye for what constitutes as a great shot. As one of our graduates from cinematography school put it when asked about the best piece of work she’d done: “I don’t know. I haven’t filmed it yet.”

The quest for the best can also see a cinematographer having to invest in some pricey equipment along the way, though you’d be surprised at how much money can be saved with only a little makeshift ingenuity (resulting in everyone else on set gazing on in awe at your clever yet effective tricks).

With this in mind, scroll on to discover some of the toolbag essentials every cinematographer should carry with them…as well as a few insider secrets that many overlook!

Cinematography Hacks & Essential Tools

Cinematography hacks

Tape. We’ll get the tape thing out of the way first, which is by far the most obvious entry on this list but one which cannot be overstated: you’ll need tape. A lot of tape. Pack as many rolls as you think you’ll need, then throw an extra couple in your kit bag…then add another for good measure.

Wheelchair Dolly. Want a quick and cheap way of getting steady shots without the use of extensive tracking? You need to get yourself an inexpensive, secondhand wheelchair.

Obviously, the shots aren’t going to be quite as steady as if it was on a track and you may require some stabilization, but there’s no denying that the resulting footage is pretty spectacular when compared against the cost (especially given that you can get lightweight, foldable wheelchairs for next to nothing on Craigslist sometimes). For reference, the above shot in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless was achieved using a wheelchair dolly, assumedly without any stabilization whatsoever. Not bad, huh?

Ivar Side Unit. You’re probably wondering what the heck an ‘Ivar side unit’ is, and what has it got to do with cinematography? Not a lot, really – it’s a $13 side unit from Ikea:

Ikea dolly track

What’s relevant about it is that with a little bit of modification, it makes for a superb makeshift dolly track for those occasions where a wheelchair doesn’t cut it—thanks to Romain for this one! You can see how he’s done it here.

A Bag of Rice. As a good director of photography, you’ll have stands and clamps and tape to secure just about every piece of equipment going…except for that one thing you forgot about that you just can’t stand up straight on the day. But don’t fear—a pound of rice loosely filling a bag can serve as a resting cushion for your camera or pretty much anything else you need to stabilize.

Vaseline. Need a soft focus filter? Simply smear a light amount of vaseline over otherwise clear glass, and you’re good to go.


Flexible PVC Piping. It’s a little bulky, but given the amount of times this stuff will save your bacon, you won’t regret throwing some in the back of the car (you’ll want to pre-split some of them for ease of inserting things into them).

Velcro Straps. Gaffer tape is one thing, but many DPs overlook the power of a simple velcro strap – a multipack of brightly colored straps is a quick alternative to tape, and is far easier and less messy to undo after you’ve finished a shoot. Particularly good for cabling!

army knife

Swiss Army Knife. Don’t just pack a box cutter and assume that’ll do. Invest in a decent Swiss army knife and you’ll truly be ready for any eventuality.

Knowledge. This may sound glib, but more important than having the best gear on the planet is knowing how to use the stuff. After all, a $500 camera in the hands of someone who is intimately familiar with it can usually achieve far better results than someone with a full RED camera rig and a thousand filters but no idea how to use them…

… but hey, that’s what cinematography school is for!

Contemporary Trends in Cinema: 2015 Report

Over at our cinematography school, we regularly chat with filmmakers on the topic of contemporary trends in cinema—what’s hot right now, what is likely to trend in the future, and what’s already had its day.

There’s been some great discussion so far, and we figured it would be useful to summarize the observations here. Presenting:

Contemporary Trends in Cinema: 2015 Report

Contemporary cinema trends

Aerial Footage

We’re seeing a lot more aerial footage being incorporated into final cuts as of the last couple of years, particularly for establishing shots. Why? Simply because drone technology has become more accessible and affordable, with aerial devices capable of shooting at even 4k resolutions available for a shade over the $1,000 mark.

It can certainly add a lot more production value to an edit for relatively little cost, though it’ll be interesting to see if its usage frequency will plateau in years to come once it really becomes commonplace or increases as the technology continues to advance.

Subdued Lighting

Particularly over the past year, it seems to be a strong contemporary trend for cinematographers to pare down lighting rigs and keep things simple and soft, with as few lighting sources as possible (and often a heavy reliance on using solely natural and ‘golden hour’ lighting.) The use of backlighting is also in a period of waning at the moment.

When practiced to the extreme, this can give a very moody effect to the resulting filmeither intentionally or unintentionallybut this hugely depends on the color palette and saturation used in conjuction (more on this below.)

Otherwise, it’s a contemporary trend which was, in all probability, born out of a need to soften some of the harsh edges which ultra-high digital footage can suffer from; either way, it’s a welcome break from the ultra-complex lighting dynamics that were necessary with some film stock of the past.

Subdued Color

As well as subdued lighting, we’re also seeing an increased use of subdued color in film (particularly with regards to desaturation and muted color design.) Two excellent examples of this aesthetic used to great affect can be seen in this year’s Ex Machina, and last year’s brilliant Her:

This seems to be a pervasive trend not just in film, but also advertising too:

And once you’ve noticed it, you’ll spot it numerous times across the span of a single commercial break!

The Rise of Handheld Shots

Cameras are getting less unweildy, and jib/dolly setups are becoming more plentiful and functional. As a result, it’s not a huge surprise that handheld footage is currently trendingthis rise to ubiquity seems to have coincided with the release of the MoVI M10 rig back in 2013, offering increased stability while still allowing for the organic feel of shooting handheld:

Expect more handheld and steadycam footage going forward, with ever-more impressive results being achieved as new rigs and systems hit the market.

Shallow Depth of Field

While the swing between ultra-shallow and ultra-deep depth of field is something that alternates from era to era, we’re currently in the midst of a shallow depth of field glut (so much so, it’s gotten to pandemic levels as of late!)

The current boom has been, in part, ushered along by the market introduction of cameras with gigantic sensors (such as the Canon 5D MkII) making it very easy to achieve the look with or without telephoto lenses. When done right, it looks stunning and can add a good dose of realism to the shot… but we’re also seeing it overdone as of late, so be sure to use the technique sparingly.

Noticed any other contemporary trends in cinematography over the last few years, or any newly emerging trends that you think are set to dominate the next few? We want to hear your thoughts—head on down to the comments below and let your voice be heard!