Contemporary Trends in Cinema: 2015 Report

September 22, 2015

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!