Storytelling in Film: Using Cinematography to Convey Emotion | Joe Simon | Skillshare

Storytelling in Film: Using Cinematography to Convey Emotion

Joe Simon, Director of Photography

Storytelling in Film: Using Cinematography to Convey Emotion

Joe Simon, Director of Photography

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8 Lessons (56m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. The Why and How

    • 3. Framing and Composition

    • 4. Lighting

    • 5. Using Camera Movement

    • 6. Shooting For Higher Production Value

    • 7. Camera Gear and Settings

    • 8. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

Create films that are enthralling to your audience through the power of cinematography!

Join Joe Simon, acclaimed Director of Photography and cinematographer, in this deep-dive class on the fundamentals of what makes a scene evoke emotion in a viewer. Learn essential skills for lighting and framing your subject, the hows and whys of cinematographic principles, and how to apply them to your own projects.

The art of cinematography is integral to every part of the creation of a film, and whether this is your career’s focus or you simply want to understand it better, this class will give you the tools to craft compelling and engrossing emotional narratives in your work. 

With Joe’s straightforward, clear teaching style, you’ll learn how and why:

  • To use different styles of framing and composition
  • Light sources are developed and implemented
  • Camera movement, or the lack of it, can help you tell your story
  • To shoot for higher production value, giving your film a polished finish

Whether you’re a filmmaker or just a person who loves the craft of creating a movie, Joe’s class will equip you with the skills and tools you need to understand the art of cinematography and the ways you can start implementing it in your own work immediately. Join in and get shooting!

Meet Your Teacher

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Joe Simon

Director of Photography


Joe Simon is an Austin-based cinematographer and Director of Photography who has worked with Apple, NIKE, Redbull, Budweiser, Hasbro, CNN, Under Armour, and many more. Joe has created ten short films and is the cinematographer for the feature-length film The Get Together, expected in 2020.


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1. Introduction: All right, look at that camera, right? Beauty is something that you can find in a sunset or in a beach. Beauty is also something you can find in even the darkest things. My name is Joe Simon, I'm a filmmaker and cinematographer. In today's class, we're going to be learning about cinematography. We're going to be looking at framing, lighting, and camera movement, and how that can bring emotion to the work that you're doing. I'll be walking through some of my little projects and then it will be your job to go out there and analyze your favorite movies and look at the cinematography. You'll be able to then see how it's done in the real world and be able to make your projects better. If you take away one thing from this class, it will be to understand how the emotional aspect of cinematography can help you on your filmmaking. You should take this class if you're a filmmaker. Cinematography is a big part of making a film and even if you want to be a director or anybody else in the filmmaking world, understanding an aspect of cinematography will help you do your job better. Even if you're not a filmmaker, this class will be beneficial if you love movies. It'll allow you to see behind the scenes the ways that they use cinematography to help tell stories. I'm so excited that you guys have joined this class, so let's get started and break down some films. All right. All right. Let's lunch. 2. The Why and How: Cinematography is more than just creating a pretty picture. It's understanding why and how you're doing it. A really important aspect is that as we start pointing a camera at our subject or as we're pointing the camera at anything, we may think that it looks cool. We may think that the framing is right, but you really don't know until you start studying the how and why of that. We're going to break down a lot of different framing aspects about why you might frame someone in the rule of thirds, or why you might short-side frame somebody, or why you might put someone in a silhouette using different kind of camera movement, doing a dolly shot, doing a steady cam-shot, or just giving the camera no movement at all and putting it on a tripod. You want to make each of these decisions for a reason. Why are you doing that for that film or that story or character? Not just saying I've got this new gimbal, it's really cool, let me just shoot everything with this project on the gimbal. You want to know why you're using that tool for each aspect of that film. With this class, we're going to break down every single one of those. Some people are very natural in cinematography. You come up in an artistic family and you start seeing things and start photographing things, and you're able to do it in a way that's pleasing, but you might not understand why you're doing it that way. What I want to do today is walk you through the elements so that you can understand why you're making those decisions. Because when you're able to do it with the information of, okay, I need to frame somebody and make it feel scary, or I need a frame somebody and make it feel awkward or fearful, you understand the principles of that and not just shoot it the same way you'd shoot someone in a love scene. Cinematography is unique to filmmaking because you're creating the visual image. In general, filmmaking is a collaboration between many people, but sometimes if you're just starting out, it may just be yourself doing that. So understanding what you need to do to help tell that story will be really important. You're telling a visual story, and you want to use everything in your ability within that visual medium to help you tell that story. So if it's creating the right lighting or if it's creating the right composition or giving it the right camera movement, you want to use each of those pieces to help make sure that the cinematography you're doing is telling that story. So take for instance, if you have a dolly move and you're pushing in towards somebody. They're looking down, the camera is pushing and pushing in, and then they look up and you can see into their eyes, you can see their soul, you can see their feelings. It's that aspect of being able to create that emotion or tension with the movement. Same way if you had that same shot and there was a tripod and there was a wider shot further away. You're not going to get the same feeling because it's a wider shot and you're not seeing as close as their eyes, you're not seeing that emotion. So it's really being able to visually choose what you're going to do with the camera and how you're going to do it, an informative decision, then you can help tell that story. First up, we're going to start with framing and composition. 3. Framing and Composition: In cinematography, framing is extremely important. Your framing and composition will tell a lot to the viewer about what the story's about. There's some basic pieces of framing composition that you just need to understand to make sure that you create a pleasing and balanced frame. What we're showing you here right now is a pretty basic rule of thirds kind of image. What that is, is that it's creating this grid line so you have your grid here on the frame, that would be the rule of thirds, and what you're creating is this balance of symmetry. You'll see that your horizon line right now is on this lower third, and then on the upper third you have the top of this mountain or the sky. Generally when you're framing, you want to place your horizon line on one of these thirds. What that does is it creates a balanced image. Another part of rule of thirds in balancing your image will be where you place your subjects or your talent. As you can see here, we have our talent sitting right here in this lower third image, we have our water here in the lower third, and that creates this balanced frame. Another aspect of balancing a frame and creating the thirds, is where we have our subjects place, you see where they're looking, their eye line is looking out so they're looking into all this negative space. It's a very important thing to have, this is a super basic rule of thirds balanced image, is that you want your talent having the negative space to look into, because all this negative space is information that they can see. If we were to flip this and we had our talent, say we put them over here and they're looking out this way, it feels very strange, like why are they at the edge of the frame? It's not balanced, it's going to feel awkward, it's going to feel strange. In general when you're building this rule of thirds, very basic symmetry or framing, and it's where you should start for a normal pleasing image. With those couple of examples, that's looking at a 2.39 image, which is widescreen, something we shoot on anamorphic lens. Most of the projects you'll be doing will be on 16 by 9 which you can see here. The same rules still apply, you're still making this rule of thirds image, where you are dividing the screen into these thirds, and you want things to generally line up on that same space. As you can see here, our horizon line is right there on a top third, this is a moving shot towards this tractor, so this tractor is here on this thirds here. If you play the shot, you can see how the camera is pushing along the grass and how that maintains that rule of thirds, and you have all this foreground movement giving you an interesting image. I think that's also something that's really important about your framing, is you want to have depth in those frames. That's comes in a few ways, this is using a wider lens or pushing across the grass in the lower foreground, but this foreground movement gives you that feeling that you're traveling a long distance. So when you play this, you can see all that grass moving across the frame and giving you that depth and interest within it. Every time I start a shot, I look at my space, I look at my scene and I see, ''Okay, how can I create a balanced frame?'' I play with the camera, you audition it, you go left to right, up and down, and see what feels right. You don't want to just pull a camera out then start shooting, you really want to think about, how is this going to work? Then beyond that, what's the next shot going to be? That you shoot and how can you make sure that you're matching the way that those frames work. If we look this shot of this guy, the farmer, coming out of his house, he walks out and then we cut to him getting directly into the truck. With that frame, if you back it up, you have him coming out of the house, pretty much center of frame, custom here, coming into the truck, and then there is the truck again, still on this side of the frame we just came from, right here, still on the same region, so that's key that you want to make sure that everything is lining up. Soon you go cut, it matches, it's not jarring because if we had him way over here on the house and then we cut to the next shot over here, and then he's over here, it's going to feel a little bit jumpy. Same thing with getting in the car. You want to think about all your cuts and also the way you frame each of those cuts to make sure they match up. Now that we have a basic understanding of the rule of thirds and framing, we can talk about long siding versus short siding. The frame is pulled up now is basically traditional framing and is called long siding. It's putting the person on the far side of the frame, and we're seeing the direction of where they're looking. The negative space in general holds all the information of your frame. Which kind of seems backwards because the talent's here. That's the information. No, the talent is what you are seeing, but what is your talent seeing? What is this character looking at? That's this information that is just off of screen. This is a point where you're framing, you can hold this shot, say for 30 seconds, and you can't tell what that person's looking at. But as a viewer the whole time you're thinking is, what is he looking at? Show me that thing. By not showing that next frame, you can keep that person's attention, you can keep their anxiety going because you're not showing it to them. This guy walks into a bar, it's pretty simple, he walks into this bar, standing here, still looking around, we cut, long side and looking around, a guy comes in, dark silhouetted, again, he's still long sided as well, we have all the space he's looking at. What short siding is, is when you are having someone look at the edge of frame. Here in this film, which is called Angus and the Boys, this is a scene where a lot of tension is being built up and someone has just come into this bar that is going to break their cover. This guy is now, again, we're still on the rule of thirds here. But what's happening is we have him short sided. So at this point, all of your information is back here. With all the information here, you can see he's looking at the edge of frame so at this point, what you're trying to create is like, is something going to come into this space? Is someone going to come in and do something, or are we just trying to make it feel awkward? What are you doing with that framing? The reason we're doing this, and if you look at the frame before it, is that he is naturally looking towards his brother who is standing over there. When we cut to his brother, he is short siding, and the reason we're doing that is that the older brother is a bad guy and the younger brother is the good guy. At this point, we want to make everybody think like, ''Okay, he's normal, it feels good, we don't think of him as bad or evil, he's just a normal character.'' But we want you already to think of this guy as the bad person in this film and that's a subtle way of making you feel that, is by short siding him and putting him there at that place. Not only is there this lady's walked into the bar, that's trying to find her kidnapped son, who this guy kidnapped, so we want to make you feel awkward, like, okay, bad guy, he's the one doing the bad thing to this kid that's in that bar right now. With this image here, she's still on the rule of third, she's right on this line, but she's looking into the edge of the frame, so this is called short siding. Instead of her being able to see all this area in here, she's looking at the edge. What this creates is a very awkward composition, and in this film, she's about to be taken by a bad person. So we want to create a frame that makes people feel anxiety and fearful, and by her looking at the edge of the frame, it does that subconsciously. It's not like, ''My gosh, look at this frame, it's crazy.'' It just very low-level subconscious makes people feel funny, especially in the fact that this frame cuts from here, and when we cut to the other frame, the other person's looking the other way too. They're also looking out towards the edge of the frame here, so we have all this negative space behind them that just feels awkward because it's empty. This will be a short siding frame where it's balanced, but it feels awkward and weird. You do this to create tension, to create anxiety, to create fearfulness. So in this scene where someone's being taken again, that's why we would do that. Let's talk about lenses. Lens choice is very important. The length of the lens that you use, so say 24 millimeter versus a 70 millimeter, is going to make your subject feel very different. Your eyes see to 50 millimeter lens, and so as you walk around in day-to-day life, that's what you're seeing. But a camera does not see as wide as your eyes see, we have very wide peripheral view versus a camera has a pretty narrow view at a 50 millimeter lens. With that being said, a lot of what I do is film between 24 millimeters and 50 millimeters. To me that's a nice range that if you're shooting people as a subject, is going to make it feel that you're there with them, which is called subjective filmmaking. The things you have to realize about the lens lengths is that if you're shooting, say with a 25 millimeter lens, and you get really into someone's face, it's going to give them distortion, it's going to make it feel a little bit awkward. That might be right for the right type of story you're telling, like if it's a comedy, and you want to have the camera really in someone's face to make something funny, or if it's a scary movie, and you want to get the camera really in someone's face, and make it feel distorted and disorienting. But for normal day-to-day filmmaking, if you take a 24 millimeter lens and do a medium close-up on someone, it's going to feel awkward, so you really want to think about the lens you're using. Now in this frame here, this would be about a 50 millimeter lens that we're seeing. This is anamorphic, so with a anamorphic lens, it's a little bit different, you have a wider frame. But you can see that at a 50 millimeter lens, there's a couple of things that happen. On her face, we have compression, so the compression of the lens at a longer lens is more flattering. On a 25 millimeter lens, it's going to make someone's face look a lot longer. As you go to a longer lens that compresses the facial features, so say like a nose, or the length their face becomes shorter and more compressed with a longer lens. Another aspect of it is going to be the background. So the background that you have obviously on a longer lens, it's going to compress the background. So this background's going to feel closer to the person on a longer lens versus a wider lens. If we scroll, say to here, this is a wide lens now, now we're at 24, now this waterfall is pretty far away from her in this lens, and what that does is it gives you obviously a bigger view, a bigger look at what you're seeing, but also makes things feel further away from somebody. That's the basic principles between a wide and a tighter lens. If you go into action, sports, or a car chase or anything like that, a wider lens is going to make everything feel like it's moving faster. If you look at this guy riding the bike here, we're using a wide lens to make it feel like he's flying through our area. Same thing with the car shots, we use a wider lens to make it look like the car's flying faster. If you see this shot right here, we're using a 20 millimeter lens and makes the car look like it's just flying by. If you juxtapose that with the beginning of the same film, we're using a longer lens and it makes the car feel like it's going slower right here. That shot, we're using a 50 millimeter lens. Everything again is compressed, all the background, this background is compressed to this car, so it feels like we're not as far, same thing with the road. That longer lens gives you that effect and as the story builds, we get wider lenses, faster movement, making it more exciting. There's a reason the way that we shot it all the way through, to build this edit in a way that will create excitement. So we start off slow at the beginning, more compressed shots, slower moving shots, and then go into faster shots and wider lenses towards the end to create that excitement. Let's talk about subjective versus objective filmmaking. A subjective view or a point of view is when you're with somebody, so being in the same room, being in the same car, it feels like you're part of the conversation. Objective filmmaking would be outside of the scene or situation so it's on a long lens, really wide shot, you see someone far down in a field by themselves, you're an outsider looking in, so that would be an objective viewpoint. Looking at this quick car scene, this frame right here, this is very objective, we are seeing these people from the outside. As we play this, you can see that they are driving their car, we're seeing them from the outside, still even here, this is objective, we're looking from the outside in. Versus, going inside the car with them right here, it now feels we're part of the conversation, we're right here with these guys, this is a wider lens, we're in the car, we're seeing their conversation, we're seeing their emotions. You can see there's very different ways to go about it, and the way you might use subjective versus objective is how you're trying to tell a story. So say for this car scene, we're introducing the car, we're introducing the landscape of where these two brothers are hanging out, but then we go into the car with them so you can see their emotions and see what they're doing. It's done for that purpose. Now that we've walked through framing composition, it's time to move on to lighting. 4. Lighting: It's time to talk about lighting. Lighting for cinematography can be done in many ways. When I say lighting, this applies to using natural light and which direction you're using the light to work with or by setting up fixtures as lighting or it could be walking into a natural location with practical lamps, but choosing where to place those lamps or choosing where to place your talent. Lighting is the way that the light falls across the person's face or across the location. In general, for lighting, I like to take a naturalistic approach, and naturalistic in the sense that I want a space to feel natural to its environment. I spent a lot of time just looking around spaces, when I'm at a restaurant or I'm out walking down the street or whatever space I'm in, I look at how light naturally falls. It's something you should start doing because that will really inform you on how to light a scene when you get to a scene that has a similar place. Say you're in a restaurant and it's in the afternoon and there's some really big windows at that place and you see light streaming through and you see the way that it falls across people's faces and the shadows it creates and the hotspots and specular highlights it creates, you pay attention to those things and then try to recreate them in real life. There's two big things I like to approach when I light or two ways I like to light, I think you'd have to make it as simple as possible or you make it as elaborate as possible. Sometimes when you fall in-between world, it just starts to feel too fake and too forced, so usually, if you only have yourself and a few people, try to keep it as simple as possible to light the scene as you need it to be lit. Now, one of the first principles I want to talk about is called three-point lighting, it's very, very basic, it's the way that you would light an interview, it's the way that you can light a talent and pretty much any space. It's a place for you to start, but it's definitely not something that you have to do, it's not like, I like people with three sources of light at all points, it always changes depending on my environment. Something else to think about lighting is the mood you're creating, what is the character going through at that time? Is it a sad story, is it a scary story, is it a happy story, and using your lighting to help enhance that moment for that character or story. So the image we're looking at right now is a guy walking into a bar, now we're shooting this in the daytime, so the bar is closed, so this gives you a little bit of a liberty to make it really look any way you want. A couple of things to notice here and he walks into the three-point lighting, so I'm going to show you where these sources are coming from before we go to the close up and show you the three-point lighting. We have this doorway, where we have light coming through this space here, this is a fixture, it's called M18, they were putting in here to push the light through the window. So this is giving us our daylight source. This is also 5600 color temperature, and that's daylight color, so Kelvin temperature, you have 5600. Now inside, all of these other lights that you're seeing and all around here in the rest of the room, these are 3200 and 3200 is the color of tungsten lighting. In the shot, you can see it's daylight because we have all of daylight coming into this window, so leaving it that natural temperature. We also had this really great highlight that we're creating on the ground and your eye is drawn, again as we talked in framing, this is creating these visual lines, this guy's walking into the bar, he's coming to this position here and the lines are leading him to that space. We have this light, we also have a light setup over here that's also 3200, he's going to walk into, it's a big soft light, that's going to be his key light. But then you want to make sure you have background light, so we have background light here, background light here, all of these ones that help give us texture in our scene. If those lights were off, the background would be very flat and our [inaudible] would also just blend into the background, so you need to have a back light. So you can see on his face right here, there's light hitting him from here, thus creating an edge on our character himself along his arm, and then the back lights behind him get a little texture to the background to give a separation. So just in general, just basic principles of lighting, you want to have a light source that is, one, lighting your character, so we have that edge light. Two, you want to have some source showing you your time of day or helping build that location out, which is going to be our sunlight coming in as well as our tungsten background lights. Then our third thing is going to be our key light when he walks into it. So if you play this, you can see he's walking in, he walks into this key light that then lights this face here and then we go into a little bit of a closer and shot where I'm going to outline the three-point lighting itself. Now, in general, I say that when you first start out, it's good to know these principles of three-point lighting, but it's not something that I want to make sure always happens, like I said earlier, it's something that sometimes happens in my work, but a lot of times it might just be two light sources, it just depends on the scene and how I want to make it feel natural. So what we're doing here in this scene is, we have our key light, which is over here, this is what we call a Kino Flo, it's a four by Kino Flo coming through. I think at this point we had a half grid cloth, so it's a fixture that's about four feet long, putting out a lot of sources, going through a softening source as well, so we're using the diffusion rag in front of it and this is creating our key. You can tell that it's soft, because if you look at his nose shadow here, this shadow is soft, it's not like a hard shadow on his face. Now we also have our second light, so this is light one, which is our key, so you need your key light. Now our second source is going to be our edge light here, which you can see, that is lighting his edge and that's coming from that window light that we saw earlier. But at this point, it's not as hard as we saw before, in the image that I showed you last time, you see a hard light streaming in. At this point, you softened it down so it's not too distracting, if a light is backlighting somebody and it's too much of a halo in certain scenes, it can seem just overdone, you want to make it as natural as possible. So here we soften the light to make sure that it wasn't too hard, so this is our backlight. Then the third light will be the fill, so the fill is everything hitting this side of his face here, so the fill light is coming in, which there's not a lot, but there's a little bit. Because one thing you have to remember is that if you have zero fill in a dark space, then you'll have probably too high of a contrast ratio. So in order to have his skin show up on the camera, you have to have a fill. But what we used in here is just a very simple bead board, a beadboard is a four by four square and it's basically something you can purchase that like a hobby store. It's like a foam core, is what they would call it in the real world, but in the film world we call it a beadboard, and a beadboard creates a nice soft bounce. The other aspect when you are doing lighting in general is, with the scene and this being a drama or a thriller and he's in a dark bar, you want to make sure that it fits the environment that he's in, and so this environment that is in, this makes sense why he's lit this way, you want to have that contrast. Another really important aspect of lighting is exterior lighting and how you would approach that. I think most people that are in a one man band situation or a smaller crew, a lot of time you're outside and you're trying to make the light work best for you. There's two key principles that I want to let you know and think about to make sure that next time you do this you're successful. The first one is the time of day that you're shooting, it's really important to shoot when the light in the sky is below 40 degrees. There's a lot of this sun seeking apps that basically lets you see where the sun will be in the sky. So when you go and you scout your location, you can see how high the sun will go. So in the summertime, the sun's going to be at a much higher angle because it's summer. So you may only have two to three hours in the morning, two to three hours in the evening when the sun will be an optimal angle to give you nice light. In the wintertime, you'll have better conditions because the sun never goes as high. Now, when you're planning your shoot, you want to try to schedule things outside in the mornings or the evenings, mid day, the sun is so high up that what it does is it creates an overhead shadow on someone, that's really unflattering. Same thing for all your background, the light in the background will be very harsh and overhead, instead of it creating longer shadows and having more light streaks that will be a lot more pleasing. If you take a look at this scene here with these girls, you'll notice that everything here is backlit and if I play it for you, you can see you're always having the light off to the back side of them and behind them, but also the lights at a lower degree angle that makes it more flattering. You can see even here on the ground, you're having these light streaks come in, behind them, the shadows are very long and it makes it more pleasing. But also by keeping the light behind them, it allows you to not have really harsh skin tones on their face and also gives you automatic contrast. So if you look at her face here, the light is coming back this way and it gives us this contrast on the side of the face, which is more pleasing. If the light was coming back the opposite direction, it would feel very flat and you'd have no contrasts or depth at all. This is something I do all the time and if you look at your favorite films or work that you love, you'll always see that the light is behind the subject or off behind the subject by 45 degrees. So basically, if this is your subject and you are filming this, you're filming the subject here, you want to have the light behind them somewhere within 45 degrees behind the person themselves or the car or whatever it is you're filming. If I play through this a little bit more again, you'll see, the light is still far side of her face. Next shot, far side of her face, it's always keeping it to that same side to give you that look. Another thing that you get when you shoot with the sun behind you is that the trees, all this area in here are darker. So it gives you more separation from your talent to the background versus again, if the light's coming from the front and it's coming towards the people themselves, all this will be super bright in the background and then it's going to mesh in with the background, so there's no separation. I would also note that all this stuff that's being shot here, we're just using a four-by-four beadboard, giving a little bit of filter the faces, but not using anything large, this was a fairly running gun setup of our shoot itself here. See, you got a little bit of fill in their faces just with a breadboard, that's all we're using, and same thing here. All the rules apply, it's very important, keep the sun behind people and shoot at the right time of day. Learning how to light takes practice, it's definitely a trial and error type of situation. The best way to do it is to take a screen grab from a movie you love or from somebody's work that you love and try to replicate it at home. Find a similar room, either outside or inside, whatever that's going to be and try to set up the lighting to make it match. This is really the best way to learn, you can set up lights and just play around yourself as well. But it's a lot easier to look at someone else's work and try to mimic that at first before you go into your own creative endeavors. Because then you can see what they've done, what's working, what's not working versus just doing it yourself and not understanding the principles of how the light falls on someone's face. You will make mistakes and you will have failures, it's just part of learning and I think it's really important to fail, because by the failures you have, you'll really understand how to do it right the next time. These are just a few small pieces of lighting, I could literally talk about lighting for weeks because there's so much involved in creating the right type of light for different situations, but this will be a great jumping off point for you and if you can go in and practice these steps and do some failing and do some learning, then you'll be doing great. Next up, we're going to jump into camera movement, so here we go. 5. Using Camera Movement: Let's talk about camera movement. Camera movement is extremely important to what you're doing as a cinematographer. How you move the camera and when you don't move the camera, says a lot to the audience, both about the character but also the scene. I think it's easy as a beginner filmmaker to come into this role and just want to move the cameras all over the place. Nowadays, gimbals are super cheap, the technology is super cheap in general so you might put a camera on a gimbal and just want to shoot everything in that way. But it's really important to understand why you're moving the camera and is it adding to the scene or is it taken away from the scene. I think the biggest issue you're going to run into is it a viewer distracting the audience by the way that the camera is moving, you're going to take them out of the story and that's the last thing you want to do. I know as a young filmmaker myself, I moved the camera all the time. It was either on the glide cam, which is ancient tool at this point, or it was on some slider and the camera was constantly just moving back and forth. But when I started learning more, I started to use a tripod as much as I could. Because all that time during the scene and you want the action or the story to take place in front of the lens and let that tell the story, instead the camera trying to tell the story. So let's break down some different tools you can use and why and how I would use those different tools in different scenes. I would say in general that using sticks or a tripod, however you want to call it, is probably your most important tool. I approach every scene that if I don't need to move the camera, lets not move the camera. A lot of the narrative work that I do, the films, the ones that I've shown you this far, like Angus and the boys are low tide, a lot of this just on tripod because it doesn't make sense to move the camera. You want to let the story unfold, let the conversation take place without the camera being distraction. So let me show you a quick example of that. So if we look at low tide, we come out of a montage. It's a bunch of quick cutting and I'll show you a little bit that montage so you can get an idea for how this all cuts together, because that's obviously important is from shot to shot, how it works. So you can see a montage and it's a fun montage of this couple having fun and it's a flashback of their life and what they'd been doing. All of that's handheld. It's a handheld section because it shows the excitement and the fun that they're having and so the camera moving, it feels like it's alive and it's with them. I would note that we're using all whiter lenses is a very subjective shooting. So it does this montage, we had that fun with them. Then it goes into a slow dolly. As we dolly with them, we're bringing them into that next scene, it's pushing them into the swing set into that scene. Then as we go into the conversation, the camera locks down on tripod as we have that conversation take place. So I'll just play it from here from you. So you see this is the montage all handheld. You can see the smart camera movements taking place. Fun, exciting, useful, authentic is a word that gets thrown around a lot too much lately, but gives an authentic feel where you are. Then you'll see we fade from this scene and we'd go into a dolly scene. A dolly is a nice introduction to camera smoothly moving us with them into the swing sets scene itself. Then they mostly on over there have a conversation. Then you see we just start talking here and it's just on the conversation, that's all it takes place at this point is there's no camera moving around them, no dollies, no anything, it's just letting that story tell itself. You're focused on what the story is, what the people are saying. You're not being bothered by the camera constantly moving back and forth or cutting we're drawing part of the movement. So you've purely focused on what's happening and I think that's important. If you don't need to move the camera, don't move the camera. Let the story unfold in front of the lens. So let's talk a little bit about a dolly shots or a gimbal shot. They're fairly similar and they're a little bit different, but they are doing the same thing. Now, dolly shot is like a tripod. It's locked down, but it's also moving, so it's a little smoother. A steady cam or a gimbal shot is a little more free moving, but still very smooth tracking shots with a character. Now, the reason you would use any of those things, a dolly or a gimbal is a couple things. One, you're introducing a scene or a location. You're following a character. So the camera's moving with the character, so you using it to follow that person. Or maybe it's a transition out of a scene and you're leaving a place. Now, with this example here, this is the opening shot to this film called Everything is a Feeling. What we're doing is we're revealing our location, our talent, and what is happening in one shot. To do that, we needed to use a gimbal. This is basically a dolly out shot to reveal. So if we play this, you'll see we're starting here on the headlight, you start to say, it's a motorcycle. When you're watching, it's like, there's a person in a dark parking lot on a motorcycle. So you're starting to receive all this information, is not really by dealing with a tripod, you could've had a shot at the headlight and then cut out to a wider shot and a wider shot. But it's not going to be as smooth as reveal as doing it with the gimbal. So using the gimbal or steady cam, it's a great way to introduce a character, introduce a location, it slowly reveals all that information. So great use of that tool. You could have also done something similar, say with a tilt down, you had like a wide tripod shot and you start with the sky and you tilt down into the scene. So if you don't have the budget for a gimbal or dolly, you can get away with it another way. You can reveal a scene with a tilt down or a pan over. Now, other parts of this film that we use a gimbal is when we're tracking. So we're doing some motorcycle shots, we're tracking her driving her motorcycle. It would've been really hard to do without a gimbal because a handheld would be a little too shaky and without the gimbal, it's too hard to shoot out of a moving vehicle. So you can see here again is a great reason to use that tool because then we can show her driving the motorcycle and get some smooth tracking shots. Now, let me show you another gimbal shot, gimbal steady cam. So just for people to understand, a steady cam is basically an older type of device used to move a camera. They're both doing the same thing, it just looks a little bit different depending on the type of project you're shooting. Most of my work is done on a gimbal because it's cost effective. Bigger studio films that you'll see in movies are mostly using steady cams because has a more organic feel to it, but it's also more expensive to have those shots. This scene can explain why we use it as a mom is very busy, her life is very chaotic, and she's trying to write these kids some notes and some instructions for when she's going to be out of town. So she's on the way out of town, she's writing them notes, she's trying to take a phone call. All this is happening at the same time. So instead of using a tripod or going handheld, we're using the gimbal to follow around to this room and make it feel as if we're spinning through the room, making the film more chaotic and disorienting. So you'll see the girl come in, we're on the mom, then we cut back to the girl, and now she walks off, this is when all the chaos starts happening. We follow around, we pick up the mom here and we're spinning around with the mom, she's writing notes. We keep spinning over to the other girl. So it's a constant moving shot just like her life is just like constantly moving and chaotic, and helps sells that to the audience for us just having a static shot of that or a handheld shot. We chose that specifically for that shot. So I think it's thinking about each scene, thinking about each person you're following and how you can make it fit for the story. Let's dive into handheld. Handheld is going to be the most cost effective way to shoot, but also fastest way to shoot. You want to make sure you're shooting handheld for the right reason. But for a lot of people, it might be the only way they can shoot because they might not have sticks, they might not have a gimbal, they might not have anything else to use on the project. But at the same time, make sure you're doing it in the right way. There's definitely a handheld where it's really shaky and there's a handheld that's a lot more stabilized and thought through. I don't really ever do super shaky footage unless it's meant for a certain scene, it's a war scene or a car chase or whatever and you want to add a little bit more excitement to the vibe. But for the most part, I'm really cradling my camera. I'm holding it pretty tight to my body, so it's part of my core. That type of handheld shooting makes it feel more natural and organic, it's not like a shaky camera. If you're using a DSLR and you're holding it out in your hands like this and you're trying to film, it gets pretty shaky, versus if you're using, say, a monopod. I still consider a monopod handheld filmmaking because a monopod is connected to the ground, but you're really still holding it in your hands. But by holding it and cradling that with the monopod, at least it gives you smoother filling footage, it feels more natural to handheld footage than shaky handheld footage. When you get into using bigger cameras, I mostly shoot with an ALEXA mini, its a larger camera, I'll use something called an easy rig. It's this contraption that comes over your head. It's ridiculous. That has a cord that connects to the top of the camera. It helps stabilize the camera so that I can then hold the camera and be cradle it. But brace is coming from the top, instead of a monopod coming from the bottom. But it allows me to then use it and really get nice-looking footage. So this project here is called Everything has a Feeling, is a personal project I did with a photographer. She had some tragic incidents through her life and it really killed her creatively. She didn't want to do photography for a while. It's the story of bringing back that inspiration and her finding that love for photography again. Being that it was such a personal story to her, I wanted to do it in a way that it felt natural and it felt like we were there with her, like we're another person that's observing it happening but we're there. So I didn't want it to be outside looking in, I wanted to be very subjective. So we used better lenses, had a little bit of natural movement with the camera so that it felt authentic and organic. So I'll play a little bit this for you and I can talk through some of the pieces. You can see a little bit of natural shaking with the camera, but it's not anything that shaking too much. It feels like you're there with her, you're watching her go through the process of and actually she's taking these pictures and remembering what it's like to be in love with photographing and what it's like to really feel inspired about what she's doing. So the whole thing is shot with handheld photography except for those motorcycle scenes that we're tracking with her because we needed to track and panel would not have worked. But this is an instance like, we wanted to be with her, we wanted this to be a personal story, we chose handheld to do that. If we did that on sticks or we do this on gimbal the whole time it wouldn't feel the same. Those are the basic ways on how to move a camera. Get out there, practice them. Look at your favorite films, see how they're moving the camera, and analyze those movements. Next, we're going to talk about how to get great production value in your stories. 6. Shooting For Higher Production Value: A couple of these things seem fairly simple, but they are extremely important to get better production value on your shoots. One really important thing is locations. I think location and actors are probably some of the most important aspects of your project. So choosing the right location is very important. There's two things: One, a lot of times I will go and scout locations before I start building my story out. So I can find a location, I might be out wandering around. I live in Austin, Texas, so I'm out in the field, and I find that cool barn, and then I can write a scene with my characters in that barn to then place it in that place that already looks incredible. So I don't have to go and bring a whole art department to build that barn out, we've already found it, and it looks cool to begin with. So finding locations that can have a story built around them, or finding locations that really fit your story already before the fact or super important that have that production value built-in. The other aspect of that is the time of day that you're shooting at these locations. So going out and scouting locations, looking at the lighting. Looking and seeing when the sun is perfect to be filming at those locations is super important. If you show up at 12 o'clock noon and you're filming at some gas station, and all sudden you see the light looks terrible, but you have to shoot anyway, your production is going to look pretty terrible. But if you were to scout a couple days before and see that 6:00 PM the light's perfect to shoot the scene, our actors are backlit, the background looks great. We should shoot it at that time, you go back and you shoot at that time and it makes it look a lot better than it could have. So it's really important to think about your story. Think about what the lighting should look like. Think about how you can shoot at that location at the right time of day and plan it in that way. In lighting, we touched on a little bit about shooting at the right time of day. It's really important when you're doing outdoor scenes to shoot it before the sun gets too high in the sky. For myself, I don't film when the sun is higher than 40 degrees in the sky. I use an app and I can see exactly when that's going to be. So when I'm scouting the location, I will know that either, A, the morning or the evening will be the place that I should be shooting. So if the sun is going to backlight my talent in the morning, I want to go to that location in the morning shoot. If the sun's going backlight my talent in the evening, I would do an evening shoot there. So it's really important to understand where the sun will be and how you can use it to your advantage. If you just show up midday and also when the light looks terrible, your production is going to look terrible. So you have to really think about when you're going to shoot it, work it into your schedule and only shoot at those times a day. With most of the cameras we're using nowadays, you can have a really shallow depth of field. It's definitely been something that has been overused, but at times, you really need to use it to help your production value. If you're at a location and the background doesn't look that great, or you don't have an art director or a budget to really dress the background and make it look like if you're in a garage and you don't have all the tools you want to put on the background to make it look like a tool bench and whatever setup you would have there. If you shoot at a shallower depth of field and just make everything out of focus behind her talent, you won't need to do that. So it is a really great way to cut corners in a sense and shoot shallower depth of field. We'll do it all the time if we're running out of, say, time on a shoot itself and we need to grab a scene, we don't have enough time to set dress all of it, we'll just go to 1.5 F-stop, throw everything out of focus, keep our talent in focus, and that's it, you move on to the next shot. So a great way to keep high production value. Another great trick for high production value is using filtration on your camera. A lot of the more inexpensive cameras out there, and I think just DSLRs in general have a very high sharpness to them. Their highlights blow out pretty quickly. They don't have a good roll-off, and a roll-off is basically where the sky would be very white. Instead of being a hard edge where that white goes from darkness to the white and have more of a gradient to it, a nice roll-off, which a higher end-cameras will do. But to help yourself, if you are using a DSLR, they make diffusion filters that are really great to help you give a more natural roll-off like film. Some of these diffusion filter is that you can use our Hollywood Black Magic or Pro Mist or Super Mist, but you want to get a flavor that's about a one-eighth. It's just enough to take the edge off and help nice highlight roll-off, but it's not too much to make it look like you're filming an '80s movie. I really like the Black Pro Mist one-eighth. It helps soften everything just to touch, gives you nice highlight bloom and it's a really, really nice-looking filter. Another filter that's really important is having a circular polarizer. A lot of times it can become difficult on set because you're just moving so fast, and you go from inside to outside and to add another filter onto your camera takes time. But you definitely want to take that time. A circular polarizer will help make the greens greener, make your blue skies bluer. So it's really, really great to have. It'll make, one, the colors pop more, but it will make your talent pop from the background as well. So a circular polarizer is a great filter to have. The other filtration, you should be carrying are ND filters. If you're using a DSLR, they make a nice filtration filter called a variable ND. It's basically an ND filter that you can twist, and it will change the number of ND stops you have on the camera. An ND filter is very important because you want to keep your shutter at 150th or 148th, depending on the type of camera you have, and keeping that 150th setting will make the motion blur feel natural and normal to the way that your vision sees. Now a telltale sign to see that someone doesn't know what they're doing or don't have high production value is crank their shutter speed delayed one-five hundredths or one-one thousandth because it's just too bright outside, and so they're cranking the shutter speed to that level. Now the ND filter will allow you to stay at 150th at all times. It'll be more pleasing movement to the eye and it will look more natural and give you higher production value. One last tip I have for you, which we've spoken about briefly, but keeping the light behind your talent. So if you're filming outside in natural daylight, you always want to keep your sun somewhere behind your talent. So it's giving them more of an edge light instead of front lighting them. It's a great way to have high production value. It'll give you more contrast to your scene, it'll give me more depth to your scene. So I highly recommend it. Go out there and try it, backlight somebody and then front light them and see the difference for yourself. It's very, very cool. 7. Camera Gear and Settings: The best camera is the one that you have on you. Technology has evolved so far that cameras have become so cheap and you can literally practice with any camera you have. I have an iPhone and they have some great apps for the phone that allow you to use it as a video camera. You can control all your settings in manual mode, and it does a pretty good job, and it can allow you to make films and to practice your storytelling skills pretty simply. You can also buy a used camera online for a couple of $100 with a lens and use that to start your filmmaking life. So there's many options and I think the biggest thing to understand is that, it's not about the technology, it's about you learning the skill and you practicing so that you can know how to do it the right way. It's really important to understand and learn the camera that you have. You want to dive into the settings, dive into its pros and cons, and really learn what makes it tick. When you get something new, it's easy just to want to go out and just start using it. But you need to spend some time in research really figuring out what settings are best, what codec to shoot at, what frame rate to shoot at, what is the dynamic range of the camera? All of these different things that will help you understand how to get better shots with it. There are tons of YouTube videos out there on every single camera that's available. So I would do that, go there, search your camera, and spend some time learning how to best set it up for filmmaking in particular. The settings that you use on your camera are extremely importance, a lot of the cameras are made for both photo and video. So when you get that camera it's probably set up for a photo camera instead of a video camera, so that's not the priority with a DSLR or a mirrorless camera. So make sure that you have the right settings for the filmmaking mode in your camera. One of the most important aspects of that are don't shoot on "AUTO". The camera is going to do whatever it thinks it needs to do for the image your shooting versus setting the camera for your scene and making sure it's set up for what you want it to do. There's a few key things that you want to set up on your camera for shooting. One, is filming at 24 frames per second, 24 frames per second is the same frame rate that your eyes see. It creates emotion blur, it feels natural, it feels organic. So filming at 24 frames a second will automatically gives you a higher production value for your films and it'll feel like all the movies that you see out there. Another important part is to make sure your shutter speed is at 148th or 150th, 148th would be the actual number because it's double of what your frame rate is. So if your frame rate is 24, 148th would be double that speed. But some cameras only have a setting of 150th, so that's the closest number, so you want to match that. Now what happens when you have that shutter speed? It's the amount of blur you're going to get. So if you were to put your hand in front of your face and move it, you'll notice that there's motion blur when you're looking at it. It's not perfectly all in-focus, it's not perfectly sharp, it has a motion blur, and you want your camera to be doing the same thing. So setting it at the 24 frames per second, setting it at 150th shutter speed will give you that same effect, so it feels natural. The next thing you want to set up is white balance. You want to make sure your white balance is on manual mode, the selection will be in Kelvin temperature and that'll go anywhere from 1,800-10,000. Most typical settings are going to be three things; one, 3,200, which is going to be the setting for indoor lighting. So incandescent bulbs and shooting inside of a house, you'll use it at 3,200. The next big one will be 5,600 for shooting outside. So daylight is going to be 5,600. So if you're shooting anything outside, you want to shoot it at 5,600. If you're shooting in a mixed temperature space, say, you're getting some window light in, you're using some practical bulbs inside the house, you might set it at 4,300, which is the exact middle between 3,200 and 5,600. The key is to look at your screen, play with the Kelvin temperature, and see what you get. Basically what you see on your screen is what you're going to have. So look at the Kelvin temperature, doesn't feel natural? The problems if you leave it on auto when you pin the camera around, it's going to automatically be changing the temperature on you. So when you go on the post later and you're trying to cut scenes together, they're not going to match because the temperature has changed while you're filming things. So you want to make sure that you have that on manual and you know exactly what shooting and what color temperature that will be. The next big thing with camera settings is your recording quality. You want to make sure that you're shooting at the highest codec available for the camera. Every camera is different, so I'm not going to call any specific codecs, but look in the manual, look on YouTube for people's best settings and that'll give you a good place to start. But in general, you want to have the highest megabyte recording possible, so you're going to get the cleanest image with the least amount of noise or artifacts. These are two things I want to show you guys, why you'd break the rules for both white balance and shutter speed. It's something you would do to help create a different type of emotion. Here's a project I did, it's a music video, and it's about two brothers, one of the brothers died in a war and the brother is going back to bury him and he's a journey through his memories and bringing 10 of his brothers there with him and it's a really cool story. But part of this was being able to film a war scene and how would we make that feel real, but also add more intensity to it? So there's a couple of things. One, you have the flashback scenes of them training, where the training is fun and it's warm and vibrant. I'll play a little bit for you here. So you see it as like the training scenes a very warm. So here's a training scene, we're making it feel warm and having a great time in training. Warm sunlight as you can see. But then when they actually go to war, instead of using 5,600 color temperature outside like you would, we shoot it at 3,200 temperature, so we make it daylight to make it feel very blue, because the color blue also relates to sadness or to fear. The warm color gives you more of love and happiness. So having it, that bluer color gives you that negative feeling. We also brought the shutter speed up a lot higher. So we shot it at a 500 shutter speed instead of 50 shutter speed to make it feel more jarring and [inaudible] , same thing they did, and if you watch Saving Private Ryan, it's at a very high shutter speed, so it feels very staccato, it's very jagged. So this is the training scene normally shot, and you'll see how we get into these blue scenes here, the very quick flashbacks but it's, again, bluer temperature, very high frame rate. All these blue scenes here, they're pretty quick, but you can see it's like a higher frame rates, bluer color, it helps you give that feeling that they're going through in that space. So that would be a reason why you'd want to shoot that color temperature and use a higher frame rate for the right reason, not just because you don't have an ND filter. So you got to crank up your shutter speed, or you forgot to change white balance and it just what it looks like now because it's going to confuse the audience, it's going to confuse your viewer and give them subconscious feelings that they shouldn't have joined those scenes. It's some cool tricks to use and if you look at the frame, you can see it set at 3,200 Kelvin temperature here, it's very cool. Shooting at a higher shutter speed also makes everything feel a lot sharper, so the image is a lot sharper. So it helps you create that feeling and that emotion you want people to have as they're watching those seams. So these are some tips and suggestions, but it's really important for you to take your camera out, take a gear out there, test it, use it, take a look at the footage on your computer, and see how it's looking because that's how you really going to learn is by looking at what you shot. 8. Final Thoughts: Congratulations. You made it through the class. We talked about composition and framing, we talked about lighting, we talked about camera movement and everything else involved with cinematography. Please share your exercises in the project gallery and I look forward to checking out your work.