Cinematography top key elements with examples

Remember the fighting scene from your favourite action movie that made you stay on your toes the entire time? Wasn’t it simply breathtaking?
What if I say the cinematography deserves more credit than the action and the actors?
Confused, right?
Well, allow me to explain.
Let’s start with the basics; the definition of cinematography.

What is cinematography and cinematographer?

Lets know further about Cinematography and cinematographers

Cinematography is the art of capturing pictures in motion.
Cinematographers are in charge of capturing these motion pictures in one or several shots and later developing them so that it comes out to be a continuous movie scene. 
Let’s know more about cinematography by taking the 2020 Hollywood movie “Extraction” fight scene as an example. 

You must have got a brief knowledge of how tedious yet giving this task is. Efficient cinematography gives an amazing movie scene. 

The amazing cinematography of this movie influenced a bunch of kids to reenact the movie trailer with no professional equipment or knowledge about movie-making.

The remarkable efforts of these kids were recognized by the actors as well as the makers of the movie. 

Let’s further see cinematography in a scene with minimal actions. 

Did you feel the emotions and sensitivity of this scene? How was that possible without any single dialogue? 

The answer to your question is Cinematography. 

Let us look into the elements of cinematography. 

Elements Of Cinematography

Static Shot

A shot made by locking the camera to a tripod at a fixed position with zero movements is a static shot. This shot type is excellent for creating tension, showing beautiful compositions, or a scene that shows an actor’s performance. E.g. in the Casino movie, Joe Pesci asks his fellow, “how I am funny”, and the camera still focuses on two characters. Thus, creating tension.

Sometimes filmmakers use Static shots to Trap A character and suggest their helplessness. And we are not allowed to look away due to the still shot. And it is amplified by stillness.


A pan rotates the camera horizontally left or right while remaining in a fixed location. Its purpose is to follow the actions of a character or to reveal information.

It is used quite frequently by Wes Anderson. Movies like “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “The Royal Tenenbaums”, “La La land”, “Whiplash” are some great examples to view different Pan shots.



It can also be called Vertical Pan. It can give a character dominance by showing him starting from down to up or vulnerability by showing the character steering from up to down. Similar to Pan, it can also reveal information, like a character, setting, or scale. In Interstellar, the background of massive waves on Miller’s planet is showed by the Tilt method.

Push in

It moves the camera towards a subject to emphasize a movement. It gives a visual cue to the audience that THIS (where the camera is pushing in) is important; this is a detail. It is also an effective way to communicate internal conflict, like in the iconic scene in “The Godfather”, where Michael is about to kill a man who tried to kill his father. A slow push in towards Michael elevates the tension. We watch him wrestle with the consequences and gather up the courage to pull the trigger.

Pull out

It is the opposite of Push. It deemphasizes the subject. It emphasizes negative emotions like isolation or abandonment. Like in “Joker”, when some kids beat up and bully Arthur, the camera moves away from him, which gave the audience a feeling of abandonment.


Camera roll

It rolls the camera on its axis while maintaining the direction of the lens. It can be disconcerting. Like when a villain assumes the throne or a dramatic shift in the narrative. E.g. In “The Dark Knight”, Joker is captured strung upside down and defenceless. But as the camera slowly rolls over, he reveals that he still has the upper hand. This reversal of power matches with a simple yet meaningful Camera role.

Tracking Shot

This shot physically moves the camera through a scene, following a subject, with the matter. It often creates two questions: where is the character going? And, what will happen when they get there? It immerses the audience directly to the scene.

Now that you know the basic elements of cinematography, you might go back to your favourite movie scenes and determine the importance cinematography has played in bringing that scene to life.  

History Of Cinematography

Many aspects are equally crucial in the filmmaking process. But, The closest landmark in history is the invention of still photography in 1827. Cultural historians give the credit of inventing still photography to the French inventor Joseph Niepce. “A View from the Window at Le Gras” was the title given to the first photograph taken by Joseph Niepce, using a device called the Camera Obscura.

A View from the Window at Le Gras

Camera Obscura is one of the first generation photo capturing devices. Camera Obscura means a ‘darkened room’ or a ‘dark chamber’. By 1839, the photographic camera became a publicly accessible tool with the invention of the Daguerreotype by Louis Daguerre. The vision of still photography played a significant role in developing motion pictures some seven decades later.   


Camera Obscura

Cinema historians believe that the history of moving pictures starts with the British photographer Eadweard Muybridge. On 19th June 1872, he tried to capture moving men and animals using a series of still cameras, arranged sequentially, with wires attached to the shutters of these cameras. When the moving objects touched these wires, the cameras would capture their bodily movement at that particular moment. They were 21 inches apart, taking pictures at 1/1000th of a second. Muybridge captured 12 sequential still shots of the trotting horse. When these individuals, yet continuous still photographs were projected, with Muybridge’s image display machine, Zoopraxiscope, creating an illusion of movement at a particular speed. When these discrete sequential images project at a specific rate, i.e., 24 frames per second, or 24fps, the optical illusion of movement creates in the human mind. This optical illusion is generally known as the persistence of vision. 


The series of pictures displaying illusion of motion

Some other essential inventions also contributed to the origin of motion pictures. In 1874, Jules Janssen, a French astronomer, captured a series of still shots of Venus passing the sun, using his revolver photographic. Janssen’s revolver photographic used individual film plates to catch each still image. Jules Marey also contributed to the origin of cinema. Mary was a scientist-cum-photographer who was born in France. His contribution to the birth of cinema was his invention of the chronophotographic gun. This gun could capture twelve still images of a moving object in a second. Using these gun-shot pictures, in the 1890s, he studied human and animal locomotion. For instance, he learned how cats always fall on their feet while landing on a surface from a height using his gun photography


Now that you have learned about cinematography, its history, and its elements, you will recognize all the efforts that have gone into filming the amazing movie scenes that you love. 

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