Cinematography: Activity 1

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Angling the Camera

orson wells and cinematographer gregg toland

Orson Wells and cinematographer Gregg Toland on the set of "Citizen Kane" (1941)

The cinematographer works closely with the director to compose the images that are captured on film. While some cinematographers operate the camera, many others supervise a team that includes one or more camera operators, who do the actual filming, and camera assistants, who load the film, mount the cameras and focus the lenses.

For each shot in a film, the cinematographer must plan how far from the subject the camera will be, what kind of lens is necessary and the angle from which the shot will be made. The cinematographer can create very different effects by varying the angle—or point of view—of the shot. A stationary camera can be rotated on the axis of the camera mount (panning); it also can be moved up or down in a 90-degree arc (tilting). When a camera is mounted on a dolly it can be rolled forward, backward and sideways. Cameras also can be mounted on power-operated cranes that allow for even more flexibility. Lightweight hand-held cameras also are used, at least in part, on many films.

In this activity your students will learn about the basic camera angles and techniques and the special effects they can create. As they view a film, they will identify the various techniques used by the cinematographer, and they will plan how they would film a variation on one scene in that film.

Supplementary Activity:
Using a video camera, have students work in small groups to experiment with various camera techniques as they film original short scenes. Provide class time for each group to screen its film segment and explain the techniques they used and the effects they were trying to achieve.

Animation: Creating Movement Frame by Frame

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Complete Cinematography Activities Guide (PDF)

Activity 1: Angling the Camera

Activity 2: Lighting the Scene

Activity 3: Framing the Shot

Activity 4: Learning from the Best

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