Browse through thousands of available courses covering everything from storytelling to filmmaking and more. The cinematographer is the one who brings together the technical and creative aspects of filmmaking. Cinematography has come a long way since the debut of the first film in 1888. Where there was once only silence and black and white, there is now full color, digitalization, and beautiful musical scores to accompany it.
As such, we have written a concise history of cinematography to shed light on the medium’s development up to now. Important moments in cinematic history, as well as the transition from black-and-white to color, are discussed. If you’re a movie buff, this is a great location to begin your research.
When asked to define cinematography, what do you mean?
Filming moving pictures, or cinematography, is a relatively recent art form. In today’s filmmaking world, the role of cinematographer is taken over by the director of photography (or “DP”), who is responsible for coordinating the technical aspects of filmmaking such as lighting, camera and lens choice, exposure, and shot framing. In the end, it’s the director of photography’s (DP’s) call as to how a picture turns out visually.
Contrarily, DPs are not independent contractors. Furthermore, it is imperative that all of the artistic choices they make adhere to the director’s overarching aesthetic vision. This means that the rapport between the filmmaker and the director of photography is crucial to the film’s artistic success.
Cinema’s origins and early development
The foundations of cinematography as we know it were laid in the late 1880s, when pioneers stitched together many still images to simulate motion. ‘Roundhay Garden Scene,’ which was shot in 1888 and has a running time of 2.11 seconds, is the earliest known surviving film. However, cinematography is commonly credited to Louis and Auguste Lumière, who developed the first motion picture camera and projector in 1895 in one particular film stock.
The early 20th century saw a dramatic shift in the cinematic landscape. Even though there was no sound in movies until 1929, the pioneering years of narrative film were marked by experimentation and new approaches to storytelling. Filmmakers like Edwin S. Porter (1902’s The Great Train Robbery) and George Méliès (1903’s A Trip to the Moon) believed in the medium’s potential early on. Nonetheless, they opted to direct the bulk of production without any big contributors of original ideas of film editing plays.
Spaceflight to the moon
When one of the earliest pictures to appreciate film’s artistic possibilities premiered in 1902, it was a watershed moment. D. W. Griffith and Billy Bitzer made the first major innovation in filmmaking. Their collaboration spanned over a decade, from 1908 to 1924, and produced nearly 500 films. Famous cinematic devices including the close-up, fade-out, soft focus, visual storytelling and backlighting may be attributed to them.
Together, Griffith and Bitzer made pictures like Intolerance and The Birth of a Nation, which sparked a century’s worth of public indignation for their heroic depiction of the Ku Klux Klan, so establishing cinema as an expressive art form. For this reason, it is hard for historians to disentangle their respective contributions to the early development of film, despite the fact that their relationship was so harmonic and complete that it defies all logic digital video cameras in motion picture photography.
Producing in a studio
The studio era of filmmaking, sometimes known as Hollywood’s Golden Age, began after the advent of sound. Paramount, Warner Bros., RKO, MGM, and 20th Century Fox were the five main studios that produced the vast majority of Hollywood’s films. Their distinct beauty made each one famous and sought after. Warner Bros. was not known for making highbrow musicals like RKO did, which starred Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Several gangster films starred James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in roles that required them to act tough in film production.
Directors and cinematographers were on the line if they didn’t stick to the studio system’s standard visual style. They had to turn in top-notch work without drawing too much focus to themselves or detracting from the plot. Many classics from the studio era, such as “Casablanca” and “The Wizard of Oz,” were created using this method, despite its shortcomings. Studio restrictions eventually shaped Orson Welles’s and Gregg Toland’s vision for Citizen Kane.
Toland’s deep focus was the result of his tinkering with lighting and lenses to create a depth of field that made it possible to see everything in a tricky image at once. Welles ushered in the contemporary era of cinematic storytelling with the groundbreaking innovation of Citizen Kane.
Hollywood made an effort in the 1950s and 1960s to differentiate itself from the emerging television medium by emphasizing large-scale spectacles. Historical epics like The Ten Commandments and Lawrence of Arabia were influenced by the introduction of color and the advent of ultra-widescreen formats like CinemaScope and Cinerama. Hollywood’s top directors of photography adopted cutting-edge equipment to achieve cinematic grandeur of motion picture cameras in motion picture industry.
It was during the New Hollywood period of the late 1960s and early 1970s that one of the most monumental changes in filmmaking history took place. When the union’s age restriction was eliminated and the old guard retired, a large number of young DPs entered the workforce. Their arrival coincided with the rise of a new generation of visionary filmmakers who are poised to change the path of cinematic history of digital cinematography.
Even if you’ve never made a movie before, you can do it like a pro
Ryan Booth’s DIY Cinematography Will Make Your Video Look Like a Movie in No Time! The film Lawrence of Arabia, a gigantic historical epic, was shot using state-of-the-art equipment to achieve its superior visual quality in film industry.
Francis Ford Coppola and Gordon Willis of “The Godfather” fame, Mike Nichols and Robert Surtees of “The Graduate” fame, Martin Scorsese and Michael Chapman of “Taxi Driver” fame, Robert Altman and Paul Lohmann of “Nashville” fame, Steven Spielberg and Bill Butler of “Jaws” fame, and countless others of similar ilk defied Hollywood’s longstanding restrictions on filmmaking techniques and subject matter. They came up with unique approaches to add to the visual vocabulary of motion pictures. A new age of independent cinema was ushered in thanks to the exceptional contributions of each of these artists (and many others of the time).