Top 16 Cinematography Techniques (With Descriptions)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 30 September 2022

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Cinematography is an essential part of the filmmaking process and involves using a range of video camera techniques for the visual depiction of the scenes in the film. These visuals engage viewers and direct their attention to specific concepts that the filmmaker wants them to see. By understanding the various techniques possible in cinematography, you can use them to create impressive, professional-looking videos. In this article, we can review the different cinematography techniques and learn how each of these works.

Cinematography techniques

You can study the following cinematography techniques to learn how to engage in visual storytelling and create appealing video content:

Extreme long shot

You can use the extreme long shot as an establishing shot to transition smoothly from one large area to another. With the extreme long shot, you can show how subjects can appear when viewed in the backdrop of their environment. You can, for instance, show tiny people walking under gigantic trees.

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Bird's-eye shot

The bird's-eye shot is similar to the extreme long shot technique, but it involves showing the scene at a wide scale and from a higher perspective. Since you are filming from a very high angle, the viewer sees the land and the objects as abstract shapes or patterns. Cinematographers generally use the bird's-eye filming technique to introduce viewers to a specific setting. They may also use it for transition shots for new scenes.

Long shot

The long shot helps focus the attention of the viewers on the characters in the scene and what is going on in their surroundings. With this cinematography technique, you can show the characters' bodies in their entirety and emphasise their movements. It can make the viewers feel like a bystander as they watch the characters go about their business from a distance. A shot of people walking along a street is an example of a long shot.

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Medium shot

The medium shot enables viewers to move closer to the characters in the scene. The shot shows the characters from the knees up or the waist up and brings attention to their interactions. The viewers get to see their facial expressions, emotions and body language. They also get to hear their dialogues. There is less attention on their surroundings. Medium shots are popular for bringing a sense of intimacy to a scene. Cinematographers generally use them in news programmes, interviews and documentaries.

Close-up shot

In this cinematographic technique, the camera pans on the characters' heads and focuses on their expressions. The purpose of the close-up shot is to highlight the emotions of the characters and make the viewers empathise with them. A close up of a person laughing, looking anxious or expressing anger is an example of this kind of technique. Cinematographers also use close-up shots to bring attention to essential details that matter in the story. For example, the close up may show the viewers a brush applying thick oil paint on a canvas or a woman's fingers touching her necklace.

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Extreme close-up shot

Extreme close-up shots make the viewers even more aware of the character's emotional state and enhance the overall dramatic intensity of the scene. For instance, the camera focuses on rage-filled or tearful eyes, zooming in on a nervous throat movement or showing a fist clenching slowly. You can also use the extreme close-up shot effectively for depicting objects. Examples in this genre include the ticking of a clock pendulum, a raindrop on the edge of a roof and the shimmer of a peacock's feather are extreme close-up shots.

Crane shot

The traditional crane shot uses cameras fitted on platforms connected to mechanical crane arms. These platforms may also accommodate a camera operator, or the crane may be remote-operated. Many cinematographers now use drone cameras to get crane shots. With a crane shot, you can move the camera up, down, left, right, front or back to give viewers a novel, cinematic perspective. You can tilt and pan the camera horizontally, vertically or 360 degrees. These types of shots are great for creating suspenseful scenes.

Tracking shot

A tracking shot adds dynamic visual effects to the scene. For this type of shot, you can mount the camera on a dolly or a wheeled cart that moves on a rail track to follow a moving character or give the viewer a better sense of the surroundings in the scene. In some cases, to track a fast-moving character or to show the scenery speeding by, you can place the camera on a moving vehicle. You can also use a camera stabiliser mount, motion control devices or drones to capture tracking shots.

Panning shot

In a panning shot, you keep the camera in a fixed position and move it in a smooth, horizontal movement to follow the motion of the character's head as it turns from left to right. It is essential that these camera movements are natural and barely noticed by the viewers. The purpose of the panning shot is to show the viewers the surroundings without distracting them from the story.

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Tilt shot

A tilt shot is a cinematography technique similar to the panning type of shot. The camera remains in a fixed position and pivots up and down vertically in a scene. You can use this type of vertical camera movement to establish a location, introduce a character or reveal the grandeur of a scene. It can also follow the action across a wide area or create a psychological impression of a character's strength or weakness.

Pedestal shot

A pedestal shot is similar to a tilt shot, except the camera does not remain in a fixed position. It moves steadily up or down on a horizontal or vertical axis with respect to the character, object or scene. You can fit the camera on a support known as a pedestal. In low-budget films, where there is a dearth of expensive equipment, the cinematographer may manually lift or lower the camera tripod to capture the pedestal shot.

Dutch angle shot

German filmmakers developed the Dutch angle shot during the First World War; the word Dutch is a distortion of Deutsch and has nothing to do with the Netherlands. In this cinematic technique, the camera rotates to either side so that the horizon does not remain parallel to the frame's bottom, and the viewers get a tilted view of all the verticals.

The purpose of the Dutch angle shot is to demonstrate tension, fear, disorientation, mental instability and emotional uneasiness in the characters. You can also use it to instil an unsettling, ominous feeling in specific scenes. This technique is common in noir and horror films.

Over-the-shoulder shot

The over-the-shoulder shot is an important cinematographic technique for revealing the connection and interaction between characters. In this technique, the camera is behind a foreground character and focuses on a background character or activity. The camera shows an off-screen character's out-of-focus head or shoulders and gives complete coverage to the on-screen character, object or scenery.

With the over-the-shoulder shot, you can orient viewers about where each character is looking and with whom they are interacting. Along with providing perspective to the scene, it adds depth to narrative filmmaking by tracking character reactions and allowing viewers to empathise with them. You can use a single shot or a single frame to focus on the emotions and actions of one character or a two-shot to show the relationship between the characters.

Zoom shot

The zoom shot involves keeping the camera in a fixed position and changing the focal length of the camera lens. In filmmaking, you can use this cinematic shot to create an illusion of moving closer or further from the subject. For instance, you can zoom in to get a bigger view of the subject and zoom out to get a smaller impression of it. With the zoom shot, you can increase or decrease the focus on a character, object or scene in a natural way that does not distract the viewers from the story.

Point-of-view shot

The point-of-view shot is also known as the first-person shot, and the camera may be fixed or moving. The purpose of the shot is to show the viewers what the character is seeing in the scene. It directs their attention to the specific things that the character sees. That can create an immersive experience and make the viewers feel like they are in the film. They may then feel more involved in the story and may empathise better with the character.

Arc shot

The arc shot, also known as a 360 degrees shot, is a cinematographic technique in which the subject remains still, and the camera moves around it in a semi-circular arc. The purpose of the arc shot is to have the viewers focus on the subject and add energy to the scene. It can also give the viewers additional details of the setting.

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