Cinematography is the union of art and technology. Its techniques and practices cannot be judged alone. Effective cinematography is that which works for the film and its context. Roles on a film set which integrate to create cinematography include the screenwriter, director, actors and producer above the line. Below the line, important roles include that of sound technician and design, camera, production design and editing.
Each film, location and actor presents a field of new opportunities, problems and solutions. Editing and design considerations include the use of lighting, camera techniques and colour design.
In 1940’s society, which was governed by the end World War II, Italy became the “centre of the movie world“. The primary content produced was naturalistic and explored the lives of ordinary citizens (the working class) following the end of the conflict. Cinematographic features of this period include the use of non-actors, filming on location and a shift away from ‘happily ever after’-type endings.
Hollywood Film Noir
This trend was born in the 1940’s and travelled through to the next decade. It was influenced by neorealism and the rise of the paperback novel. These films generally featured fatally flawed characters driven to a fate, along with an enchanting femme fatale. Cinematography practices were pessimistic and dark. They featured bare lighting, darkness and heavy shadows. Although film noir phased out towards the end of the 1950’s, it remains a steady influence on Hollywood films today. A post-modern example of film noir is Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner (1982).
Cinematography has transitioned from analogue to digital; this has triggered the growth of a variety of new methods, techniques and innovation. Examples of this includes CGI, which was used in Hero (2002) by Christopher Doyle and the use of digitalised colour to separate each dream in Inception (2010). Birdman (2014) was constructed through digitally stitching together shots to create single, long takes. Director James Cameron is known and respected for his digital innovation in films such as Titanic (1997), Avatar (2009) and Terminator 2 (1991).
Australian cinematographers of note include John Seale, whose works include Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) and Andrew Lesnie, who worked on Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) and Babe (1995). Once upon a time cinematographers were predominantly male, however this is slowly beginning to shift. Female cinematographers from the current context include Mandy Walker, who worked on Australia (2008) and Maryse Alberti, whose most recent production is The Story of Wikileaks (2013).