Cinematography is the art and science of capturing moving images on film or digital media. Cinematographers use their creativity to capture a range of emotions and elements that audiences can relate to when watching a movie.

Cinematographers are responsible for overall composition, lighting and focus of the film.

What Is Cinematography?

As the chief visual officer, cinematographers must convey a sense of emotion throughout each scene and ensure that the audience sees what the director intends to be seen.

Looking for help in creating a blockbuster? Here are some reasons why you should consider hiring an expert cinematographer:

Cinematography Enhances Storytelling Ability

When it comes to movies, viewers want good stories — not just good acting. A great cinematographer can make a good story even better by using lighting, camera movement and framing to enhance the plot.

cinematography film terms

What Are cinematography film terms?

As a director, you’ll need to work with a cinematographer on a film project. It’s, therefore, important for you to understand the terms that they use when talking about cameras and lenses.

In film, cinematography is the art and craft of capturing light with a camera, then reproducing it on screen.

Cinematography is typically used to describe the visual aspect of the filmmaking process.

Today’s definition of cinematography has expanded to include everything related to capturing images for moving pictures: lighting, lenses, digital capture, camera movement, and more.



Using color contrast, light intensity, and camera angle– all can have an effect on how viewers perceive a scene in a movie. Great cinematography isn’t just about pretty pictures; it’s effective storytelling that draws in the audience.

Cinematography Captures Emotion

A great cinematographer knows how to tell a story visually by capturing emotion through lighting, camera movement, and framing. An emotional scene plays out best when you see the actors’ faces clearly.

What Are Cinematography Film Terms

Cinematography is the art of filming and recording motion pictures, and one of the most important branches of cinematography is filmmaking. In filmmaking, there are many terms that must be taken into consideration.

These terms are used to describe the tools and equipment used to capture motion picture events. The following is a list of some of the most common filmmaking terms:


A-roll is the working name for an exposed roll of cinematography film.


Academy Leader

Academy leader is a type of timing device that is used in the production stage of filmmaking.

It is sometimes also referred to as a Cineon Leader or Universal Leader. This type of leader consists of four lines showing timecode and scene information in at least two colors.


Acquisition refers to the process by which a projector obtains its images from an outside source, usually either film or digital media such as videotape.


Afterglow refers to a period between shots during which a movie camera’s light meters can still be influenced by the previous shot’s exposure settings.

Alignment Marker

An alignment marker is a line on the edge of a strip of film negative that may be used as an aid when splicing together.


The term for out-of-focus areas of a photograph or video shot. Bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke, which means “blur” or “haze”.


The format of a camera refers to the size of the film that it uses. The most common formats in use today include 35mm, 16mm, Super 16mm, and Super 8mm.

These films have the same width, but they differ in length.

The longer the film, the higher resolution of images that it captures.


Tilting a camera toward its subject is referred to as tilting. This is done to increase the sense of depth in an image while also creating a more dynamic feeling.


Panning refers to moving the camera from side to side as opposed to up and down as if it were on wheels.

This creates movement in your frame without blurring your subjects too much.


This term refers to shots taken with cameras whose frames have been extended by using special lenses or adapters.

Panoramic shots can be used for establishing shots, where you want to show your audience, and where your characters are located within the world of your film.


Camera Department

In the early days of the photography business, photographers were known for their eccentricities. They were odd folks who stood on stepladders and peered through viewfinders at the world below.

It was a job for a loner or someone who needed to be alone. The camera department of the local drugstore or photo studio was a place you went to get your picture taken, but you didn’t want to stay there too long.

Speedy Eddie was about as quick as it got in those days. If you wanted your pictures right away, speed was key. But if you had time to spare, you could get them developed at your leisure.

Fast forward to today’s digital world and things have changed dramatically. Camera departments have been replaced by photo labs, which are staffed with technicians highly trained in the art of photography.

If you’re looking for professional prints, chances are good that you’ll find just what you want at your local lab. But don’t be surprised if they look nothing like what came out of the cameras of old-timey photographers such as Ansel Adams and Alfred Stieglitz.

Today’s lab technicians don’t stand on stepladders; they sit behind computers at ergonomic desks designed for comfort, not intimidation.

Cinematography Terms

Cinematography is the art of making a movie. The cinematographer is the director of photography and oversees all photographic aspects of film-making.


There are many cinematography terms used by professionals. Most of these terms are used in this article to help explain them in detail.

The camera is the main tool used by a cinematographer to make the movie, so it’s important that they know all about it.

Here is a list of some basic camera knowledge:

Frame Rate

The frame rate is how many pictures the camera can take per second. The film is shot at 24 frames per second, so movies have a flickering look to them.

This frame rate was originally chosen because it matched the average eye blink rate – which means that on average, viewers won’t see the flicker as each frame replaces the other.

Depth Of Field

Depth of field refers to how much of a scene will appear sharp and focused in front of and behind the subject. The higher the f/ number, the smaller this area will be (and vice versa).


Aperture refers to how open or closed your lens will be when taking a picture. A smaller aperture (e.g., f/8) means less light.

180-Degree Rule

A rule that states the camera should always remain on one side of an imaginary axis between two subjects (usually two characters in a scene).

This rule keeps the spatial relationship between subjects consistent throughout a given scene.

The only exception to this rule is when there is a deliberate use of disorientation, such as in a dream sequence or subjective point of view shot.

2 Shot

A shot in which two people share the frame.

3 Shot

A shot in which three people share the frame.

4 Shot

A shot in which four people share the frame.

Mise En Scène

Mise en scène is a French term meaning “put in the scene.” It refers to everything that goes into making a shot: lighting, set design, costuming, and acting.

When filmmakers talk about mise en scène, they mean everything one sees on screen that is not directly related to the storytelling through camera movements and editing.

Shutter Speed

Refers to how long your shutter remains open when you take a picture. The longer it remains open, the more light you let in to expose your sensor or film. Shutter speed is measured in seconds and fractions of seconds (e.g., 1/125).

Cinematography Terms: Monitors

Cinematography Terms Monitors – A monitor is a piece of hardware used to display electronic images in order to allow for visual control or viewing.

In its most basic form, a monitor can be as simple as a television set or as advanced as a CRT computer monitor.

However, the term may also include other types of devices such as projectors (for displaying motion pictures) and digital image displays.

The primary uses of monitors are for viewing videos, images, or texts and to view camera signals from television studios, film stages, newsrooms, and video tape reproduction facilities.

In television studios, video cameras are frequently connected to the studio’s lighting system so that they can send an image back to the monitor.

This allows the camera operators and directors to see if their shot is framed correctly or if there is anything in the background that should be removed.

In film production, monitors are used to make sure that the actors’ performances look realistic on screen and match what has been shot beforehand.


On-set monitors are small and portable so that they can be moved around easily with a filming crew while shooting.

For both film sets and television studios, monitors are usually included as part of the electronic news gathering (ENG) package which allows for remote broadcasts outside of the immediate vicinity.

Cinematography Terms: Color

There are a few types of cinematography terms. They can be rather colorful, and these terms can help describe how the photograph is composed, how the film is exposed, how the film is processed, and even how the film is projected.

Tonal values are basically the lights and darks in a cinematography term. A cinematography term that has high contrast would be a picture taken with very bright or vivid colors. Another way to explain it is to look at the frame of a black-and-white photo.

The opposite of a high tonal value would be something that’s very dark or dull. Also, there are different ways to achieve high tonal values in your photography – you could use flash for example, which makes for an extremely high-contrast photo.

The lighting value in your photo is also important if you want to create an interesting scene.

A great example of this would be something like a silhouette – when you take a picture of someone from behind with bright light on them and they are silhouetted against that bright light source.

If you want your photograph to have really high contrast, you could wait until sunset and take pictures at twilight because those times have really low light values and create this amazing kind of contrast between dark and light colors.

Cinematography Terms: Soft Lights

What are some cinematography terms that you should know? It is beneficial to learn these terms if you plan to become a cinematographer. Even if you do not plan to enter into that career field, these terms can be helpful for anyone interested in learning how movies are made.

The first term is soft light. Soft light is the light produced by an incandescent bulb or an HMI lamp.

The light from these  is soft and diffused, giving a pleasing effect on the actors’ faces.


This type of lighting was heavily used in the early days of cinema but has fallen out of favor in modern-day moviemaking.

Another term is hard light. Hard light is produced by a non-diffusing light source such as a spotlight or a bare bulb. The effects of hard light make it difficult to produce flattering images on film.

Consequently, this type of lighting is rarely used on modern sets.

Lighting is the most important factor when it comes to cinematography. The best cinematographers are also the best lighting designers.

Tungsten lights create a warm tone in a room, while daylight creates a cool feel. Natural daylight is very soft and is great for low-key scenes.

The lighting ratio is determined by the difference between the brightest light and darkest light in a scene. This helps create depth, giving the audience a sense of perspective.

Cinematography Terms: Lighting

Cinematography terms for lighting:

Anamorphic Lens

A lens that has been varifocalized to produce a horizontally compressed image when used with an anamorphic projector.

This lens is usually a very wide-angle lens and is generally chosen to be the widest rectilinear lens in the format.

In Super 35 it is most commonly 16mm or 18mm, although Panavision and some other manufacturers make anamorphic lenses that are 24mm, 28mm, or even 35mm.

In 65mm it is normally 40mm. The anamorphic squeeze factor of a 1.33:1 (4 x 3) camera is 2x, which means the image on a film frame is actually 2/3rds of what it would be in a normal frame (2 x 1.33 = 2/3rds of the area).

This means that a 25mm lens on such a camera has an effective focal length of 50mm which is wide enough for many standard shots, but not wide enough for most medium shots.

For this reason, most directors shooting in 1.33:1 use wider lenses, for example, 29mm or 32mm although there are exceptions like Steven Spielberg who used 25mm because he liked the slightly distorted look it gave him.

Cinematography Terms: On-Set Terminology

Cinematography on-set terminology:

Frame Rate

The number of images captured by a camera per second. Frame rate is measured in frames per second or fps. The higher the frame rate, the more fluid an action sequence will appear.

If a scene is shot at 24 fps it will appear as if the event was unfolding in real life. At 30 fps, you will see slight blurring and some motion characteristics of the film. The majority of television shows are shot at 24 or 25 fps and films are typically shot at 24, 25, or 30.



Tilting the camera up or down to change the viewing perspective on a subject; usually refers to when the camera stays parallel to the ground (no vertical movement).

Macro Lens

A term used to describe lenses with a short focal length, often 50mm and under, that can focus on close objects.

Medium Shot

An establishing shot that includes more than just faces but not much more than heads; it’s very common for medium shots to include shoulders up to about head height.

Long Shot

An establishing shot that shows most of the characters in their environment; sometimes includes props like furniture and larger pieces of equipment. It’s also used when characters are walking toward or away from the camera.

Basic Cinematography Terms

Whether you want to become a cinematographer or not, knowing the lingo of film can help you appreciate what you’re viewing more.


An up and down or backward and forward camera movement. A tilt is almost always done on a crane or a jib.

Crane Shot

This is usually used in the opening sequence of movies when it is an aerial view of a city. You will see this shot often in “Goodfellas” to show off New York City.

Dolly Shot

This is a shot where the camera is mounted on a wheeled platform that rolls along tracks.

These shots normally last for quite some time and are used to establish setting and mood. They can be very smooth or jarring depending on the speed and direction of the dolly shot.

Zoom Shot

A zoom shot is when the camera physically gets closer to its subjects, or further away from them.

When you see a scene starting with a wide shot, and then zooming in to get closer, you are seeing (and hearing) a zoom shot.

You can either use your body to make these shots, or you can use an “interior” lens that will allow your lens to zoom in and out by turning the focus rings.

Cinematography Key Terms

Cinematography is the art of motion-picture photography. A cinematographer is responsible for the visual appearance of a movie, including artistic decisions about lighting, color, composition, and camera angle.

If you’re interested in working on a film crew, you’ll need a basic understanding of how a camera works and how each piece of equipment contributes to the final product.


A tripod stabilizes the camera so it doesn’t move during filming. The most common tripod has three legs that are attached to a central post.

By adjusting the height and angle of the legs, you can position the camera at any angle or height desired.

Camera Dolly

The camera dolly is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment on a film set. It’s essentially a cart on wheels that holds up to 10,000 pounds and can roll or slide in any direction.

Film crews use dollies to get smooth shots while moving the camera around or tracking in on an actor.

More Cinematography Film Terms

Here are some more cinematography terms:


The term “catchlight” refers to the small reflection that appears in a subject’s eyes when light reflects off of their eyes.

You’ll often see this reflected light in portraits, nature photography, and any other type of photography where the photographer is using a flash or a lot of direct light.

Tripod Mount

An easy way to give your camera stability on uneven surfaces. Most tripods have a standard mount for your camera, but some do not.

If you have an irregularly shaped camera, you need to find a tripod mount for it.


The thing that is being photographed. For example, an animal or person would be considered the subject of the photograph.

Lots Of Natural Light

A location that has a lot of natural light is perfect for photography because natural light creates soft shadows and allows you to take pictures without the use of a flash.

Long Exposures

Long exposures are needed when shooting with a slow shutter speed in low-light situations. Long exposures can also be used to blur motion in a subject or add motion blur to the background of your shot.

Catchlights are reflections of light in the subject’s eyes. They give the impression of a light source (such as the sun) being present in the scene where there is none. This effect can be used to create a sense of depth and dimensionality.

They are sometimes called eye-lights or eye reflections but are most commonly referred to by their most basic name.

Camera Movement

Also known as dolly shots, this includes tracking shots, panning shots and Dutch tilts. The term dolly shot refers to using a “dolly” or wheeled support for the camera or to move in on a close-up shot.

It is also used to describe moving with a Steadicam device or on a wheeled tripod for both long-distance tracking shots or hand-held shots (known as traveling).


A zoom lens enables you to change focal length without moving your camera position (unless you’re zooming in and out). This is often used to make changes in the composition without moving the camera.


A crane is used in filming to create dramatic high-angle shots or low-angle tracking shots. This can be achieved by using an A-frame jib.

Cinematography Film Terms – Wrapping Up

In the filmmaking process, cinematography is the lens through which the audience sees the world of the story.

The cinematographer is responsible for finding and framing each shot, as well as choosing camera angles and movements.

It’s a vital part of the filmmaking process that creates the mood of a scene, whether it be dark and brooding or light and joyous.