Introduction to Digital Cinematography

Author: Tal Lazar | Course Code: OLART-160

Visual media is an essential vehicle for marketing and communication for anyone involved in the music industry. Introduction to Digital Cinematography is a beginner-level course, which explores the art of visual storytelling and provides a firm overview of the technical foundation in how to effectively use the camera, lighting, and other tools to convey your message. The course starts by examining the art of photography and video, and how to properly harness the medium to communicate your message. From there, you’ll learn about the technical skills needed to create images and videos through a discussion of the camera and its components. You will learn to control the viewer’s experience through creative choices you make about where to put the camera and how to move it.

The course then explores how to create a mood in a scene with lighting techniques. These techniques are shown in a straightforward, practical way so you will be able to produce professional results, even with improvised household lighting. The course will also cover the essential topics of movie and video making, such as story, continuity, and collaboration. The skills learned in these areas will give you the ability to create basic as well as more elaborate productions to achieve your goals.

At the end of the course, you will shoot a short video piece and prepare the footage for editing, applying the theoretical, technical, and practical knowledge you’ve gained. The course uses over 100 examples of movies, videos, and music videos to illustrate how cinematographic techniques are applied and used in the professional world. The examples include iconic movies such as Rocky, Jaws, The Shining, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in addition to music videos by Radiohead, Britney Spears, and others. An emphasis is placed on contemporary works, while giving you valuable knowledge of classics such as the works of Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. The course is designed for the student with basic technical skills, but even people with more experience will benefit from learning how to tell a story effectively with their camera, and how to communicate something to their audience with images.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Produce any kind of video, including a music video or short film
  • Tell a story visually
  • Employ camera work creatively
  • Employ lighting to tell a story or set a mood
  • Prepare video footage for editing

Lesson 1: Introduction to Visual Storytelling

  • Visual Storytelling
  • Photography
  • Exposure Times
  • Photography as Art
  • Images as Communication
  • The Power of the Image
  • Messages Hidden in Images
  • Communicating Your Message
  • The Frame
  • Aspect Ratio

Lesson 2: A Technical Introduction to the Camera 

  • How is an Image Created?
  • Camera Obscura
  • Creating a Permanent Photograph
  • Modern Camera Sensors
  • Creative Use of Exposure Time
  • Camera Components
  • Camera Functions
  • Exposing an Image
  • How a Digital Sensor Determines Brightness
  • Exposure and Shutter Speed
  • Using Slow Shutter Speed on a Video Camera
  • Controlling Exposure
  • Three Exposure Controls
  • Aperture Effects
  • Exposure and Aperture
  • The Sensor
  • Adjusting Sensitivity
  • Noise
  • Video and Still Cameras
  • Video Exposure Functions

Lesson 3: The Lens

  • What is a Lens?
  • Lensless Photography
  • Convergence
  • Lens Speed
  • Field of View
  • Sharpness
  • Distortion
  • Guidelines for Choosing a Lens
  • The Main Functions of a Photographic Lens
  • Consumer Cameras 
  • What Lens Do I Need?
  • Choosing a Lens
  • The Normal Lens
  • Field of View
  • Lens Types
  • Perspective and Depth
  • The Illusion of Depth

Lesson 4: Camera Placement

  • Camera Distance
  • Examining a Shot
  • Shot Types
  • Extreme Long Shot
  • Long Shot
  • Medium Long Shot
  • Medium Shot
  • Medium Close Up and Close Up
  • Extreme Close Up
  • Shot Size and Lenses
  • Over the Shoulder Shot
  • Two Shot
  • Camera Height
  • Eye Level Height
  • High Angle
  • Low Angle
  • The "Hero" Shot
  • Objective and Subjective Camera Work
  • Audience Viewpoint
  • First-Person Viewpoint
  • Third-Person Restricted Viewpoint
  • Omniscient Viewpoint
  • Point-of-View Shot
  • Analyzing "Vertigo"

Lesson 5: Camera Movement

  • When Was the Camera Moved First?
  • Camera Movement Types
  • Motivated Camera Movement
  • The Panning Shot
  • The Tilt Shot
  • The Tracking Shot
  • The Circular Move
  • The Push-In Shot
  • The Pull-Out Shot
  • The Crane Shot
  • The Handheld Shot
  • The Steadicam Shot
  • The Aerial Sho
  • Moving the Camera Successfully
  • Static Shots
  • Significant Camera Movement

Lesson 6: Lighting Tools

  • What Can Light Do for Us?
  • Illumination
  • Depth and Shape
  • Texture
  • Mood
  • Telling a Story
  • Properties of Light
  • Angle
  • Color
  • Diffusion
  • Professional Lighting Tools
  • Safety
  • Arriflex
  • Light Meters
  • Sekonic's Online Classroom
  • Improvised Lighting Tools

Lesson 7: Creative Lighting 

  • Three-Point Lighting
  • The Key Light
  • The Fill Light
  • The Back Light
  • Effective Use of Three-Point Lighting
  • Practical Lighting Applications
  • Lighting Analysis
  • Lighting the Face
  • Visual Intensity
  • Contrast and Affinity
  • Contrast in Color
  • Evaluating Color Contrast
  • Storytelling with Lighting
  • How Does Light Help Tell a Story?

Lesson 8: Color 

  • What is Color?
  • The Relativity of Color
  • The Human Eye
  • After Images
  • Primary Colors
  • Complementary Colors
  • Color Interpretation
  • Shades of Red
  • Color Interpretation in Cinema
  • The Meaning of Color
  • Color in Images and Film
  • "Drive"
  • Emotion and Color

Lesson 9: The Story

  • What is a Story?
  • Story Basics
  • Narrative Film
  • Conflict, Protagonist, and Antagonist
  • Three-Act Structure
  • The First Act
  • The Second Act
  • The Third Act
  • Telling a Story
  • The Screenplay
  • "Labyrinth"
  • Using a Screenplay
  • Live Concert Video
  • Music Video
  • The Script
  • Script Breakdown
  • Visual Guidelines
  • Creative Inspiration
  • Visual References
  • Visual References in "Inception"
  • The Shot List
  • Planning Shots
  • Storyboards
  • Storyboards: "American Beauty"

Lesson 10: The Long Take

  • To Cut or Not
  • Hitchcock on Kuleshov
  • "Battleship Potemkin"
  • Shooting Sufficient Material
  • "Zodiac"
  • The Long Take
  • Fictional Time
  • Real Time
  • Pace and Rhythm
  • Shooting a Long Take
  • "Children of Men"
  • Challenges
  • Background
  • Camera Movement
  • Lighting
  • "Goodfellas"
  • Performance
  • Designing a Long Take
  • "Shadow Man" Battle Scene
  • Careful Planning
  • Behind-the-Scenes Photos
  • A Story Within a Long Take

Lesson 11: Continuity

  • The Edited Scene
  • Analysis
  • Structure in the Scene
  • Editing in the Scene
  • Editing and the Cinematographer
  • Maintaining Continuity
  • Types of Continuity
  • Continuity of Time
  • Present
  • Past
  • Future
  • Conditional Time
  • Continuity of Time
  • Continuity of Space
  • Content Continuity
  • Lighting Continuity
  • Flexibility
  • Directional Continuity
  • The 180 Line
  • Crossing the Line
  • Cutting The 20/30 Rules
  • The Content Cut
  • The Action Cut
  • The POV Cut
  • The Conceptual Cut
  • The Jump Cut

Lesson 12: Collaboration

  • The Creative Team
  • The Producer
  • Interview: Laura Ziskin
  • The Director
  • Interview: Alfred Hitchcock
  • The Screenwriter
  • Interview: Joseph Stefano
  • The Cinematographer
  • The Production Designer
  • Interview: Therese DePerez
  • The Editor
  • The Cutting Edge
  • The Movie Set
  • Assistant Director
  • Script Supervisor
  • Costume Designer
  • Makeup Artist
  • Assistant Cameraman
  • Sound Mixer
  • Electric Department
  • Grip Department
  • Shooting Procedures
  • Camera Procedures
  • Building a Winning Team
  • Professionals
  • Finding Help
  • Finding Fellow Filmmakers
  • Resources

Tal Lazar

Author & Instructor

Tal Lazar is a professional cinematographer based in Los Angeles, California. With years of professional experience in the USA and abroad, Tal shoots with the latest motion picture digital cameras as well as 35mm film. Putting an emphasis on narrative feature length films, Tal has shot movies in many different genres ranging from drama to comedy and horror.

In recent years Tal has been teaching an advanced cinematography course at the American Film Institute Conservatory in Los Angeles.

Tal holds an MFA from AFI and a BFA from Tel Aviv University, Israel.


Basic knowledge in operating the student's own camera and ability to transfer video. With the many models and types of cameras available, this course can only cover the basic and most common camera settings and functions.

Audio Post Production for Film and TV, Film Scoring 101, Pro Tools 101, and Music Video Editing with Final Cut Pro would complement this course but are not required for the understanding and successful completion of this course.

Required Textbooks

None required

Software Requirements

  • Video editing software is recommended. Your editing software must be capable of producing .MOV, .AVI, .MPG, .M4V, .WMV, or .MTS file formats. If you do not have video editing software, you can use Movie Maker, included on Windows computers, or iMovie, included on Mac computers.
  • Mac Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, or Safari
  • PC Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Edge
  • Flash Player (if using the Record Live tool)

Hardware Requirements

A video camera capable of copying video to your computer is necessary. If you are going to submit video directly from your camera for assignments, it must be capable of outputting .MOV, .AVI, .MPG, .M4V, .WMV, or .MTS file formats.

A still camera is necessary as well, with the ability to copy the images to your computer. The camera may be consumer level, of any type. Your images should be in the .GIF, .JPG, or .PNG file formats.

Students may also use a camera which functions as both video and still camera, as well as any image-capturing device such as a smartphone.

Mac Users

  • OS X 10.7 or later
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Sound Card
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Webcam

PC Users

  • Windows Vista SP2 or higher
  • Intel Pentium 4 or higher
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Sound Card
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Webcam


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Next Term Starts January 9

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