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 StorytellingPhotographyExposure TimesPhotography as ArtImages as CommunicationThe Power of the ImageMessages Hidden in ImagesCommunicating Your MessageThe FrameAspect Ratio

Lesson 2: A Technical Introduction to the Camera

How is an Image Created?Camera ObscuraCreating a Permanent PhotographModern Camera SensorsCreative Use of Exposure TimeCamera ComponentsCamera FunctionsExposing an ImageHow a Digital Sensor Determines BrightnessExposure and Shutter SpeedUsing Slow Shutter Speed on a Video CameraControlling ExposureThree Exposure ControlsAperture EffectsExposure and ApertureThe SensorAdjusting SensitivityNoiseVideo and Still CamerasVideo Exposure Functions

Lesson 3: The Lens

What is a Lens?Lensless PhotographyConvergenceLens SpeedField of ViewSharpnessDistortionGuidelines for choosing a LensThe Main Functions of a Photographic LensConsumer CamerasWhat Lens Do I Need?Choosing a LensThe Normal LensField of ViewLens TypesPerspective and DepthThe Illusion of Depth

Lesson 4: Camera Placement

Camera DistanceExamining a ShotShot TypesExtreme Long ShotLong ShotMedium Long ShotMedium ShotMedium Close Up and Close UpExtreme Close UpShot Size and LensesOver the Shoulder ShotTwo ShotCamera HeightEye Level HeightHigh AngleLow AngleThe "Hero" ShotObjective and Subjective Camera WorkAudience ViewpointFirst-Person ViewpointThird-Person Restricted ViewpointOmniscient ViewpointPoint-of-View ShotAnalyzing "Vertigo"

Lesson 5: Camera Movement

When Was the Camera Moved First?Camera Movement TypesMotivated Camera MovementThe Panning ShotThe Tilt ShotThe Tracking ShotThe Circular MoveThe Push-In ShotThe Pull-Out ShotThe Crane ShotThe Handheld ShotThe Steadicam ShotThe Aerial ShotMoving the Camera SuccessfullyStatic ShotsSignificant Camera Movement

Lesson 6: Lighting Tools

What Can Light Do for Us?IlluminationDepth and ShapeTextureMoodTelling a StoryProperties of LightAngleColorDiffusionProfessional Lighting ToolsSafetyArriflexLight MetersSekonic's Online ClassroomImprovised Lighting Tools

Lesson 7: Creative Lighting

Three-Point LightingThe Key LightThe Fill LightThe Back LightEffective Use of Three-Point LightingPractical Lighting ApplicationsLighting AnalysisLighting the FaceVisual IntensityContrast and AffinityContrast in ColorEvaluating Color ContrastStorytelling with LightingHow Does Light Help Tell a Story?

Lesson 8: Color

What is Color?The Relativity of ColorThe Human EyeAfter ImagesPrimary ColorsComplementary ColorsColor InterpretationShades of RedColor Interpretation in CinemaThe Meaning of ColorColor in Images and Film"Drive"Emotion and Color

Lesson 9: The Story

What is a Story?Story BasicsNarrative FilmConflict, Protagonist, and AntagonistThree-Act StructureThe First ActThe Second ActThe Third ActTelling a StoryThe Screenplay"Labyrinth"Using a ScreenplayLive Concert VideoMusic VideoThe ScriptScript BreakdownVisual GuidelinesCreative InspirationVisual ReferencesVisual References in "Inception"The Shot ListPlanning ShotsStoryboardsStoryboards: "American Beauty"

Lesson 10: The Long Take

To Cut or NotHitchcock on Kuleshov"Battleship Potemkin"Shooting Sufficient Material"Zodiac"The Long TakeFictional TimeReal TimePace and RhythmShooting a Long Take"Children of Men"ChallengesBackgroundCamera MovementLighting"Goodfellas"PerformanceDesigning a Long Take"Shadow Man" Battle SceneCareful PlanningBehind-the-Scenes PhotosA Story Within a Long Take

Lesson 11: Continuity

The Edited SceneAnalysisStructure in the SceneEditing in the SceneEditing and the CinematographerMaintaining ContinuityTypes of ContinuityContinuity of TimePresentPastFutureConditional TimeContinuity of TimeContinuity of SpaceContent ContinuityLighting ContinuityFlexibilityDirectional ContinuityThe 180 LineCrossing the LineCuttingThe 20/30 RulesThe Content CutThe Action CutThe POV CutThe Conceptual CutThe Jump Cut

Lesson 12: Collaboration

The Creative TeamThe ProducerInterview: Laura ZiskinThe DirectorInterview: Alfred HitchcockThe ScreenwriterInterview: Joseph StefanoThe CinematographerThe Production DesignerInterview: Therese DePerezThe EditorThe Cutting EdgeThe Movie SetAssistant DirectorScript SupervisorCostume DesignerMakeup ArtistAssistant CameramanSound MixerElectric DepartmentGrip DepartmentShooting ProceduresCamera ProceduresBuilding a Winning TeamProfessionalsFinding HelpFinding Fellow FilmmakersResources

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.

Depending on the student's personal goals, some courses will complement this course: Audio Post Production for Film and TV, Film Scoring 101, Pro Tools 101, and Music Video Editing with Final Cut Pro.

None of them, however, are required for the understanding and successful completion of this course.

A good working knowledge in computer technology for transferring video from a camera and uploading is necessary.

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


PC Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, Internet Explorer 10 or higherMac Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, SafariFlash Player: current versionQuickTime: current versionAdobe Reader: current versionVideo 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 machines, or iMovie, included on Macintosh computers. Both are free.

Windows Vista SP2 or higherIntel Pentium or higher1 GB RAM500 MB hard drive space recommendedSound card
OS X 10.7 or laterIntel Mac2 GB RAM500 MB hard drive space recommended

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.


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