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Common Cinematography Terms & What They Mean

written by: Kristina Dems•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 11/26/2010

Cinematography terms are numerous, often technical in nature. In this article, we discuss some of the most common terms that can help get a better grasp of the world of cinematography.

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    Cinematography If you are intrested in filmmaking, particularly participating in the field of cinematography, you need to be aware of certain film terms, cinematography terms, and concepts before relying on your own ideas and senses to create a great work in the form of moving pictures. Of course, it is best to take a formal course to learn the ropes of cinematography and related fields, but you can start your learning process now by understanding the following key cinematography terms.

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    Pan refers to the movement of the camera horizontally. The speed of this movement may vary and it can also include the movement of the light source. This is one of the most important cinematography tasks that help in telling the story, enhancing the mood of the scene and giving a dynamic feel to the visuals seen on the screen. The movement of the light source and the camera one a vertical axis, however, is called tilt. Panning and tilting can sometimes be combined to give a more dynamic feel to what is being captured by the camera.

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    Shutter Speed

    Shutter Speed is a technical term that pertains to the number of frames being captured by the camera in a second. The usual shutter speed for most video cameras are either 24 frames per second or 30 frames per second. The shutter speed of these cameras remain constant until the cinematographer decides to shoot the scene in slow motion or in high speed. Changing the shutter speed to accommodate slow motion and high speed scenes are done to enhance the drama of the scenes or to simply add a cool effect to the story being told.

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    This term simply refers to the process of capturing moving images digitally instead of the more traditional way of using film. The cinematography process takes a mild shift in how it is done, often for the better, since the quality of the images captured digitally is different as opposed to the more traditional way. Generally, it is easier to edit films shot digitally because it is easier to cut and apply special effects. Some people, however, still prefer the quality of film over digital.

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    Aperture refers to the rectangular size of the images captured on the camera. This regulates the amount of light that goes through the camera's lens and it is measure in f-stops. Aperture can be modified to let more or less light to be captured. Doing this lets the cinematographer avoid overexposure and underexposure for a particular scene being shot. It can also be used to set the mood of the scene or provide a unique visual element that may be required for the scene or the entire piece of movie.

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    Coverage is one of the most important cinematography terms since it pertains to the shooting of scenes from certain angles and perspective to enhance the mood of the scene and provide a way to tell the story in different ways. This involves shooting close-ups, reaction shots, extreme wide shots and over the shoulder shots to complement and enhance the master scene.

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    Photo Courtesy of / Supplied by Middlewick -