Understanding Digital Cinematography

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The Principles of Cinematography

Digital video technology was developed from motion film technology with a lot of intermediary formats. The principles of cinematography started here and, in a lot of ways, the principles of digital cinematography are based on this. Though digital cinematography has its roots in the technology of the past, it is still straying from many of these standard principles and is developing some of its own because of its device specifics. Here is a look at digital cinematography, some techniques that are specific to it, and how it affects the way projects are formed.

Movement and Stabilization

One of the main technological differences between digital video cameras and film cameras is that the size and weight of the digital video camera is so much less than that of a large film camera. This provides more mobility as well as less stability, which must be accommodated for. Digital cinematography tends to respond to this by adding many more versatile camera angles to this situation, especially low, high, and Dutch angles throughout. Digital cinematography also developed a need for stabilization at all levels, so light weight dollies, tripods, monopods, steady cam devices, and pedestals were developed that were also as easy to move as the camera itself. What this ends up meaning is that digital cinematography should be marked by the ability to change setups quite often and move the camera, but if this type of cinematography is to be developed then it must be accompanied by peripheral devices.


Because of the financial accessibility of digital video cameras the principles of cinematography changed forever. This is primarily because the financial restrictions often pushed film into a common format that was easily accessible for consuming masses. This is mainly because of the cost of film production associated with it, where many very serious deviations were difficult to film. Digital video cameras lowered the cost dramatically and influenced a generation of filmmakers who viewed naturalism and minimalism as acceptable. Dogme 95, digital cinema verite, Mumblecore, and other movements have taken a view of the camera as being unrestricted and digital cinematography did not have to be pushed into stability. Here the digital cinematography was marked by the lack of stability and the shaky nature of the image framing, which also indicated the common texture of the home camcorder that had now become a standard for suburban life. What this essentially means for digital cinematography is that a camera that is able to act freely like a character in the film can move freely with control of the director of photography free of any stand. This is a very particular style of digital cinematography and is resented by a number of filmmakers, but is an option where digital cinematography has jumped away from the more standard principles of cinematography.

Adding to the Scenes

One of the essential features of the digital video camera is that the storage medium is dramatically cheaper than film. Film can be hundreds, even thousands, of dollars for the rolls, processing, and the like. Digital video formats on mini DV tapes are incredibly cheap, and even digital storage media like Panasonic P2 cards are reused continuously. What this means is that you can raise the shooting ratio to add more takes, many more angles, and a lot of more inserts. The ability to try things out in digital cinematography, to take chances, and to get a lot of shots that may not even be used is practical.

This post is part of the series: Unique Cinematography

Here are a series of cinematography tutorials around very specific situations in digital video production.

  1. Green Screen Cinematography
  2. Examples of Depth of Field in Cinematography
  3. Cinematography Schools
  4. Digital Cinematography
  5. Top Cinematography Tutorials