Cinematography 101: What is Cinematography? OFFICIAL DISCUSSION


RJ Creative Director Mike Symonds delves into the building blocks of what cinematography is, and how we can start to learn the language of cinema. Here’s a hint: anyone can learn!

What did you think of this video?? Any questions for Mike? Leave 'em below!


This topic is now listed. It will be displayed in topic lists.


Absolutely great video, not just whetting of the appetite but a nice exposition of great cinematography in great films. However, I am curios, what is the music in the background


The video has me SO excited for the Cinematography track. I’m interested in learning about the meaning behind shots, because so many tutorials just show how and then a couple examples, and never why. How much of Cine is lighting and how much angles/camera stuff? I know it probably changes set-to-set and project-to-project, but what will this focus on more?


I honestly can’t wait to see more of this track, as I’m really loving the different videos coming out for cinematography. Along with that I want to see if I can try different things with cinematography on lower budgets, and trying to get better shots even if I don’t have the best lens/camera.


This is a great overview of cinematography, but what exactly is “the language of cinema?” Is there a vocabulary list to study to get the lingo of cinematography down?


So which film is the thumbnail from? BTW, this track looks awesome…I noticed that the Cinematography seems to be getting the most attention out of all the tracts (Producing, Screenwriting, Arts and Vanities, and Editing and Post haven’t even been touched yet!). I’m super-excited for the Sound Gun video, which means more sound design!


The language of cinema is less about the lingo used on set, and more about the meaning behind every shot and lighting choice. Cinematic language has been developed gradually over a century, and every combination of lighting and framing in a film has been carefully selected in order to convey a certain meaning. The art of cinematography is to understand those meanings and convey them to the audience through a visual medium.

As they mentioned in the video, you can break this language down into typical rules and conventions, and you can read up on the various definitions of cinematic slang. There’s plenty of resources online about cinematography basics, which I would recommend reading up on, but other than that, watch movies.

It sounds simple, but you need to be prepared to ruin movies for yourself forever. Don’t watch a movie for its entertainment value; watch it, and analyse each scene careful. Try to determine the relationship between the characters, and the work out how the filmmakers have positioned the lights and camera in order to convey that relationship. The best films are built on subtext, with true meaning conveyed not by the words the characters say, but their performances and the way the camera is positioned can reveal a completely different scene.

For example, you could have two spies sitting on a bench, merely chatting about the weather. The text is innocuous. But if the camera is positioned at a low angle, or you begin a slow dolly in the meaning can change. You cut in on a small shift in weight, a subtle movement of a suit jacket, an ECU on a mouth, and suddenly your scene has taken on subtext, and your have begun to introduce tension into a scene. Its this type of meaning that is conveyed by the cinematography, and it’s this meaning that makes up the language of cinema.


@Alex_Machina So glad to hear that you are excited! That makes those of us working on RJFS really, really happy.

That’s the beauty of cinematography - it’s lighting, angles, and so much more. Honestly, our goal with the whole track is to cover as much as we can and give you guys all the knowledge, tools, and skills to tell your story visually. I’m also really glad you want to learn the meaning behind shots because one of our main philosophies is that filmmakers should also be working in service to the story.

RJFS is an ongoing series (with a break here and there) so it gives us the freedom to talk about everything. At least that’s our hope :smile:

@knifebladepresents The thumbnail is from The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007). The entire list of films we referenced is here:

The Sound Gun video is just around the corner too!


@jaredbrautigam we’re already working on a video that will get into the “vocabulary” - hopefully we can release it soon :wink:

@thebombadier the music in this video was composed by RJFS Friend and talented musician Max Waller! (


@knifebladepresents Hey there! Cinematography just getting the most love because it’s the most stuff we had shot and ready to go. Right now, there’s an even build for all the tracks so we’re just working away on getting them all up and running!

@Scott_Leeson Yup! We’re absolutely budget conscious here as well. Even on our largest productions, we’re trying to do what others do for half the cost. We’ve learned so much in the process, but fundamental is the idea that there is no production value like your own inventiveness.


I came across the video on Youtube and I’m glad I did as it exposed me to a whole lot. I’ve always wanted to go to film school but I can’t afford it and there aren’t enough schools offering short programs in my area. I am willing to learn online or through a video tutorial. So here are my questions and I’m hoping you could help.

As a beginner, what type of camera would you recommend to me? (low budget)
Do you have video tutorials I could purchase online?
What other advice do you have for a beginner that doesn’t even know where to start from?

Thanks in advance!


HI how are you ? And to answer some of your questions here DSLR or Camcorder? a nice topic that covers the cheaper cameras and weather you should use DSLR or Camcorders ( As a no budget I went with a DSLR but that was just me )

from what I’ve seen every thing is free and I believe it’s going to stay that way ( may be wrong but I don’t think so )

I think the best advice I’ve heard is from Ryan Connely @filmriot " Write , Film, Edit, Repeat" One of the most important things you can do is learn and make , You’ll make mistakes, but the faster you make them and learn the better you get

Hope it helped and welcome to RJFS


A show with great cinematography is The Twilight Zone. Even over 50 years later, the thrills, chills, and plot twists hold up. For a great example of cinematography watch the episode “eye of the beholder”. Great stuff.