What is digital cinematography and what should you do to become a master of cinematography? Follow our story and get more insight about digital cinematography’s history, how it took over the traditional film stock, and where to start your career.
What is Digital Cinematography?
If we put it in simple terms, digital cinematography captures motion pictures using digital image sensors. This involves using digital cameras to record film scenes. Digital cinematography also uses other equipment needed to create visual effects, and enhance the look of films in post-production.
Because the digital cinematography has become the dominant method in the film industry, it is true to say that the majority of new film productions have been created digitally these days.
Due to its flexibility, lower costs, and the ease of editing and distribution, digital cinematography is the main choice for film directors today. It allows filmmakers to have greater control over the final image and experiment with various filmmaking techniques. But the digital approach is a relatively new invention.
History of Digital Cinematography
Digital cinematography traces its origins to the late 20th century. It was a big change in the film industry at the time. At first, film directors were skeptical. They liked using film stock to make movies. But, with time, digital technology got better and better.
In the 1990s, digital cameras became more common. All of the sudden, they were used for TV shows and documentaries more and more. Then, in 1999, “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” was the first big movie to use digital cameras. Chrome key was used extensively in the film to create digital set extensions. This was a turning point for digital cinematography.
In the 2000s, more movies were shot digitally. Digital cameras became cheaper and easier to use. This made these cameras more popular with both film studios and indie filmmakers. Also, movie theaters switched to digital projectors. This made it easier to show digitally produced movies.
By the mid-2010s, digital cinematography was the norm. Most movies were shot and shown digitally. Film stock became less popular.
As a result, digital cinematography is everywhere today. It has changed how movies are made and how we watch them. In one word, the movie industry is now more flexible and efficient (and more productive).
Was the Transition to Digital Cinematography Easy?
Like with a lot of other things in this world, the transition from film to digital was not quick. It took time and faced a ton of opposition. Some people in the movie industry were against digital. They loved the look and feel of film.
Surprisingly, some famous directors, like Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan, still prefer film. They believe it has a unique quality that digital can’t match. But most filmmakers have embraced digital technology.
The 2000s saw a big shift. More movies used by digital cameras. Film stock became more expensive and harder to find. Digital cameras became cheaper and more accessible. This helped to speed up the transition.
But don’t take us wrong. The transition from film to digital took a few decades. It faced challenges and opposition, but digital eventually became the dominant choice in the movie industry as we know it today.
Notable Digital Cinematography Examples
Let’s see some examples of where digital cinematography got us in this age of technology. Here are 3 our favorite movies where digital cinematography comes at its best.
Hugo (2011) – Hugo was a beautiful tribute to the early days of cinema. Digital cameras helped capture the movie’s intricate details and colors. The 3D effects also made the audience feel like they were part of the story.
Skyfall (2012) – Skyfall is known for its stunning visuals and action scenes. Digital cameras allowed for better control of lighting and color. This made the movie’s cinematography stand out. The digital effects also helped make the thrilling action sequences possible.
Dune (2021) – Digital cinematography played a big role in Dune’s amazing visuals. The stunning landscapes and special effects were easier to create with digital technology. This made the sci-fi world come to life on the screen.
Film vs. Digital Cinematography
There will always be adepts for the old good days and the new technology. Yes, digital cinematography is not perfect. It has a good amount of flaws, but it does have some undeniable advantages.
Advantages of Digital Cinematography
Here are the advantages that digital brought forward.
With digital cameras, filmmakers can easily tweak settings. They can adjust colors, lighting, and more. This helps create the perfect image for each scene. Digital also allows for better editing, giving even more control in post-production.
Digital films can be copied and shared quickly. There’s no need to create physical film prints. This makes it easier to send movies to theaters, festivals, or online platforms. It saves time and money, and it’s better for the environment too.
Digital cameras and equipment are often cheaper than film gear. There’s no need to buy expensive film stock or pay for film processing. Filmmakers can shoot more footage without worrying about costs. This helps them experiment and create better movies.
Disadvantages of Digital Cinematography
We also admit that digital cinematography has disadvantages that film buffs like to use against it.
Digital images can be very sharp and clear. Sometimes, they can feel too perfect or sterile. Film has a more organic look, which some filmmakers prefer. This is why some movies from the before digital age may feel more natural and less like a computer-generated image.
Film can be more forgiving with small mistakes. It can hide minor focus and exposure issues better than digital. Digital cameras can be less tolerant of these errors. This means filmmakers need to be more careful and precise when shooting digitally.
Storing digital movies can be tricky. Digital storage devices can fail, and file formats can become outdated. This makes preserving digital movies for the future a challenge. Film, on the other hand, can last for decades if stored properly.
Despite these inconveniences, digital cinematography is here to stay due to its flexibility, lower cost, and more room for experimentation.
Digital Cinematography Techniques
We have probably convinced you already that digital cinematography is the only way to go for starting filmmakers. The entry bar is relatively low with all filmmaking gear. Here are some must-haves for you.
Choosing the right camera and lens is key. Different cameras have different features, like resolution and low-light performance. Lenses can affect the look of the movie too, like depth of field and sharpness. Starting filmmakers prefer these beginner-level cameras: Sony FX6, Panasonic Lumix BS1H, Sony FX30, or Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro 12K.
Lighting is another super important element in digital cinematography. It sets the mood and helps tell the story. Digital cameras can capture more detail in shadows and highlights. Filmmakers must learn to use light creatively and effectively to make their scenes look great.
Color grading can make a big difference in the final look of your film. You can always use software to tweak colors, contrast, and more. Davinci Resolve is the best software to work on the final look (and it’s free!). Attaining that cinematic look is so much easier with access to digital tools.
Learning Digital Cinematography
If it’s that time in your life when you consider all available choices, digital cinematography may be an interesting path to follow.
You can actually earn a digital cinematography degree. Such programs focus on teaching the skills, techniques, and knowledge required for working in the digital film and video production industry. This degree typically covers various aspects of digital filmmaking, including camera operation, lighting, composition, storytelling, color grading, and post-production processes.
Students in a digital cinematography degree program learn to create visually compelling content using the latest digital cameras, equipment, and software tools. Interestingly, such a degree can be offered at different levels, such as associate, bachelor’s, or master’s. The degree may be available through traditional on-campus programs or online courses. As a graduate with a digital cinematography degree, you may take on various roles within the film, television, and video production industries.
We will not try listing all possible on-campus programs in digital cinematography, but we will mention the popular online digital cinematography degree programs here:
- New York Film Academy’s Online Bachelor of Fine Arts in Filmmaking
- Los Angeles Film School’s Online Bachelor of Science in Digital Filmmaking
- Academy of Art University’s Online Bachelor of Fine Arts in Motion Pictures & Television
- Toronto Film School’s Online Video Production Diploma
If the degree is too pricey for you, you can turn to specialized online course. Here are a couple to consider:
- MasterClass: Cinematography with Werner Herzog
- Udemy: Cinematography & Videography: Better Video with Any Camera
- Coursera: The Art of Visual Storytelling Specialization
You can also do some reading about cinematography. Here are some books to start with:
- “Digital Cinematography: Fundamentals, Tools, Techniques, and Workflows” by David Stump
- “Cinematography: Theory and Practice” by Blain Brown [free PDF]
- “The Five C’s of Cinematography” by Joseph V. Mascelli [free preview]
We also have a solid list of free PDF books on filmmaking here – download those books and read them at your own pace.
Is the Degree Worth it?
Going to a film school is usually a good idea if you have the means. For example, Full Sail University’s Digital Cinematography Program may cost you over $60,000. You can earn your degree within 30 months. If you are in the US, you can apply for various grants and scholarships to enter such a program.
Is Digital Cinematography a Good Career?
Yes, digital cinematography can be a rewarding and fulfilling job if you are passionate about visual storytelling, filmmaking, and the creative process. However, whether it is a good job for you depends on your personal preferences, goals, and expectations. You also need to cultivate the following traits and skills to be a successful cinematographer.
Creativity: Cinematography offers a platform for creativity and innovation where you can experiment with visuals, lighting, and camera techniques to bring stories to life.
Collaboration: Cinematographers work closely with directors, producers, and other crew members, which is why teamwork is essential here.
Networking and reputation: Success in cinematography often relies on building a strong network and reputation within the industry. This can take time, effort, and persistence.
Competitive field: Cinematography is a competitive industry, with many talented individuals vying for a limited number of job opportunities. Breaking into the field may require determination and patience.
Freelance work: Many cinematographers work as freelancers, which can mean inconsistent income and a lack of job security. But, this also offers more flexibility and the opportunity to work on a variety of projects.
Long Hours and tight deadlines: Cinematography jobs can involve long hours, tight deadlines, and demanding work, including carrying heavy equipment or working in challenging environments.
High expectations: Directors, producers, and other stakeholders may have high expectations for the visual elements of a film. It may add pressure on the cinematographer to deliver exceptional results.
Unpredictable conditions: Cinematographers may face challenging and unpredictable working conditions, such as adverse weather, difficult locations, or last-minute changes to the shooting schedule. Being flexible and positive is what’s required.
Problem-solving: Cinematographers are often required to troubleshoot technical issues, adapt to unforeseen circumstances, and come up with creative solutions to achieve the desired visual effects.
Well, despite these difficulties (frankly speaking, any job has its hardships), if you are willing to work hard to build your career, cinematography can be a satisfying and rewarding career. Just check out job openings on these sites.
The earning potential for digital cinematography jobs is between 21K to over 130K/year, with the average salary sitting around 65K in the US.
In conclusion, digital cinematography has revolutionized the world of filmmaking as we know it today. It also offers exciting opportunities for aspiring filmmakers never seen before. With the right education, skills, and determination, you can build a successful career in this creative and rewarding field.
Remember, practice makes perfect, so keep honing your craft, stay updated with the latest technology, and never stop learning. Embrace the challenges and celebrate your achievements, as you embark on your journey to become a digital cinematography expert.