Collaborating with the director in terms of the vision sought for a given scene, the cinematographer will direct the lighting, select from a variety of film stocks, and choose a lens. Lenses range between the very short focus wide-angle type (for instance, 8mm through 30mm) through the mid-range "normal" (50mm), to the very long focus telephoto. The longer the lens, the more the focused image is collapsed into a single plane. In the climactic scene of The Graduate (1967), Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) runs down a suburban sidewalk toward the camera, turning at the last moment to race off-camera into a church to stop a wedding. Shot here with a very long lens, Benjamin seems to float in the frame. Although we see his legs pumping and his face picking up an expression of agonized exhaustion, he does not seem to approach us, as he would if photographed with a normal lens. The aesthetic effect is that, race as he
Although he shot more than sixty films, including Kidnapped (1938) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940) for Darryl F. Zanuck, Wuthering Heights (1939, for which he won an Academy Award ® ), The Little Foxes (1941), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and The Bishop's Wife (1947) for Samuel Goldwyn, The Outlaw (1943) for Howard Hughes, and Intermezzo (1939) for David O. Selznick, it is for a single effort, in collaboration with a newcomer to Hollywood, that Gregg Toland's name is most frequently associated with extraordinary achievement in cinematography: Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941). Toland asked Welles to use him on the picture, since he wanted to learn by working with a man who did not know anything about cinematography.
With deep-focus, high-keyed illumination technique specially adapted for this project, Toland provided Welles with stunningly sharp images. Especially notable are the election speech scene (with its exceptionally high contrast and provocative shooting angles), Kane stumbling past the mirrors at Xanadu (with tautly controlled lighting that produces explosive mirror effects), and the warehouse finale (reprised by Steven Spielberg in Raiders of the Lost Ark , 1981), shot with great depth of field and a moving camera. With its simultaneous dramatic action in front, middle, and rear planes of focus, Citizen Kane became a landmark of cinematographic vision in Hollywood film. Welles also wanted "lateral depth of focus" and so Toland used wide-angle lenses with very small apertures; all of this required very intense illumination and led to high-contrast images.
Toland entered the motion picture industry as an office boy and became a lighting cameraman before he was twenty. He worked intensively with William Cameron Menzies but avoided being trapped in a studio contract; then he became invaluable to Goldwyn, who because he wanted Toland free for The Bishop's Wife refused to loan him to Howard Hawks for Red River (1949). The extraordinary intensity of Toland's collaborations with John Ford on The Long Voyage Home (1940) and The Grapes of Wrath stemmed from the men's shared alcoholism and Ford's admiration for Toland's ability to work with great decisiveness. On Citizen Kane , Toland was continually offering Welles what he had learned with Ford—unnecessary editing could be avoided by playing scenes, wherever possible, in a single shot.
Just before his death, Toland had perfected an f.64 lens that could provide depth of field to infinity with "perfect" focus. He is memorialized in the American Film Institute's documentary, Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography (1992).
The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Long Voyage Home (1940), Citizen Kane (1941), The Little Foxes (1941), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Bazin, André. Orson Welles: A Critical View . Foreword by François Truffaut. Los Angeles: Acrobat Books, 1991.
Bogdanovich, Peter. "The Kane Mutiny." In Focus on Citizen Kane , edited by Ronald Gottesman, 28–53. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976.
Callow, Simon. Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu . London: Jonathan Cape, 1995.
Eyman, Scott. Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford . New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.
Kael, Pauline. The Citizen Kane Book . New York: Limelight, 1984.
might, his chance of coming closer (to us, and to the church) seems slight. When suddenly he turns to run off screen, the viewer is surprised (pleasantly) to discover in the pan that follows him that he made it, after all. Since a few moments later he will in fact succeed in thwarting the wedding of his beloved to another man, this telephoto shot has the effect of sharing with the viewer the agonizing frustration Benjamin feels at this moment, while also preparing the viewer to be relieved of that anxiety.
Short lenses have three effects on motion picture photography. First, shots taken in wide angle require more light than shots taken with a 50mm lens, and the wider the angle (the smaller the focal range) the more additional light is required. Second, in wide-angle photography, the actual camera apparatus must be relatively close to its subject, since space appears to expand outward from the center of the frame. Third, the wide angle produces distortion from the center to the periphery of the frame. A face photographed in wide angle seems plumper, the nose more prominent, the eyes slightly farther apart than one shot in 50mm. Much of Stanley Kubrick's (1928–1999) A Clockwork Orange (1971) is done in wide angle, with the effect that the characters seem caricatured and the action bizarre and circus-like.
A choice of film stock is yet another means whereby a cinematographer can create a filmic effect. Motion picture film is a strip of cellulose acetate coated with an emulsion of halides that are sensitive to light. The light-sensitive emulsion rests on the acetate base in particles relatively small or large: that is, in finer or larger "grain." The finer the grain of the film, the more sensitive it is to light—for color work, this sensitivity registers light in various ranges of the visible spectrum, specifically magenta, yellow, and cyan light (which ultimately produce green, blue, and red in the final picture). The magenta registration is most sensitive to contrast, and through the use of filtration, this color layer can be manipulated separately in printing (through a technique called "color timing") to affect the contrast and, to some degree, the darkness of the image. Fine grain black-and-white film, which came into use for the first time with the French New Wave in the early 1960s, permitted street photography at night and under restricted lighting conditions. For Barry Lyndon (1975), Stanley Kubrick wanted cinematographer John Alcott (1931–1986) to simulate seventeenth-century candlelight, so no electric lighting was used on the shoot at all. Thousands of candles were used for indoor scenes, and maximal use was made of available light for exteriors, all in conjunction with very sensitive color film stock.
The finer the grain of the film, the more light that registers upon it (or the more swiftly light registers), and therefore the greater the available depth of field in the image. Still another mechanism exists for increasing the depth of field—a vital component of cinematic realism, lending to the viewer the belief that a three-dimensional world is being reproduced onscreen. This is the camera's aperture, which can be stopped up or down to permit more or less light, respectively, to enter the camera and strike the surface of the film. Depth perception is aided by stopping the aperture down, and with a very high aperture number (a tiny aperture) the apparent extension of the picture away from the front plane of focus is profound. For David Brisbin's long "face at the end of the road" shots in Gus Van Sant's (b. 1952) My Own Private Idaho (1991), for example, shot during mid-day in unclouded light on an empty highway in the American West, the lens is closed down to a very high f-stop and the viewer can see all the way from the front of the shot to the point where the road meets the horizon in clear, sharp focus. Much of Wait Until Dark (1967), on the other hand—a film depicting the perils of a blind woman trapped in her apartment with malevolent thieves—was shot by Charles Lang (1902–1998) in the f-4 to f-8 range, with little depth of field yet with enough aperture to allow as much light as possible to enter the camera since the scenes are relatively dark. When a film shot is made at f-2 or lower, only the foremost plane of the shot will appear in crisp focus, and everything behind that will be blurry—for example, the pistol that dominates the frame in the finale of Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945).
Cinematographers must have a broad knowledge of film stocks and development processes. Color stock can be balanced for (blue) daylight or (yellow) tungsten (incandescent) illumination. Further, film stock of any sensitivity can be processed by the laboratory either normally or overexposed at the cinematographer's order. Overexposure, called "pushing," makes the shot look grainier and in higher contrast, as well as saturating the colors, and is especially useful when light is at a minimum. A technique widely used until extremely sensitive film stocks were developed and computer animation took the place of much in-camera special effects was the day-for-night shot, in which a scene meant to take place at night was shot in broad daylight using a combination of pushed exposure, tungsten-based (indoor) color film without compensating filtration (so that the color would shift toward moonlight blue), avoidance of sky in composition, and short focus (since the ability to see depth of field is related to the natural response of squinting in bright daylight). When the cinematographer must shoot in shadows with insufficient light to compensate, he can order the film to be post-flashed, that is, exposed very briefly to light at the laboratory to add exposure to the shot.
Two other factors complicate matters in cinematographic work, action speed (motion) and camera speed. First, objects move in cinema, and the camera can itself move (in dollies, pans, tracks, and tilts). The more motion there is, the less light from any particular source will reach the film. This is especially true in pan shots, in flash pans or whip pans (when the visual field swoops laterally with great speed), or in zoom outs, when peripheral material must be realized optically for the viewer under conditions where very little time is given for seeing it. For moving camera shots, or shots including considerable movement onscreen, cinematographers will aim for a wider aperture and for a film stock that is especially sensitive, as well as for the opportunity to use as much light as possible. Whenever considerable lighting is required, shooting can become both unpleasant and demanding for actors, since the focal requirements in a moving shot require that individuals place themselves in the visual field with great precision, often repeatedly for take after take.
A second matter is the camera speed (not to be confused with the "film speed," which is an index of the film's sensitivity to light, as discussed above). The conventional 24 frames-per-second (fps) speed at which film passes in front of the aperture is susceptible to adjustment by the cameraman. When the film is moved through the camera faster than 24 fps but the resulting footage is projected at a normal 24 fps, the result for the viewer is what is usually termed "slow motion." By contrast, winding the camera down produces in projection a jerky mechanical feeling. In the case of contemporary projection of silent films, such as Mack Sennett's (1884–1960) Keystone Cops chases, the "jerkiness" we often see does not result from the original filmmaker's intentionally winding down the camera but has a different origin. Silent film was shot, typically, at 18 fps (although with hand-cranked cameras, this speed was not absolutely consistent). When sound was introduced in the late 1920s, it became necessary, in order to avoid problems in synchronization, to standardize film projection speed and 24 fps came to be the accepted rate. When we see film shot at 18 fps projected at 24 fps, it seems to be in fast motion and jerky.
In using lighting on the set, the cinematographer moves among many possible choices. Ambient light gives general diffuse illumination to an entire scene. Scrims with gauze or other semitransparent material and colored filters can be attached to the front of lights. Lighting can be carbon based (arc lighting), producing an intense blue daylight quality (through the use of lamps called brutes and molarcs [or moles]); or incandescent, producing a yellow indoor-quality lighting (through the use of various-sized Fresnel lamps). Very tiny key-lights can be used to give extra illumination to very small portions of an image—for instance, the cheekbones or eyes of the star, as with Bela Lugosi (1882–1956) in Dracula (1931). Greta Garbo (1905–1990) insisted on working with William Daniels (1901–1970), who was especially adept at modulating key lighting to accentuate her cheekbones and sculpt the tonalities of her face. Backlighting gives a sense of roundness to objects and people. Clothes lights fill in the bodies of actors whose faces are keylit. "Kickers" give an angled backlit fill. Robert Burks, working for Hitchcock, softened the focus on female stars by stretching a gauze or nylon stocking over the lens (a technique that had been introduced by Hendrik Sartov [1885–1970] around 1919, when he photographed Lillian Gish [1893–1993]) and then piercing a tiny hole in it with a lit cigarette (or by coating the lens with Vaseline). Fill light is used from beneath the star, typically on the side of the head or face, to round out the head and body and lift the star's level of illumination slightly higher than anyone else in the scene—thus directing attention specifically in that person's direction. In more modern photography, fill lighting is most frequently accomplished by reflection with mylar.
The cinematographers of the New Wave, such as Henri Decaë (1915–1987), Sacha Vierny (1919–2001), Raoul Coutard (1924–1993), and Néstor Almendros (1930–1992), frequently used reflection techniques, sometimes even lighting by bouncing light with mirrors. When direct studio lighting is reflected off a brilliant surface back onto a subject, the reflected light is softer than the direct light, produces no shadows, and is ideal for giving a gentle filling effect to the scene. The reflector is held by a gaffer under the camera and below the object or person to be lit. The films of Eric Rohmer (b. 1920) are especially noteworthy for the softness, suppleness, and sweetness of the lighting. His Pauline à la plage ( Pauline at the Beach , 1983) is a remarkable example of intensive reflected (or bounced) light being used to fill in the available light of the natural exteriors. With reflected light, the skins of the characters, virtually always in bathing suits in this film, take on a soft fruity color.
Eventually to become the cinematographer of more than sixty films, including works by Barbet Schroeder, Jean Eustache, Jean-Claude Brialy, Maurice Pialat, Monte Hellman, Marguerite Duras, Alan J. Pakula, and Moshe Mizrahi, Néstor Almendros moved to Cuba after World War II, attending Havana University for a brief time. He traveled to Rome, enrolling in the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, a school he found too academic for his tastes, then taught Spanish at Vassar College before returning to Cuba after Fidel Castro rose to power in 1959. He was drawn to Paris by the French New Wave and began work there on La Collectionneuse ( The Collector , Eric Rohmer, 1967).
He worked repeatedly with two directors, shooting Ma nuit chez Maud ( My Night at Maud's , 1969), Le genou de Claire ( Claire's Knee , 1970), L'Amour l'après-midi ( Chloe in the Afternoon , 1972), The Marquise of O (1976), Perceval le Gallois (1978), and Pauline à la plage ( Pauline at the Beach , 1983) with Rohmer; and Domicile conjugal ( Bed and Board , 1970), Les Deux anglaises et le continent ( Two English Girls and the Continent , 1971), L'Histoire d'Adèle H. ( The Story of Adèle H. , 1975), L'Homme qui aimait les femmes ( The Man Who Loved Women , 1977), La Chambre verte ( The Green Room , 1978), L'Amour en fuite ( Love on the Run , 1979), Le Dernier métro ( The Last Metro , 1980), and Confidentially Yours (1982) with François Truffaut. For Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1976), he won an Academy Award ® ; and he was nominated for Kramer vs. Kramer (Robert Benton, 1979) and The Blue Lagoon (Randal Kleiser, 1980). Thanks to his color images, frequently shot at night with actors wearing black-and-white costumes and lit so as to produce artificial moonlight, Still of the Night (Benton, 1982) remains one of the most chilling thrillers since Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960), and Almendros's sensual imagery in Martin Scorsese's "Life Lessons" segment of New York Stories (1989) makes it a masterpiece.
Convinced that the use of technical devices could adversely affect cinematography, Almendros became an early pioneer of impressionistic reflected light as an antidote to the harsh effects of cinema noir. Using reflective cards or foam sheets, linen, and mirroring material (for example, the plastic fabric Gryflon), he achieved startling, soft painterly color. For example, in sequences of Days of Heaven , he used firelight without additional illumination. Painters' works often inspired his approach to a film: Paul Gauguin for Claire's Knee , Frederic Remington for Goin' South (Jack Nicholson, 1978), and Piero della Francesca for Kramer vs. Kramer .
His autobiography, A Man with a Camera , is not only a witty study of contemporary cinema rich with intriguing comments (such as his reflection that the western is a kind of American commedia dell'arte ), but also a treasure trove of insights about the cinematographer's art and condition.
Le genou ( Claire's Knee , 1970), The Marquise of O (1976), Days of Heaven (1976), La Chambre verte ( The Green Room , 1978), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), The Blue Lagoon (1980), Still of the Night (1982), Pauline à la plage ( Pauline at the Beach , 1983), "Life Lessons" segment in New York Stories (1989)
Almendros, Néstor. A Man with a Camera . Translated by Rachel Phillips Belash. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984.
In film noir and other cinema of the 1940s, cinematographers very frequently used cookies—pieces of plywood or cardboard cut into specific shapes and held
up by stagehands or mounted onto stands between the key-lights and the scene being filmed. The cookies would create very specifically shaped shadows (for example, tree branches, newel posts, heads, animals, and so on) that could be magnified upon a wall at will depending on the distance between the off-camera cookie and the light striking it. Very fine examples are provided by the west wing bedroom scene in Rebecca (1940), Christopher Cross's attempted hotel-room suicide in Scarlet Street (1945) and Jeff Bailey's (Robert Mitchum) nocturnal visit to Leonard Eels's apartment in Out of the Past (1947). Also used for specific focus and shadowing of light are "goboes" (wooden screens that block light), flags (tiny goboes), teasers (black cloth or wooden flags for blocking backlight), plain and scrim dots and argets (round pieces of card or wood, or gauze), scrims (translucent flags), blades (flags for cutting light into sharp lines), and clips (tiny flags that can be attached to cameras or lights). In film noir , along with shaped lighting, the cinematographer normally shot with a slightly wide-angle lens in order to distort the scene (in all dimensions) and often used a slightly grainy stock and a low-placed camera tilting upward so that the narrative world would seem to loom precariously above the theater audience.