Cinematography-Benjaman Manning

Explain and evaluate the impact of digital technology on cinematography 

Filming techniques and process known primarily as cinematography by film makers when bringing their creations to life though the use of sound, lighting, and camera angles to portray their artistic vision on the silver screen 1. The technology to which cinematography is portrayed and transmitted to the viewer has changed drastically over the years though the advent of sound back in the 1920’s which led to the dynamic of sound being used as a factor for filling a scene, all the way up the digital age with ever improving technology leading to newer filming dynamics especially within 3D development which has  only added to the viewing experience 2.

A key time of interest is the development of cinematography through the time period of the 1990’s to the 2010’s and beyond made possible through the emergence of wide spread usage of digital film which was easier to edit and enhance which resulted in a new wave of CGI incorporated designs which only aided in the directors dream becoming a reality with now ever more unique camera angles and special effects being made possible through CGI 3. The development of CGI resulted in the enhancement of 3D animations which resulted in the movie Avatar (2009) being massively successful having a noticeably successful 3D release as the computer aided designs were able to reach their full potential thanks to over a decade of enhancements and refinement which made for a beautifully crafted movie following the core codes and conventions of cinematography and how it is applied throughout most movie genres.

The advent digital technology enabled the overall development of the stylistic and visual dynamics of film making to progress to enable a more immersive experience through the advent of surround sound and the development of 3D technologies 4. This rise in 3D movies most notably the movie Avatar (2009) highlighted the importance of cinematography development to keep up to date with the technological developments of the industry resulting in the shift in dynamics which has now highlighted more than ever screen details and depth to scenes to portray the directors image as much as humanly possible.

The technological aspects of cinema has ultimately seen the shift in the industry’s approach to cinematography techniques seeing the development of 3D and newly improved surround sound systems resulting in a more intense viewing experience. However the core aspects of cinematography I.e. being sound, lighting and camera angles 5 hasn’t changed massively since cinemas inception back in 1895 as a basic story telling commodity to which its basic process and features rarely change except for a societal changes in cinema such as a movement shift  such as stylistic approaches. An example of this would be the shift in cultural cinematic take on genres such as the western or film noir, neither of them on their own changed the whole approach to cinematography and how it presented the directors vision upon the screen but each genre that emerged over the years certainly brought its own unique flare to the realm of cinematography from the extreme lighting for film noir to the extreme close ups of the western genre.

Key developments within the cinematography area are mainly changes in techniques amongst genres due to cultural shifts and inspirations of the popular cinematic techniques at the time often referred to in “waves”. An example of this would be the “French New Wave” which had a drastic influence on Hollywood and European cinema throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, however this would never change the core aspects of film making and cinematography as its core idea is the transferring of information or the directors image to the screen using core story telling elements which add a sense of depth to what the audience is perceiving as a “reality”6. Genre influences on cinematography rely on mainly the basis that slight alterations to the cinematography techniques being portrayed on the screen over all gave the audiences a different feeling from genre to genre forging many iconic cinematic tropes which can be seen throughout many modern films, said examples are the extreme close ups of the western genre and the harsh contrasts cast by the lighting of the film noir themed films, even the horror genre has iconic cinematography tropes such as the use of sound effects and creepy visuals which have become iconic with the genre.

However it would be impossible to rule out the effects of technology on cinematography especially with the advent of sound in the early 1920s which resulted in a new dynamic of story telling which allowed the director to convey their image through new means which overall adds to the viewing experience. More recent developments such as the advent of digital film making has resulted in more heightened movies as the director now has more freedom to be creative with their works which results in a greater ability to tell a story through special effects such as CGI and 3D to which the movies of Avatar (2009) and The Matrix (1999). Without technological advancements from film reel to digital recordings neither of these movies unique cinematography styles would be made possible as their looks are key to the development of the worlds to which these films reside with ultimately is a representation of the directors image 7.

The cinematography aspects of film making have been kept mildly the same since cinemas inception back in 1895 with the years gone by bringing in new technologies and ideas which only made the whole cinematic process more fluid, which aided the directors and cinematographers share their image with audiences and aid in the overall telling of unique stories using similar codes and conventions through almost every project allowing for flexibility when genre cinematic tropes emerged. The positive aspects of this have resulted in a time trialled method of lighting descriptions to achieve the desired look whether that would be dark like in film noir or open and dry as seen in westerns, or the development of camera angles to help capture the perfect image to the inclusion of sound allowing more focus to be made to visuals and subtle story telling techniques drawing the audience in using these core cinematography elements.




Wheeler, P. (2001) Digital Cinematography. Oxford: Focal Press, pp. 3-5


Wheeler, P. (2001) Digital Cinematography. Oxford: Focal Press, pp. 42-44


Wheeler, P. (2005) Digital Cinematography. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Focal Press, pp. 50 – 52


Wheeler, P. (2005) Digital Cinematography. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Focal Press, pp. 112 – 113


Wheeler, P. (2005) Digital Cinematography. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Focal Press, p. 159


Donati, J. (2007) Exploring Digital Cinematography. New York: Thompson Delmar Learning, pp. 6-9


Smith, S. (2001) Digital Video Filmmaker’s Handbook. California: Lone Eagle, pp. 110-111


Smith, S. (2001) Digital Video Filmmaker’s Handbook. California: Lone Eagle, p. 230


Brown, B. (2016) Cinematography Theory & Practice for Cinematographers & Directors. 3rd Edition. New York: Routledge, pp. 62-69




The Matrix (1999)

Avatar (2009)




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