Contrary to popular belief, cinematography isn’t about creating “stunning” footage. More than anything, it’s about using images to emotionally engage your audience and tell a story.
Sound hard? Yeah, it is. But with the right knowledge backed up by a lot of practice, you’ll soon be on your way to perfecting your cinematic game.
And to help get you started, we’ve hunted down the top 7 cinematography tutorials going around. So get the sweatpants on and the 20-ounce bag of nacho cheese Doritos out because we’re going on a YouTube binge, starting with the basics and working our way up to the real geekalicious stuff!
Part 1: The Basics
This tutorial from wolfcrow touches on all the essentials you need to get started, from framing shots and positioning actors, all the way through to setting shutter speeds and adjusting your camera meter for different skin tones.
It’s clear, comprehensive, and offers an awesome launching pad for any newbie cinematographer. If 11 minutes defies your attention span, then please, feel free to take the easy road with this scant, albeit beautiful, intro tutorial by Matthew Stern instead.
Now you know your way around your camera’s settings, it’s time to dive in and film your first cinematic sequence. But before you do that, you’re going to let Ryan Kao walk you through how it’s done step-by-step, using his dad cooking dinner as his subject (go dad)!
Seeing Ryan manually twist and focus his camera around his old man to create beautiful depth of field at close range makes it look so fun and easy that we’re betting at least one of you heads of home just to film your parents sautéeing greens this weekend.
Want to film cinematic sequences but lack the fancy camera gear? You still can! Just whip out that smartphone of yours, watch this video, then hop to it.
Seriously you guys, we’re living through the democratization of technology so even though you may not have the right tools to practice your craft, you’re sure as hell gonna have some tools. And in this tutorial, Eric Thayne shows you how to leverage one of the most universal ones of all — the little old iPhone — to get that sublime cinematic feel.
One of Thayne’s key recommendations: use a professional filmmaking app. He recommends FiLMiC Pro, which just so happens to be the app Steven Soderbergh used to shoot his feature-length iPhone movie Unsane. In a nutshell, FiLMiC Pro gives you manual control over all your phone cameras settings (exposure, resolution, white balance, and more) for just $14.99 a pop is, in our opinion, well worth the dosh.
Part 2: The Technical Stuff
So much in cinematography comes down to lighting. If you can nail this, you’re about 70% of the way there. And there’s no tutorial that’ll help you more in this department than this one right here.
In the space of 10 minutes, Parker Walbeck shows you how to wield your three-point setup to achieve five different lighting patterns — flat, paramount, loop, Rembrandt, and split — while offering a slew of pointers on which facial shadows can be used to create different moods and emotions. All in all, a very solid tutorial.
Just because cinematic footage is oh-so silky smooth, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a stabilization device was used to make it. As Motion Array’s very own Jordan Dueck demonstrates, you can achieve that super velvety look with little more than Premiere Pro’s all-time saving grace: Warp Stabilizer!
While most cinematography tutorials will make mention of Warp Stabilizer, Jordan delves deep, showing you how to apply the clutch effect to your converted footage while offering up some sweet handheld camera tips along the way. (If you try this and find that your footage is still too wobbly for your liking, then perhaps give this camera strap stabilization technique a whirl).
Okay kids, it’s color grading time. And this here, is the quickest crash course in how. Watch as Christian Maté Grab takes some rough, handheld footage (Gah! My eyes!) and turns it into cinematic gold using not much more than the temperature, contrast, and exposure controls in Premiere Pro’s Lumetri Color.
To top it off, he shows us how to sharpen up that 1080p, slap on some organic film grain, and add a touch of motion blur to get that footage looking Oscar-worthy slick.
Part 3: Pro Tips
Speaking of Oscars, let’s finish off by getting some advice from someone who’s helped win one. Pierre Gill is a veteran cinematographer who’s worked on loads of famous flicks, the latest being Blade Runner 2049 (second unit director photography).
In this video, we hear him dish some seriously insightful tips on how cinematographers can get their audiences to feel, without telling them how to feel — according to Gill, it’s the audience who get to decide this.
To achieve this Gill says he always uses lines, no matter how chaotic the scene is, to guide his audience’s focus and instead of choosing camera lenses based on the environment. He chooses them based on the shape of his actor’s faces — the more complimentary the lens, the more engaging the shot, and the more engaging the shot, the more drawn in the audience becomes. Go figure!
If you want to hear more professional cinematographers wax lyrical about their craft then definitely check out this Cinematographer’s Roundtable by The Hollywood Reporter featuring Roger Deakins, Dan Laustsen, Rachel Morrison, and a handful of other greats.
That’s all from us! Hopefully, these seven cinematographer tutorials will be enough to get you behind the camera and drumming up that dreamy cinematic footage in no time. But if there’s anything we’ve missed, or there’s a specific area of cinematography you want to learn more about, let us know in the comments section below. We might just make a tutorial about it ourselves!