13 Cinematography Techniques Every Freelance Photographer Should Study

By Chris Hoshnic

Photography is a like a sport and I just f%#@ing hate it. I absolutely hate taking photos. I hate the how long it takes to load a camera and format it and wait for the sensor to self-clean and clean the lens and check the battery and white balance and take test shots wevmnairognmaodsknl I HATE ITTTTTT.

But it also helps to think of it like it's an art too. So I went ahead and put together some films, my other mistress-hobby and compared the two. Check out how film and well, film are the same. 


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1. La Dolce Vita

Cinematography by Otello Martelli

A week in the life of a paparazzo journalist living in Rome, La Dolce Vita uses depth, geometry and composition, demonstrating the use of "visual direction" by placing objects and/or people at the forefront to create interest.

La Dolce Vita
Starring Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée, Magali Noël, Marcello Mastroianni, Yvonne Furneaux

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2. The 400 Blows

Cinematography by Henri Decae

Where story meets cinematography - the start of the French New Wave, Francois Truffaut (the director) used hand-held cameras and harsh edits. Useful in film camera shooting and polaroids.

The 400 Blows (The Criterion Collection)
Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Patrick Auffay, Albert Remy, Jeanne Moreau

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3. Yesterday Girl

Cinematography by Edgar Reitz

The first film of the New German Cinema - the true beginnings of independent financing/filmmaking, this is less about the art and more about what you can achieve on such a small budget.

Yesterday Girl
Starring Gunther Mack, Alexandra Kluge, Eva Maria Meineke

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4. Citizen Kane

Cinematography by Gregg Toland

The reinvention of the Director, Citizen Kane gave directors and cinematographers a voice in visual storytelling; something photographers can learn from if they get lost in all the creative conflicts with clientele.

Citizen Kane
Starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick

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5. The Young Girls of Rochefort

Cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet

LA LA LAND-inspired, shot in what is now considered "classic cinescope" AKA wide lens, photographers can learn more about production value with Jacques Demy films.

The Essential Jacques Demy (Blu-ray + DVD)
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Anouk Aimee, Jeanne Moreau

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6. Cries & Whispers

Cinematography by Sven Nykrist

Igmar Berman inspired many other iconic filmmakers, Spielberg, Allen, Scorsese, Coppola, etc. Cries and Whispers uses lighting to its advantage, a technique photographers NEED to know and understand.

Cries & Whispers (The Criterion Collection)
Starring Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Kari Sylwan, Ingrid Thulin, Anders Ek

7. Amelie

Cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel

Eclectic, fun, bold and ambitious; The style most NEW photographers and filmmakers will adopt until they find their niche, but that doesn't mean the camera work in Amelie should be ignored - more like techniques you can adopt and then own.

Amelie (English Subtitled)
Starring Audrey Tautou, Matthieu Kassovitz, Rufus

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8. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Cinematography by Robert Yeoman

Wes Anderson in one word is COMPOSITION. Told in mostly 4:3 aspect ratio, which is essentially like a film being told on a Mamiya.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrian Brody

9. The Revenant

Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki

Completely shot in Masters (Wide shots) and lens possibly all under 24MM, The Revenant uses natural lighting all the way through. Something photographers "claim" to be masters at. Watch this film with a "Natural Light" photographer and test them.

The Revenant
Starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter

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10. Ida

Cinematography by Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski

Old wine, new bottle. A film that looks like it was made in 1970 is actually a 2016 film. 

Ida (English Subtitled)
Starring Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza, Dawid Ogrodnik, Jerzy Trela, Adam Szyszkowski

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11. Beach Rats

Cinematography by Helene Louvart

On a small unknown budget, Beach Rats was filmed in New York with a 16mm about a teen's sexuality. Photographers can take its non-digital concept and know that film is still the best form of visual storytelling.

Beach Rats
Starring Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge

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12. Call Me By Your Name

Cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom

Completely shot on ONE lens, the 24mm and during the most cloudy and stormy summer of Crema, Call Me By Your Name can teach photographers that maybe natural lighting isn't all its cut out to be. Talent is turning dreary summer storms into a sunny, 1980's romance. 

Call Me By Your Name
Starring Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg

13. The Wrestler

Cinematography by Maryse Alberti

My only argument here is that The Wrestler's cinematographer was a woman. A woman shooting a sports film and the results are crazy good. Don't let a man tell you you can't do anything a man can do. 

The Wrestler
Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis, Todd Barry