A brief history of cinematography

For the first few years of the cinema, there were no cameramen. The first film-makers did everything themselves, from thinking up the story to building the sets, directing the actors, framing the shots and working the camera. People like Georges Méliès and George Albert Smith were very talented, intelligent, creative and skilful individuals, and could manage all this with ease. The lighting of the scenes they shot was provided either by direct sunlight in the open air or by diffused sunlight inside the glasshouse studios built by Méliès and other film-makers after him.

As films began to be made up of more than one shot, from 1903 onwards, specialist camera operators became the norm. The worldwide cinema boom of 1906 required more and more films to fill the Nickelodeons, so standardised lighting conditions in the big glasshouse studios were needed to allow filming during more of the daylight hours. This meant that supplementary artificial light - usually from specially adapted street-lighting arcs - came to be added to the diffused sunlight. A single arc floodlight could be used alone to cast a pool of light into one area of a dark scene to create a sinister mood, and thus from around 1912 the expressive use of film lighting was under way.

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Classic Movies, Filmmaking


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