Cinematography Film Production Lingo & Terms Glossary
We all have to learn how to use a video camera and video production to stay relevant. Wouldn’t it be nice when a director asks you to rerack, you knew they meant to refocus? This comprehensive list of terms will help you with your cinematography lingo!
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If you are like me, you may have backed into cinematography production. I started in paintball of all places, with some inline skate videos over time. Hundreds of video productions later, and millions of YouTube views in I began to learn as much about film production and cinematography as I did my other interests.
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Let me save you years of ignorance of cinema terms I now use in day-to-day work behind-the-camera with this detailed list of film lingo terms as they apply to cinematography and film production.
AUDIO BRIDGE — An audio bridge is a technique in connecting scenes. It’s when you either allow audio from a previous scene to bleed over into the next cut or you do the reverse by bringing in audio from the next scene early. This is is of course a post production trick you do in editing with software such as Adobe Premier or a consumer budget app like Power Director.
AXIS OF ACTION — An imaginary line that separates the camera from the action before it — that should not be crossed.
BACKDROP — A Large painting or illustration used to supplement the illusion of reality in a scene. For instance you could place a green screen outside a window while filming your subject inside and later replace that green screen shot with a video image or static image in post production. This technique is known as a process shot (see below).
BLOCKING — This is a composition reference. It can be used in regards to blocking light or placement of actors aka talent.
BLOCKING SHOT — The process of determining location of everything. Camera, talent, lighting… where the actors will move specifically. Often done in practice before final execution. Larger productions will have stand-ins as to not waste precious time with talent on set.
BRIDGING SHOT — Transitional shot. Also referenced as a match-cut.
B-ROLL — This is ancillary footage. Footage shot to supplement main footage. Example, if you have two talking heads in a two-shot (see below), and they are discussing paintball at close range, you may want to illustrate the point by picking up B-roll footage of players at close range. If you have old footage that just so happens to have that example footage, that too is B-Roll.
CAMERA OPERATOR — When you operate a camera with limited freedoms and responsible for taking direction from a director of some sort. Camera operators can also be called videographers.
CAPSULE REVIEW — A short film or movie review.
CINEMATOGRAPHER — This is not synonymous with camera operator or videographer. This title is attributed to the person responsible for directing photography. This person can of course do both and hold both titles. Keyword: directs. So of you take direction from someone else in regards to your shots, you are a camera operator or videographer. You are not the cinematographer. As most are a one man show, it stands to reason as a videographer you can call yourself a cinematographer.
CRITICAL FOCUS — Used often for talent on stage, you check your critical focus by zooming in as tight as your lens allows on the talent (usually a stand in on stage before the performance begins or when the director is off your shot) and you bring the subject into sharp focus. In context your director may ask, “Camera One, check your critical focus.”
CALL TIME — Time for production team to arrive to set up.
CALL SHEET — Schedule for talent and production team which includes call times. It lists who attends and where.
CUTAWAY SHOT — Is action not covered in the master shot. It is used as a momentary interruption of the previously continuous shot with related action providing previously unknown information. It could be flashback or it could be another scene about to converge or even a visual of impending doom. Any of these examples would NOT negatively affecting the pacing of the existing shot.
DEEP FOCUS — This is an infinite focus shot with full depth-of-field. Created by using small lens aperture to have both near objects and far away objects BOTH in focus, you have a deep focus shot. In contrast see: Shallow Focus below.
DISCOVERY SHOT — As the camera pans and lands an object or person unexpectedly in a way that was previously unknown to the viewer.
ESTABLISHING SHOT — This is the first shot that establishes a scene. It often starts wide or from a distance leading into the scene where the action begins. It sets up the action. It can be a grand and wide shot but it is mean to give the viewer a sense of place to drop them into the world of the story.
EYELINE MATCH — Matching eyelines is important so viewers believe two separate shots of on screen talent are facing each other. It is in short a cut between to characters where their eyelines are on equal plane creating the illusion they are both talking to each other face-to-face while in reality they could be on two entirely different sets or locations.
FILL LIGHT — Shadows are often unwanted. When you add light to a shot to fill in those shadows and dark areas, you have fill light.
FRAMING — The way a shot is composed. Framing can be with talent framed by objects. It may use high or low angle techniques. Reframing takes place during a shot by changing the framing during the shot which can be done by panning, zoom, or moving with the subjects.
GAFFER — A term often seen in credits and hardly understood. The gaffer is the lead person in charge of the technical parts on set. They know and control lighting and electricity. This is where the term gaffer’s tape comes from. It’s a special tape that is used to mark locations and tape down objects such as loose wires without leaving residue when pulled up.
GRIP — Another term many have no clue about. The grip answers to the gaffer. It is a physically demanding role on set. They move props, work with scenery, perform maintenance. The underling to the grip is best boy.
HANDHELD SHOT — A hand held camera shot taken without the use of any stabilizers. Undesirable on a whole it is used when that style of shot is wanted for amature effect.
HEAD-ON SHOT — Not to be confused with a POV shot, this shot comes directly at the camera.
HOLD OVER — When you ask or keep your talent beyond expected time.
INSERT SHOT — An insert uses a different different angle or focal length than the master shot. It is similar to a cutaway in that it is “incidental” and cut into a larger continuously shot scene. It is in general a close-up to draw attention providing specific information. It may also break tension or serve other dramatic purposes. One example would of an alarming headline in the news or a shot of a clock about to strike midnight.
INTO FRAME — The action of entering frame in a stationary shot and taking your mark. An example would be talking about a subject and then introducing them to enter the shot instead of having them in the shot standing by your side waiting to interviewed.
J-CUT — Nope. It’s the same for Jump Cut. That’s next. A J-Cut is a post production editing technique where the audio from the next scene begins before the visual arrives. You her the action before you see the action. The reverse is an L-Cut, see that below.
JUMP CUT — For some this is an abrupt cut moving the action forward in time abruptly. Executed by shooting a continuous shot then in post production editing out parts in time in sequential order. For others a jump cut is an abrupt transitional edit which purposefully disorients the viewer.
KEY LIGHT — Primary light source which selectively illuminates one or all subjects.
LAVALIER — A small mic clipped to the collar or lapel. It’s a personal mic used mostly for public speaking but not exclusively. It’s purpose is to allow the speaker to have their hands free. They are often visible by sometimes hidden. Most all operate with a cordless transmitter which then sends the audio to a receiver. That in turn is generally connected to a mixer which can be connected to a camera or mixing station for capture. Some lavalier mics are worn in the hair or suspended by ear. Lav mics have various connection types, some are mini-XLR connections. (See XLR for more details). Others are mini stereo plugs which can fit into a XLR converter as most professional operators have professional grade equipment utilizing XLR connections.
L-CUT — This is a post production editing technique. When Audio from one shot carries over to the next shot. To execute it you separate the audio from the video track while for instance trimming off some video at the end and aligning the next video track in those few open seconds of audio. Example, a character screams in pain and you cut away to people hearing that scream. The reverse is a J-Cut, (see J-Cut) when audio from the next scene begins before the cut away. It’s not just for transitions, you could run music in the background to tie to cut scenes together emotionally or some other form of continuity.
LIBRARY SHOT — Stock shot that wasn’t taken for the film project but used. A good example would be static image of the New York skyline or fly-over of the New York skyline to supplement any story or documentary regarding the scene which includes New York city.
LIVE SWITCH — Editing done live with multiple cameras dumping feeds into a switch in which the director switches feeds into a real time editing device while also broadcasting the director’s selected video feeds while using a separate audio feed.
LONG SHOT — Taken from a great distance with the subject appearing small in frame.
LONG TAKE — A lengthy shot in time. Generally planned out, storyboarding advised.
LOW ANGLE SHOT — Shot from below the subject with the camera tilted up.
MASTER SHOT — The long take. The main shot of the scene that could be continuous or supplemented with cutaways or inserts from stock or B-roll or various other shots.
MATCH CUT — Often confused with at Jump Cut. Consider the name ‘match’. Both shots match in some way but are unique. You are matching two separate cuts in post production joining two different cuts sharing action or composition. One matching action could be sound (see Audio Bridge).
NONSYNCHRONOUS SOUND — When you use sound from one source and combine it with a visual element.
OFF SCREEN — Action or sounds that take place off screen and depicted as such. This can be done practically such as actually having action performed off screen to be used in post production editing or shot separately and implied through post product editing.
OUT-TAKE — What doesn’t make the final cut. Sometimes used as deleted scenes or a blooper reel.
OVER THE SHOULDER SHOT — This old school term is better understood as THIRD PERSON. For the younger generation a 3rd person shot is the only way to understand this. The subject however is no longer the only subject, both the subject in the foreground and the subject in the background are both the subject of the shot. It can be from overhead but is most often from ‘over the shoulder’.
PAN — To pan a shot is to move horizontally from left to right or right to left, most often from a stationary position. A swish pan, zip pan, flick pan, whip or blur are also forms of a pan that are quick movements that purposely create a blur allowing a post edit to create the illusion of moving the eyes to the viewer from one location to another quickly without noticing the shot has moved a greater distance and perhaps to another location entirely.
PERSPECTIVE SHOT — If you know video games you know first person and third person views. A perspective shot is one that allows the viewer to get a full view of all of the action. It could be of a full room or if using video games as an example you would see both the shooter and subject from a distant side view allowing the viewer to understand the entirety of the environment the action is taking place in. Perspective shots can also be an establishing shot. However a true establishing shot is a often a grand view. See Establishing Shot for a complete definition.
PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY — The date and time of when you start filming! This is a referenced used to announce to others when your project begins for real.
PRE-ROLL — It is a must to begin rolling/recording before your action or talent begins the scene. Pre-Roll should begin at least 5 to 8 seconds before your shot begins. Some pre-roll’s are longer as required by the producer or director as they may need that area footage for post production or to ensure if a band or talent starts early the camera’s are already rolling. For a talking head piece you control, a pre-roll may go as such: The camera operator begins recording and announces audibly, “Pre-Roll.” While then silently holding up fingers at the talent counting down, 3 – 2 – 1 and finally pointing the on-screen talent to begin.
PROCESS SHOT — See two actors in conversation in a car with a moving background outside the windows? If it wasn’t shot in a practical environment (for real) then they had the background added, combining their staged shot with another film element. This if course is done at big league level with green screens and other forms of special effects but is often done without exotic tools.
POV – A POV shot is a shot from Point of View putting the viewer in the place of the character. Often done as a reaction shot.
PULL BACK — To zoom out. A shot in which the camera operator physically backs the camera away (or zooms out) from the subject revealing larger context. To opposite is a Push In. Example: Director states, “Camera 2, give me a slow pull back to full stage on my mark.”
PUSH IN — To zoom in. A shot in which the camera operator physically moves towards the subject (or zooms in) to the subject for a closer look. The opposite is a Push Out. Example: Director states, “Camera 3, please push in to a waist up shot. Let me know when you are ready.” This example often occurs in theater, speaking and concert venues. The director asks when you are ready as they may be editing a live switch.
RACK or RACKING — Changing the focus of your lens during a shot. It can be done for a few reasons. You could have simply lost focus and the director asks you to re-rack or rack a live shot. It is also used purposely as technique to take the viewers attention from object in a scene to another. It can be from foreground to background or in reverse. This is also called selective focusing or a pull focus.
REACTION SHOT — Helps to know in advance something is going to happen if you are doing this live! And if so, you would want a second camera pre-rolling on that subject as you await the action to cause the reaction. In story telling for cinema a reaction shot is staged and while you generally get your subjects reaction, there also a POV shot to show what they are reacting to.
RUNNER — A gopher on set.
SECOND UNIT — Second unit photography is used for less important scenes. Sure they can shoot B-roll, but think bigger. If you are shooting a concert, you may have a second unit shooting constant crowd reactions which is important stuff that would require some direction and a full unit crew, not a single camera operator shooting a stationary shot.
SHALLOW FOCUS — Only one plane is in sharp focus, distant or foreground.
SMASH CUT — A shocking if not unexpected change which could utilize dramatic audio in order to surprise the viewer.
SOUND CHECK — Sound should be confirmed before you film. In mundane operations you resort to recording for a few seconds and speaking to the mic to establish levels. You then stop recording and playback the cut to confirm you have good sound with your video. More professional operations will have earphones connected to the camera so the videographer or camera operator can confirm sound at all times. Many operations will record sound separately with specific sound devices mic’d to one, two or more subjects if necessary.
STATIC SHOT — A stationary shot. The camera doesn’t move. The frame is not adjusted. It’s a shot without any changes. It’s shot from a tripod or some form of stationary mount such as clamp with ball hinge mount.
STEADICAM SHOT — Notice the spelling with ‘i”? It’s branded that way by Garrett Brown. He created the handheld stabilizers for cameras for moving camera shots (tracking shots) for all terrain such as running up steps following your subject. Think Rocky running up the Philadelphia Art Museum steps because that is film the Steadicam was first used in. Many hand held gimbals have come into play for smaller cameras offering amazing cinematic footage at the fraction of production costs. Think Evo or Osmo gimbals.
TAKE — A film sequence completed in one uninterrupted shot. The camera remains at all times on the subject(s) without any cut-aways or editing.
TIGHT ON — Close up or tight framing.
TRACKING SHOT — A shot that moves along side the subject and follows them. While dolly’s are used in grand productions, many handheld gimbals have exceptional stabilizers for action cameras and SLR cameras. Tracking shots can also be called following shots.
TWO SHOT — Also known on sets as a two-fer, it is when you have two subjects featured in focus in a shot. You can also have a three (medium shot) or four shot etc…
WALK THROUGH — A dry run of a scene before filming.
XLR — This a standard connection type for professional audio gear. A visual example of an XLR connection features a round connector about a half inch across with three pins (male end) or three holes (female end). Stage microphones for example have an XLR connection. The microphone would have three pins inside it. A cable run would have both male and female end.