1: The “Frame”

So I’ve been doing some thinking about my goal to share instructive information about cinematography. I’ve found it very time-consuming and exhaustive. I have not been able to share info as quickly as I would like. So, am I giving up? No way!

However, I think I will try a new approach. A simpler one (at least to start). I would like to cover the entire gamut of cinematography quickly. But in order to do that, I will need to be more general and less technical, after-which, I will go back and revisit each area in more detail.

[Update 04.26.17: Here is a breakdown of the the sections we will cover : 

1: The “Frame”


2: The “Lens”

2.1 Optical Process: Spherical vs Anamorphic

3: Capturing the “Frame”




4: Exposing the “Frame”

5: Composing the “Frame”

6:  Lighting the “Frame”

7: Color and the “Frame”

8: Motion and the “Frame”

9: Time and the “Frame” 

10: Motion within the “Frame”

11: Audio and the “Frame” 

Check back regularly to the blog or to this page as I will link each section as they become available.] 

So to start, let’s discuss … The “Frame”!

The “Frame”

The “Frame” is the most important element of cinematography! So what is it?

The FRAME as we allude to, “is the metaphorical vertical plane of space, surrounded on the top and sides, which serves as the area into which the audience observes from a unified angle/perspective the events taking place”. It is the canvas in which a painter captures the world, it is the stage in which theatrical performers thrill the audience and in the case of a cinematographer, it’s the space we uses to direct, focus, and transport the audience. (Resource: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proscenium). 

When it comes to defining or quantifying the “frame”, the primary quantifiers are ASPECT RATIO and CAPTURE FORMAT.  

1.1 ASPECT RATIO essentially defines the overall shape of a the “frame”. The most common shape is rectangular (four straight sides and four right angles), though other shapes have and can be used (Resource: https://www.arri.com/news/news/i-am-not-madame-bovary/).  Aspect Ratio is most often expressed as a mathematical ratio of the vertical (height)  and horizontal (width) sides of the frame. It can be expressed as a fraction (4:3, 16:9, etc) or in decimal form (1.33, 1.78, 2.35, etc). 

The primary impact of Aspect Ratio is mainly compositional. For example, a wider frame motivates allows the cinematographer to explore the frame horizontally,  while a narrower or taller frame, motivates focuses attention vertically.

When it comes to the Aspect Ratio, there are two “frames” with which we are primarily concerned about. The CAPTURE FRAME, the plane that is used to capture images and the DISPLAY FRAME, the plane that the audience or viewer ultimately sees. While these are often the same, in some situations they can be very different. For example, a photographer may record an image in one aspect ratio but then crop to something else. Thus, consideration must be given to both. 

“The movie will be presented in 2 to 1. It’s basically a middle ground between 2.35 and 1.85. It allows us enough height to fit humans and dinosaurs into a single frame, without giving up that sense of scope.” — Colin Trevorrow on Jurrasic World (Director of Jurrasic World)

1.2 CAPTURE FORMAT essentially defines the overall size of the “frame”. It is the physical measurement of the area used to capture images, which is most often measured in millimeters (Resource: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_sensor_format). Over the course of time, common or standardized formats have been developed. One of the earliest is the 35mm film frame (Resource: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/35_mm_film). This was soon followed by other film formats such as 16mm and the larger 65mm. Today the number of formats have increased with the advent of digital sensors. Some common formats today include 1/3″, 2.3″, Micro Four Thirds, Super35, Full Frame or Vista Vision, and 65mm. 

Considerations for choosing a Capture Format is discussed further in this post. The primary advantage of a smaller Capture Format is cost. Since it uses less material, it is often a cheaper option. Some of the advantages of a larger format include an 1) increase field-of-view due to a larger area, 2) reduced grain (at least in film because less projection is required), 3) increased resolution since more area is available (potential for more pixels/photosites), and 4) a generally more aesthetically pleasing image (many feel larger formats are closer to a human perspective). 

“It’s got more depth, more clarity, more 3 dimensionality… 65 just has (65mm format) …it seems to be the natural format to be on…I can’t imagine 35mm was chosen as the default format for aesthetics, it must have been the economics.” — Greg Fraiser, ASC. ACS on 65mm Format (Rouge One: A Star Wars Story) 

[Update 04.25.17: Opps’ forgot to add the Take Away Points … the “Frame” is the foundation of cinematography. Understanding the technical and creative aspects associated with it is key to mastering cinematography!] 

That’s it for our short primer on the “Frame”. In the next installment, we’ll discuss … The “Lens”!

Post No.16

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