Cinematography has its roots in photography. But for photography – the process of writing with light – cinematography would not have been possible. It was known several centuries ago that a convex lens produced an image of a subject. Photography itself was not an individual’s discovery. People like Joseph Niepce, Louis Daguerre and others were working independently on making a permanent image during the 1820s mainly in France. The first permanent photograph was accomplished by Niepce in the year 1826. However, the emulsion (the light sensitive chemical) was then coated on a glass and the exposure was made using a crude camera. The emulsion had to be wet in order to be light sensitive and the duration of exposure was spread over a couple of hours in bright sunlight.

Niepce subsequently collaborated with Louis JacquesMande Daguerre in the development of the world's first practical photographic system. They recorded clear, sharp images on silverized copper plates in Daguerre's studio in 1837 in France.

William Henry Fox Talbot invented the first process for making positive prints from negative images during the 1830s. Richard Leach Maddox discovered that the silver halide crystal was most suited in capturing light. His 1871 discovery was a crucial building block for modern photography.

A simple still camera has a lens to form the subject’s image, a focal plane on which the image falls, a shutter which blocks the light from reaching the film which is placed on the focal plane. While an exposure is made, the shutter opens and shuts briefly exposing the film to the light from the lens. This forms a latent image which is then chemically processed to form a permanent image.

Focal plane


but the former bank clerk was determined to make it even easier. . EASTMAN Dry Plates played a major role in popularizing photography.In 1880. Eastman manufactured dry plates that maintained their sensitivity to light.

and thin enough to perfect a process for manufacturing film on a flexible base. The camera was pre-loaded with enough film for 100 pictures. Reverend Hannibal Goodwin invented and patented a way to coat light-sensitive photographic emulsion on a cellulose nitrate base. transparent. and introduced the KODAK BROWNIE Camera the following year. Eastman purchased the right to use that patent in 1888. The base was strong.In England in 1887. .

we do the rest’ instantly popularised photography as anyone with very limited expertise could now take photographs.After exhausting the 100 frames. A fresh roll of film was reloaded in the camera. The ad campaign by Kodak ‘you click the button. the camera was sent to Kodak. . where the film would be processed and printed.

.The invention of flexible base combined with dry photographic emulsion was the next major step in the birth of cinematography.

PERSISTENCE OF VISION Persistence of vision is a character of the human eye in which the image falling on the retina of the eye ‘sticks’ to it for about 1/10th of a second. Thus it was well known that a series of images which are slightly displaced from the adjacent ones when played in a sequence would give an illusion of motion. As we flip the pages. we get an illusion of the movement of the subject. . A flipbook is a good example of persistence of vision.

Muybridge set 24 cameras up in a row along a racetrack. In 1872. He attached a string to each camera shutter and stretched the strings across the track.Towards the end of 1800’s it was possible to take pictures but there was no way by which a series of pictures could be taken in rapid succession. Eadweard Muybridge. . California Governor Leland Stanford hired Muybridge to help him win a bet by proving that there are times in a horse race when all four of the animal's feet are off the ground. a photographer who migrated to California. Muybridge chalked lines and numbers on a board behind the track to measure progress. As Stanford's horse ran the track. made the oldest recorded attempt at motion picture photography. it tripped the wires and recorded 24 photographs that proved that all four of the horse's feet were on the ground at the same time.


was experimenting with the use of a single camera for recording images in motion. They were permanent records of one to two seconds of motion. Marey recorded moving images of men running and jumping. and a circular chamber containing a single glass photographic plate. He called his invention chronophotography. The camera had a long barrel that served as a lens. horses trotting. .Almost during the same time. It took Marey one second to record 12 images around the edge of the glass plate. and gulls flying. Etienne Jules Marey.

He traveled to Rochester to meet with Eastman. In 1885 at his research laboratory in Menlo Park. Dickson developed the Kinetograph camera and Kinetoscope projector.Concurrently.K. Dickson the task of finding a way to record moving images on the edges of records.L. . who agreed to provide the film needed for an experimental motion picture camera. he assigned W. After his invention became popular. which Edison patented in the United States in 1891. Edison got an idea for building and selling a device to consumers that displayed moving images to accompany the music. Thomas Edison invented a system that recorded and played back music using wax cylinders. New Jersey. Dickson saw the BROWNIE Camera at an amateur photographers’ club in New Jersey.

Dickson felt that if it were sliced vertically.Kodak was then manufacturing films for stills which were 70mm wide. a 35-mm width would be more suitable for filming. which was perforated on both film edges. sixty-four times per foot. Eastman supplied the film. These basic physical specifications remain the world standard for cinematography and theatrical exhibition till date. to engage with the Kinetograph camera’s sprockets. .

A frame rate of 16 frames/sec was determined to be producing satisfactory moving images. It captured 16 frames per foot (even now!) and thus the length of the film was equal to the footage in seconds.This camera was hand cranked to drive the film. .

. 1891.On May 20. Edison demonstrated his projector for the first time when delegates from the National Federation of Women's Clubs visited the company’s research laboratory.

Kinetoscope. typically about 15-20 sec duration. however. .Edison directed Dickson to produce short films. restricted just one person to view the images at one time.

held it steady for a split second as the shutter opened and closed to expose the film. . Edison’s creation is the basis for all motion picture film cameras. His camera moved a small area of film into position behind a shuttered lens. To this day.Thomas Edison was one of the first inventors to realize the potential that a flexible ribbon of film offered for capturing sequential images. and then repeated the whole process many times per second. in all formats. accurately advanced the film.

It was also the first time an audience paid to see movies projected on a screen. film . Lumiere bros. French brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière saw a Kinetoscope demonstration. 1895.In 1894. One showed workers leaving a factory at the end of the day. a Greek word meaning writing with light and motion. It inspired them to invent a combination motion picture projector and camera called the Cinematographe. another showed an approaching train. The Lumière brothers presented eight short films at the Grande Café in Paris on December 28. It was the first time that a community viewing was made possible.

he made as many as 500 movies ranging from one minute to forty minute’s duration. Between 1896 and 1914. such films with no ‘story’ could not be repeated for ever. he was also the first one to try special effects by stop-motion tricks.The initial films that were shot were viewed by people just for its novelty. a still photographer cum magician. However. George Melies. a train arriving at a station and so on. Being a magician. . It consisted of just shots of people in action. His most famous movie ‘A Trip to the Moon’ was a landmark movie with special effects never seen before. cum satirist exploited the medium of cinematography by making short films with a story content.

they simply shot footage and projected the results. There was hardly any movement or the camera or cutting the shots. he could change the shots for better story telling. Porter experimented with creating a grammar for visual storytelling by moving the camera to alter the audience's point of view. he could go back and forth in time and so on. and combined live action in the foreground with painted and projected backgrounds. Persistence of vision . Until he came on the scene in the early 1900s. no one had edited films. He intercut parallel scenes. created double exposures.Movies shot initially had a camera fixed and actors performing in the frame. Enter Edwin Porter’s who changed the way films were made. He realised that a filmmaker had the same flexibility as that of a writer.

Porter’s 1903 drama. they can always be re-assembled later for maximum impact. the 12-minute film “Great Train Robbery” was one of the most successful narrative films made during that era.With this newfound flexibility in film editing came another revelation that simplified the production process—that scenes in a particular film do not have to be shot in a projection sequence. Great Train Robbery .

21-year-old George Folsey shot his first film. Foley's low-tech solution consisted of black velvet taped over half of the lens while Brady played one twin. Griffith moved to the next level by incorporating cinematic storytelling techniques including close ups. His Bridal Night. Alice Brady played twins in her dual role. This technique continued to be used till the 1990s and was known as ‘masking shot. In 1919. and backlighting. soft focus. moved the velvet to cover the other half of the lens. and re-shot the scene with Brady playing the other twin. fade outs. ‘Intolerance’ and ‘Broken Blossoms’ by DW Griffith.This was followed by other masterpieces like ‘The Birth of a Nation’. It worked beautifully. An ingenious idea in its day. he rewound the film.’ . Then.

it was not sufficient to reach the large audience seated in a theatre. Edison had already invented sound recording and playback way back in 1887. which was mechanically linked to the movie projector in the theater. They named their system Vitaphone. Finally.Warner Bros. Their first offering using the new medium was Don Juan. However. . During the early 20s. the need for sound was felt as absolutely necessary. It had a musical soundtrack via a phonograph record. Studio developed a sound system that produced volume at a level that was adequate even for movie palaces.The popularity of radio hindered the proliferation of silent movies. in 1926.

The Vitaphone projector with sound reproduced through a disc. .

Soon the public did not patronise any film without sound and those silent films which were under production had to be converted into a ‘talkies’. The introduction of sound gave a sudden boost to films. . The smooth image gave the audience about 50 percent more image information to absorb. Another important advantage.In order to produce sufficient sound fidelity and consistency. the flicker characteristic of silent films disappeared. rather than the familiar 16 fps. at 24 frames per second. The Jazz singer in 1927 turned out to be a box office hit. the handcranked cameras were fitted with electric motors that ran at a constant speed of 24 frames per second.

A cut and splice on the film or a scratch on the disc would throw the picture out of sync with sound. . the cameras were handcranked and therefore it was not possible to run them at a steady speed. Besides. Vitaphone was not very successful as a perfect synchronization between the picture and sound was not possible as the two were on very different media. The discs wore out quickly and broke easily.However. Maintaining synchronization required skill during projection and often failed.

Eighty years later. An optical sound head would read the variations of the picture track and reproduce the sound.Technology had to rise to the challenge and soon a new method of recording sound was invented. this system is still in use today although in an improved form! . The sound track consisted of an optical track which was imprinted on the film.

Soon this problem was tackled by using sound proofing mufflers on the camera. it created other problems as it restricted the creativity of the cinematographer for whom mobility is his forte. Some technicians even tried housing the entire camera with the tripod and crew inside a phone-booth like structure to dampen the noise and were partly successful. . this restricted the movement of cameras! A phone booth on wheels was the next option but though it solved one problem. However. The cameras by nature gave out a whirring sound because of the motor and this would also get recorded. Necessity is the mother of all inventions.Sound was indeed a great invention but recording sound created new problems while shooting.

. an early film camera which operated silently.Mitchell.

Even great voices sounded bad. Musicals had to be recorded with the artists themselves singing along with an orchestra that was playing. This was a great constraint and restricted the creativity and quality of sound output greatly. As the sound was recorded simultaneously while shooting. the actors were constrained to stay close to the microphones. It was very difficult to get dance movements as the artists would move closer or away from the mikes thereby causing variations in sound recording. . These mikes had to be avoided coming into the picture frame.This arrangement worked well for some time but it is the tendency of innovative people to always come up with better technology.

he shaves a customer in tune with a radio broadcast of Johannes Brahms's Hungarian Dance No. Similarly. . To record sound.Thus was born the era of playback sound. These developments also led to the technique of dubbing voices later. Music was recorded first and the same was played back and the actors had to lip-sync with the lines. The camera and the actors were free to perform naturally. In Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940) as the barber. is one of the most celebrated sequences till date. one had to shoot inside a soundproof studio. But with the flexibility of dubbing. Busby Berkley’s 42nd Street was the first to be shot this way. dancing to playback music. 5 which was recorded in one continuous shot – another example of very effectively using playback music. Chaplin’s choreography with a huge balloon globe. the camera could now go anywhere.

invariably every film was shot in color. this was another quantum jump in the way movies were made. In 1950.The mid 1930s also saw the invention of color. . From then on. Kodak announced the first Eastman color negative film which was a single strip of film with 3 layers on top of one another responding to the 3 basic colors of blue. Films shot with Eastman color negative could then be printed onto positives for theatrical projection. green and red. However. Needless to say. Though technically color was possible. color had its own set of problems. the bulkiness of the equipment prevented color from making a major breakthrough and was restricted only to a few movies. The camera was too bulky as 3 b/w negatives were simultaneously used to shoot color.

This led to the development of 3-D technology. The era of widescreen technology thus came into being. ‘Sound of Music’ were some such movies which have become eternal. However. ’Lawrence of Arabia.So what was the challenge now? Indeed it was the Television. The audience was awestruck at the magnificent screen size. Television was introduced in the 1930s and by 50s.’ ‘My Fair Lady’. . it started challenging the supremacy of theatrical films. The fact that a TV invaded into the drawing rooms instead of people going to theatres was a big challenge for film makers. 3-D films relied more on gimmicks and it was felt that it was not very conducive for story telling. Widescreen combined with stereophonic sound was a huge draw for a magnum opus.

. After almost half a century of no major breakthrough. film making started undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts with the advent of digital media.From the 1950s till the mid 95s. film technology still remains the same and is still used extensively. The basic structure of the camera still remained the same with some marginal improvements. Film emulsions saw tremendous improvements. Even to this day. changes in film making did happen but the basic structure was more or less the same.