Entertainment & Media

How Cinematography Evokes Emotion

By Alain Deen

Volume 2 Issue 2

November 19, 2021

How Cinematography Evokes Emotion

Image provided by Indie Wire

For the past century, film has been used to convey complex and intricate emotions. From the earliest works of Charlie Chaplin to Marvel’s latest film, “Eternals,” most believe emotion is solely conveyed through writing and plot development. For example, themes utilized in the earliest films had the goal of spreading a message or a specific idea. The same can be said about modern film. In Marvel’s “Eternals”, most viewers believe tangible emotion is experienced through the central plot points, including the arc of Ikaris as a twist villain. However, most viewers are simply mistaken.


While films do in fact convey most of their emotion through writing and plot points, cinematography plays a large role in doing so as well. In short, a cinematographer’s job resides in the responsibility to ensure that lighting, color, and framing for each scene looks as perfect as possible. They play a crucial role in the filmmaking process, as they bring the director’s vision to life. Without cinematographers, a film cannot be produced. Recent studies demonstrate that 45% of a film's tangible emotion is communicated through cinematography, emphasizing its importance. Cinematography supports and sets the tone for a film’s visual narrative, which is why large sums of money are spent to hire high quality cinematographers. For example, scenes in the earliest forms of film were lit in very specific ways to bind with the tone of the plot development. For example, in Charlie Chaplin’s earliest films, a scene would be more dimly lit to create a somber, earnest tone. In contrast, a scene would be lit more brightly to convey hope or jovial sentiment. The same applies to modern film as well. As time has progressed, cinematographers have utilized methods other than lighting to convey specific emotion. Camera angles have evolved into be one of the most crucial aspects of the filmmaking process.


Along with lighting, camera angle in film is used to explore deep and intricate emotion. For example, a scene in “Stranger Things 3” utilizes this technique. When Nancy Wheeler and Tom Holloway, journalist and the Editor in Chief of the Hawkins Post, angrily argue about the status of Nancy’s story, Tom slams the table, and the angle quickly changes. The camera subtly tilts, evoking feelings of tension and frustration. This is a prime example of the impact cinematography has on a viewer’s emotion. According to professional cinematographer Babak Jani, the position of a cinematographer is “absolutely crucial” in the delivery of storytelling through film, especially through the angles and motion. Angles which slowly pan evoke feelings of distrust, tension, and fear, while angles that place the camera at eye level with the subject evoke feelings of comfort and resilience. Context plays large part in this process as well, of course.


Overall, cinematography proves to be crucial in the filmmaking process. The camera specialists are artists at the root of the visual appeal of the film, and therefore need to be valued and appreciated more often.