As a filmmaker I define cinematography as painting with light. Depending on the story, you choose which objects or characters are lit, where the backlight falls and what remains in the dark and unseen. This applies to both photography and film. As filmmakers we are also looking at many other variables, such as the actors, costumes, makeup, locations, etc. All these make it difficult filmmakers (especially the small 1-2 person crew) to focus on the visual aspect of cinematography.
While attending film school at Capilano University our cinematography professor once said: “At any point I should be able to pause your short film, print that photo and hang it up on the wall.” This was the ultimate test. Was my film really cinematic or just thrown together with subpar shots? At that moment I realized just how very important lighting and camera direction are when it comes to telling a story visually. Each shot needs to be specifically chosen, lit and have the ability to move the story forward visually. Each shot needs to be as beautiful as a single, stand-alone photograph.
This mindset started to change the way I looked at the frame. I began to ask myself “Is this cinematic? Can I hang this picture on my wall and be proud of it?” I now always ask these two questions before I started rolling on each shot. Sometimes it requires making simple adjustments, like moving an object into the foreground or adding a little backlight or fill light to an actor. Othertimes it would require rethinking the shot and the sequence entirely. Either way, it helped me create more cinematic images on set, which in turn gave me better footage to work with in the edit.