By Gavin Banks

We are living in an age where we are always looking ahead. Waiting for the latest iphone, video camera or next advance in technology. As Good Eye Deer play with their new purchase (a Sony F5), we thought it was time we looked back to remember where it all came from. Sometimes learning about the past can give us insight into the future.


The origin of Cinematography is an interesting story, even if you are not technically minded. Cinematography is a broad combination of artistic techniques and camera technologies, which includes everything from aspect ratio, framing, lighting, camera movement to lens, focal length. The term, “cinematography” derives from Greek origins, a combination of the words, ‘kinema’ (meaning movement) and ‘graphein’ (to record).


Originally, ‘cinematography’ referred to motion picture films, but today, considering the numerous technological advances and improvements, cinematography is also synonymously used with shooting with digital video and HD equipment. Remarkably, even before any type of technological advancements were created, the idea of moving images, dates back to thousands of years ago when our ancestors told stories by campfires and drew pictures on cave walls. Over time as our technology and the understanding of light and moving images grew, so did the idea of learning new ways to record and exhibit moving images.


Cinematography began with early technologies such as the camera obscura, Zoetrope, Kinetoscope, cinematograph, Mutoscope and Vitascope. The art and use of cinematography initially took many years to develop. This wasn’t something that happened over night! Before movies could be created, first came an understanding of how the human mind comprehends seeing a series of still images.


Motion pictures, or rather, the technique of recording movement, was not invented by any one sole individual. It took countless inventors and creators, from Aristotle’s depiction of light and shadows, to inventors such as William Dickson and Thomas Edison (camera housing/machine for film to pass) and George Eastman (film emulsion). Did you know the gears in the camera that pulled the film through was technology borrowed from clockwork?


In 1888, Louis Le Prince directed the very first motion picture titled “Roundhap Garden Scene”, a mere two seconds in length! It wasn’t until 1895 when the Lumier Brothers had the first paid exhibition screening of their short films at the Le Grand Cafe in Paris, when the process of production-distribution-exhibition was distinguished. This was the known birth of not only cinema but the motion picture industry as well.
Early films were on average 30 seconds to a minute in length, and consisted of static frames (without camera movement), wide shots, and depicted everyday events or subject matter. In 1895, the Lumier brothers shot “The Arrival of a Train”. It was a short clip of a train pulling into a train station, exiting frame right. As simple, insignificant and mundane it may appear today, this was innovative, original and spectacular to watch at the time!
 The angle at which the brothers set up the camera was dynamically composed, giving the impression that the train was coming toward the camera. In fact, when “The Arrival of a Train” was first screened in France, audience members were terrified and literally believed the train was going to fly right out of the frame and run them over! Many had to cover their eyes!


In 1896, George Méliès, a French magician (also referred to as the “Cinemagician”), started shooting a series of over 500 short films in his glass-enclosed studio for the sole purpose of creating illusions with elaborate stage decorations and lattern-slide projections (he studied after the famous magician Houdini). It was Méliès who would give birth to the first known special effects used in films. In fact, most of his special effects were discovered by accident.


Over the years, technological advances in the industry, such as the use of light and shadows, 3-D films, special camera effects, CGI, HD technology, etc. would add to the art of cinematography; however, unknown discoveries in cinematography are still waiting to be found!


Did you know Nestor Studio was the first movie studio in Hollywood (built 1911)?


How about the name of the first film shot in Hollywood? It was “In Old California” directed by D.W. Griffith (1910).


The first Hollywood feature film (shot by Nestor Studio) was “The Squaw Man” in 1914.


The first female director of the motion picture industry was Alice Guy-Blache. She’s also known to be the first director of the first alleged fictional feature film (1896 – The Cabbage Fairy).


So next time you are lining up with excitement to buy your new video camera, think about how excited Edison was when he invented the camera housing machine or the Lumier brothers were when they saw their audience react to the oncoming train.


Happy filming!