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7 Iconic Hollywood Cinematography Techniques

Scott Porter

Every director has a go-to shot that makes a scene unmistakably their own. Let’s take a look at 7 iconic cinematography techniques used by the masters of filmmaking.

Great directors make an impact on the history of filmmaking, introducing a style and technical approach that becomes both trademark and influence. Akira Kurosawa’s approach to storytelling influenced George Lucas. Robert Altman’s sprawling character sketches inspired Paul Thomas Anderson. And yet, every director who can be called legend is able to take their influences and create something completely new from them. The pure visual aspect of filmmaking is where most filmmakers begin making their mark. Let’s look at a handful of iconic cinematography techniques used by the masters of filmmaking.

 The Dolly Zoom aka The Trombone Shot

Here’s how Wikipedia describes the dolly zoom:

The dolly zoom is an unsettling in-camera effect that appears to undermine normal visual perception.

Here’s the easiest explanation of how it’s done, courtesy of Jan Stripek.

Unsettling is putting it lightly. First imagined by the Romanian filmmaker Sergiu Huzum, but most famously used in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the dolly zoom is the go-to shot of choice to convey paranoia, sinking uneasiness, and horrifying sudden revelations. 

Jaws and Vertigo Trombone Shot

From Chris Hazell

This is the scene in Jaws where the infamous trombone shot can be found. Skip to 3:30 to see it in action.

Evolution of the Dolly Zoom

From: Vashi Nedomansky

Vashi Nedomansky has created this insightful video roundup featuring various uses of the trombone shot throughout cinematic history.

 The Low Angle Trunk Shot

The trunk shot is exactly what it sounds like… It’s a shot caught from inside the trunk of a car. Of course, it’s not always easy to fit an adult camera operator and a full-sized movie camera into the tight confines of a car trunk, so a lot of times this shot gets cheated by the art department with fake walls and hatches. It’s safe to say that Quentin Tarantino is the greatest lover and practitioner of the trunk shot, as shown in this compilation from Sinara Snake.

Dutch Angle

As defined by Wikipedia, the Dutch angle is a shot “where the camera is set at an angle on its roll axis so that the shot is composed with vertical lines at an angle to the side of the frame, or so that the horizon line of the shot is not parallel with the bottom of the camera frame.” Makes perfect sense, right? It might be easier to say something like… The Dutch angle is created by tilting the camera to one side. The shot is an effective way to communicate disorientation, desperation, drunkeness, and intensity. Here’s a look at the dozens of Dutch tilts in the Kenneth Branagh Thor movie and then a quick lesson on how to create the shot.

The Dutch Angles of Thor

From LeftJet

Simple Camera Trick: Dutch Angle

From Matt Chapman

This tutorial by Matt Chapman shows us how to shoot a dutch angle. There’s really not a lot to it. Simply turn your camera sideways and tilt.

 The Close-up Montage

If you need to get your audience pumped up and ready for action, then you need the quick-cut close-up montage. You know what it is. The “lock and load” montage. The “gearing up” montage. Here’s a supercut (from supercutonline, naturally) for those unsure of the concept.

The undeniable master of the quick-cut close-up montage is Edgar Wright. In this next video, Wright himself offers up examples of the shot and explains how he pulls them off. Hint: He films them in reverse.

Edgar Wright and the Art of Close-ups

Fom David Chen

Edgar Wright // Close-Up

From Jaume R. Lloret

 The Whip Pan

The whip pan conveys urgency and rhythm. It’s a fluid shot that is often the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B. Paul Thomas Anderson has the whip pan on lockdown, masterfully using the technique to hide his cuts and keep the pace steady while ramping up the tension of a scene. For a filmmaker with a ton of ticks up his sleeve, the whip pan is one of Anderson’s most distinctive calling cards.

Paul Thomas Anderson – Every Whip Pan

From Kevin B. Lee

 One Point Perspective

One Point Perspective is synonymous with Stanley Kubrick and rightfully so. Wes Anderson has carried on the tradition of symmetrical shots, but Kubrick made the technique mainstream. When people use the word “Kubrickian,” they mean this…

Kubrick // One-Point Perspective

From kogonada

Wes Anderson // Centered

From kogonada

 Long Tracking Shots

A subtle technique that can go unnoticed at first is the long tracking shot. Robert Altman used this technique to great effect in 1992’s scathing Hollywood takedown ‘The Player’. Here’s the clip courtesy of Single Shot Film Festival.

Here’a pretty excellent montage of tracking shots from Watchmojo.com.

One of Martin Scorsese’s go-to tricks, the long tracking shot perfectly places the viewer into the world of a film. They’re an uninterrupted walk through a fully functioning universe where the rules and ways of the setting and characters are established in an unblinking fashion.

Interested in cinematography? Want to explore a few more techniques of the craft? Check out these articles from right here on PremiumBeat:

What are your favorite cinematography techniques? What shot keeps popping up in your work? Share some examples in the comments below!

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