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Hello all.


My name is Bheki Ngwenya who is currently in the last and final year of a Film Production and Cinematography degree. At the moment I am doing a dissertation on cinematography. My chosen topic on the vast subject of cinematography was "visual style".


With this post I am aiming to use your feedback as part of my research in identifying what visual style is and what it consists of.


Looking forward to your replies.




Bheki Ngwenya.

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"Visual style" is a rather broad term. I suggest you start by reading Barry Salt's book "Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis", which covers how cinematic technique was linked to what tools were invented in each decade. Also read "Film Art" by Bordwell and Thompson.


Or is this just about contemporary style (in which case it doesn't hurt to research what styles came before)?


As I said, this is a big topic. You might get more responses with more specific questions.

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Cheers for the valuable feedback @David Mullen, apologies for not being quite specific enough in the post from earlier. Visual style is a broad topic and I understand what you mean there. My first intentions were to find out the overall opinions of what different individuals here may have to assist me such as you have.


If I may explain in detail, the topic that I specifically chose for the dissertation is named "The Evolved and Evolving Visual Styles in Cinematography". The sections that will be covered in the dissertation focuses on how the variety of cinematography equipment available to date, has been utilised by different cinematographers in order to create their own individual styles in cinematography. I am still constructing the sections for the dissertation, but as an example of it's structure, you can view the information below. Hopefully it can assist in giving you a clearer picture of what I am trying to research on.

  1. Formats and their influence on visual style.

    - Celluloid film formats and Cinematographers and their use of film formats (film texts for examples).

    - Digital sensors - Cinematographers and their use of the digital sensor formats (film texts for examples).

  2. Lenses and Composition + Camera Movement: how do Cinematographers apply them into their films to affect visual style?

    -Spheric and anamorphic lenses.

  3. Lighting – how do cinematographers paint with light?

    -Tungsten to LED.


Edited by Bheki Ngwenya

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I think you should start from the very beginning, from the early films of Lumiere and Edison up until now, the pioneers like Melies, Edwin Porter, etc, shot films in one long take, using a wide shot, so it wasn't defined into cinematic terms as we know now, at least not until D.W. Griffith created cinematic language, and defined it with cutting, giving each frame dramatic context and heighten emotionality. In short, what gives a cinematographer his/her style is their ability to put images together, making them mean something. I believe in the early days, there weren't any cinematographers, or at least credited. It didn't become a recognized profession until the silent film era early 20s.


I think you could start with someone like Gregg Toland. For instance, the visual style differed between his work with Orson Welles, William Wyler, and John Ford. I think if you watch Citizen Kane, Grapes of Wrath, and The Little Foxes you'll see how visual style differs depending on the story and film, and of course the director. The Little Foxes had more of a stage quality, as it mostly deals in interiors, but his style opens up more in films like Grapes of Wrath and Citizen Kane. I know for a fact William Wyler liked using deep depth of field and mainly filmed with short lenses, something that was very difficult to do at the time, but he achieved it. You would benefit from selecting your favorite cinematographers and watching the films he shot.

Edited by joshua gallegos

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You see the problem, it's a broad topic that could cover the entire history of cinema just to unravel. Though dissertations can be quite long I guess. But the problem is that the average forum post is too short to answer anything very broad. Besides the two books I mentioned, I also recommend "Hollywood Lighting" by Patrick Keating:



Actually I suspect Keating's book started out as a dissertation.

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Thank you @Joshua Gallegos, the first paragraph of your response typifies and covers the information within the introduction of my dissertation. Having said that, the second paragraph of your response is going to be very helpful towards the dissertation, seen as I have not watched those films as of yet.


@David Mullen, thank you once again for your suggestion. I find them very helpful. Cheers.


Cheers for responding to my post, I shall begin to conduct my research now. I shall be in touch soon if I need your expert advise.


Thank you for your time :).

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