There are a few factors that collectively impart the typical ‘film’ look that movies have. Let’s take a look at a few of them:
Frame rate is the measure of the number of individual images shown every second (in a video). Commonly abbreviated (and known) as ‘fps’, it’s the frequency of consecutive images (called frames) that appear on a display.
We humans can process 10-12 images per second and perceive them as individual images, but when a higher number of images are shown within the duration of a second, we perceive it as motion.
Given below is a table of significant frame rates used in modern devices:
As you can see in the table above, different kinds of videos have different value of frame rate. The ‘film’ look that Hollywood movies have is perceivable because those movies are shot at a frame rate of 24 frames per second (with a shutter speed of 1/48th of a second).
You could also shoot a movie at a much higher frame rate. In fact, movie makers often dabble with different frame rates to find the most suitable setting for the content of their movies. However, most filmmakers stick to the standard frame rate of 24 fps.
Dynamic range is the ratio between the smallest and largest values that a certain quantity can have. In the context of photography and videography, it refers to the data caught caught between the ‘highs and lows’ of the image; in other words, it refers to how much detail is captured between the brightest areas and the darkest ones.
To put this in perspective, imagine that you are in your garage and, from right there, you take a picture of a friend who is posing in the driveway, entirely bathed in bright sunlight. If your camera has a high dynamic range, it would be able to capture both the darkened interior of the garage and the brightly lit outside at the same time.
Here’s an example:
The higher the dynamic range, the better your image/video will turn out to be.
Movie makers shoot movies with modern high-definition cameras, many of which are specially designed to have a very high dynamic range, something that regular cameras lack.
If you use a camera with a lower dynamic range (traditional smartphone cameras usually have a low dynamic range), you will have to make a compromise between how the brightest and darkest aspects of your frame appear in the final image.
Contrast and color grading
After the filming of a movie is complete, it’s passed on to the editors’ table. These people work on the ‘visual enhancement’ aspect. In addition to doing a bunch of other stuff with the video, they also add contrast and push up certain colors to make the video look more aesthetically appealing.
If a video is not properly color graded or contrasted, it looks pretty similar to a traditional phone-recorded video.
This is another factor responsible for that signature movie look. The ‘aspect ratio’ is nothing fancy; it simply refers to the overall shape of the footage. You may have seen that the shape of the video shot by a DSLR camera is different from that of movies we see on the big screen. Cinematic shots are less tall and much wider.
If you shoot a video in a standard cinematic widescreen ratio, its ‘shape’ will be quite similar to that of movies.
The importance of proper lighting in photography cannot be stressed enough! Movie producers spend a great deal of money to get the lighting on their film sets right.
A significant part of that ‘film’ look of movies can be attributed to having just the right amount of both natural and artificial lighting while filming scenes on movie sets.
It should be noted that these are NOT the only elements that contribute to the ‘film’ look; there are, of course, many other factors involved (such as camera equipment, especially lenses, and even the skill of the cinematographer). Together, all these ingredients, when mixed together, impart that signature look to movies that we’ve all come to know and love.
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