5 Techniques That Create Depth & Make Your Cinematography More Dynamic

How do you create depth when you’re working with a two-dimensional medium?

One of the first things you learn about when studying cinematography is composition, and one of the first things you learn about composition is basic aesthetic theory: symmetry vs. asymmetry, energy, color, weight, vertices, etc. Then, somewhere near the end of the class, the back of your text book, the final two minutes of the seminar, you hear about depth — not because it’s unimportant, but because creating it takes a little more finesse than centering your subject in the frame.

The greatest cinematographers are known for (among other things) creating the illusion of depth by using a number of clever techniques and here to break down five of them in this 3-minute video is award-winning commercial cinematographer Matthew Rosen.

Here are the techniques Rosen explains in his video:

High Contrast Lighting:

Good lighting can not only add dimension and depth to your compositions, but it can make your film look like a million bucks. As Rosen says in the video, soft, even lighting tends to flatten images, while lighting with harsher shadows with fast falloff tends to give the illusion of depth. For examples of this kind of lighting, you can’t get any more drastic and overt than film noir, who made chiaroscuro lighting one of its many hallmarks.


We’re talking shallow depth of field here — the same effect that happens when your eyes focus on something close to you. Naturally, when we see this on-screen, our brains interpret it as depth. (However, deep depth of field doesn’t, by contrast, suggest lack of depth. Gregg Toland, for example, expertly plays with deep focus in the iconic shot in Citizen Kane.)…

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