This article is a simple guide on the cinematograph, its history, and how it works. The role and responsibilities of a cinematographer are also discussed.

A cinematograph is a type of motion picture apparatus used both in the form of a projector and a camera. It was the first viable camera that successfully recorded and produced motion pictures. In this article, we will discuss the cinematograph, its invention, and when the camera was invented.

The Invention of a Cinematograph

Louis and his brother Auguste Lumiere, who manufactured photographic materials, were inspired by the kinetograph, a type of film projector. A kinetoscope is a device for seeing a sequence of photos on an unending band of film that constantly moves over a light source. It has a fast rotating shutter to create motion through a magnifying lens.

However, the kinetoscope was not lightweight and portable. Thus, the Lumiere brothers created the cinematograph. It was based in part on the kinetograph but had the added advantage of being easy to carry around. 

Further, in 1897, the Lumiere brothers added another element to their invention. They used a glass flask of water (shown in Fig. 1) as a condenser that concentrated light into the film frame. This way, the film could absorb heat. 

This flask also worked as a safety feature. Light would no longer be required to focus on the film if the glass broke due to overheating. This prevented the film from catching fire. This addition led to the creation of the first projector.

How Does a Cinematograph Work

A cinematograph consists of an unusual camera placed inside a frame with two claws. 

This frame has a type of alternating movement that stops at each end of the route. 

Then, the claws would be slid backwards and forwards along a winding ramp. 

This mechanism was connected to a round shuttler. 

When the cinematograph was commercialised, it came with an automatic focus lens for objects situated at a distance of more than 6 m.

So, the light from the lamp placed behind the semi-transparent film projected a continuous series of sequentially changing images onto the screen. 

The picture replaces another so fast that the eye perceives it as a moving image.

Role and Functions of a Cinematographer

A cinematographer, alternatively known as the director of photography, is mainly in charge of the camera as well as the lighting team. 

They play a very important role in creating the appropriate look, lighting, and colour for every shot in the film. The cinematographer’s job is to ensure that their choices complement the overall vision of the director. 

Here are some of the responsibilities and roles of a cinematographer.

Choosing a visual style for the film: A cinematographer determines the approach and tries to understand what type of visual would complement the film. Suppose a cinematographer is working on a documentary. They must understand whether they should act on re-enactments or found footage.

Setting up the camera: A cinematographer must decide which type of camera, lenses, and angles make a scene look unique and visually bring things to life. Moreover, they also need to work with the script supervisor to understand the scope of the scene.

Deciding the lighting for every shot: A cinematographer is responsible for using the appropriate lighting so as to create the perfect mood as preferred by the director. They are also required to enhance the depth of an image, contrast and contour so as to support the story’s atmosphere.

Understand the potential of location: A good cinematographer makes recommendations regarding the locations and shots that need to be captured.

Common Cinematic Terms 

Close Up: A shot that closely crops into the face of the character or any specific object.

Long Shot: A shot that shows a character with respect to their surroundings.

Establishing Shot: This is a type of shot that is generally made at the beginning of a particular scene to give an adequate context to the setting.

Tracking Shot: This mainly involves a sideways moving shot so that it properly captures a landscape or the following character with their movement.

Dolly Shot: This is a shot in reference to the camera moving toward or away from a particular character on a dolly track, meaning backwards as well as forward camera motion.


The Lumiere brothers successfully completed their first screening of a motion picture in public in 1895, catching everyone’s attention. With time, the cinematograph started showing films for every class of the society and was largely used in entertainment houses, fairs, etc.

Though the invention by the Lumiere brothers was initially a success, later, the 35mm film produced by Edison became the standard. Regardless, the Lumiere brothers are considered the pioneers of film projection even today.