a Web Exegesis by Cameron Dunlop

“Placing a camera is not an arbitrary process,
neither is it done with the 'prettiest' shot in mind.
A cinematographers role is to enhance the storytelling.”
- Roger Deakins
Of all the technical and creative decisions a cinematographer must make, I believe knowing where to place the camera within a scene and why is the most important. For me, it's also a decision I’ve been grappling with these past two years while completing my Masters at AFTRS.

Where the camera is positioned within the story world dictates the window through which the audience experiences the narrative — the point of view (Foss, 1994). Practically speaking, this decision is tied not only to a specific spatial position, but effects (and is affected by) performance, composition and framing, lighting, camera movement, set design and dressing, editing, sound — practically all filmmaking choices!
Point of view at a surface level can be defined as ‘what we see from a certain location’. In the context of a film, if we share a character’s point of view, we see what they see — their optical point of view.
Applying a literary definition of point of view, we can define it as “the ways in which a film can systematically structure an audience’s overall epistemic access to narrative” (Wilson, 1986, p.3). To simplify: how knowledge of the narrative world is controlled and communicated to the audience. I’d argue that this is where the concepts of an objective or subjective camera tie in, which I’ll place under the umbrella term of emotional point of view. But going back again to Wilson’s definition of point of view, this idea of the way a film systematically structures access to narrative strikes me as very similar to the idea of coverage.
Coverage is the methodology of translating a script into shots that will allow a scene to be cut together. More deeply, it’s an orientation tool to position an audience both physically within a scene, but also emotionally through “our implied relationship to the character and action” (Pye, 2000, p.2). And being a sequence of images, coverage navigates an audience through the scene; for example, establishing the geography of a space in a wide, or privileges us to a private moment with our protagonist, unseen by other characters.
“where we place the storyteller has an effect on how we perceive the story they tell.“ 
(Foss, 1994)
Ultimately, these decisions of coverage and point of view are what excite me most about cinematography, the ability to affect an audience emotionally based on decisions as simple as the location of the camera.
In practice, while these decisions can seem simple or obvious in hindsight, they can be daunting to make in the moment during a block through, let alone in a documentary setting.

And while there’s a wide body of existing film theory literature discussing point of view, it's largely philosophical and approaches the topic in reflection of completed sequences, void of the filmmaking process and decisions that resulted in the refined ‘point of view’ that the film shares. In particular, there’s little practical discussion about coverage choices, or how individual technical and aesthetic cinematographic techniques work together to create it.
When it comes to practicing cinematographers, coverage is always preceded by ‘enough’ coverage rather than ‘the right’ coverage; and point of view discussion is often difficult to explain, glossed over as ‘intuition’ or oversimplified rules that hide a deeper thought process. My aim with this exegesis is to bridge a gap in this area for early career cinematographers like myself, who haven’t had enough time behind the camera for this process to naturally become intuitive. More specifically, I want to deconstruct the myriad of technical and aesthetic considerations a cinematographer has at their disposal within the arsenal of visual language, with a particular focus on exploiting emotional point of view for greater intimacy and emotional effect on the audience.