Cinematography for Directors

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					Cinematography for Directors
-the real message is that the tools only come to life in creative hands. At its most elemental, the job of the director
and cinematographer is to translate an idea, a passionate impulse – a feeling – into concrete form
-the director and cinematographer are the primary pair of creative collaborators on a film set
-the director is the visionary who takes the cast and crew on their creative journey toward the completion of a film.
Directors tell their stories with images, and it is their intention to manipulate the emotions of the audience and
capture their attention and imagination for two or three hours
-the relationship between a director and cinematographer has been compared to a marriage. Theirs is a very close
bond based on trust and mutual respect, although there can, of course, be disagreements from time to time. Because
communication is key in any relationship, the better the cinematographer knows the director’s intentions, the better
they will be able to help him
-the cinematographer is the eye behind the lens, the one who takes concepts and makes illusions of reality almost
palpable on screen. So it is important that the director and cinematographer work in close collaboration throughout
the process to bring the director’s vision to the screen
-the director is ultimately responsible for the storytelling aspects of the film, through the actors’ performances to
the selection of shots and compositions. As the main person associated with the style and content of the film, the
director has to maintain the artistic integrity and clarity of vision when making final decisions on the screenplay
-most importantly, the director must have a vision of the finished film before it has been photographed and must
also understand how all the individual aspects of production will effectively communicate the story to the audience
-the director should be able to visualize the entire film completed in his mind before turning on a camera, to ensure
that they will shoot all the footage necessary to tell the story the way they intend it to be on the screen
-a smart director will be open to suggestions that a cinematographer may have regarding light, focal length, and
-the first thing a director needs to consider is the blocking of the actors and the composition of the frame.
Understanding how the basics of cinematography tell the story by highlighting thematic elements of the script is
essential to effective filmmaking
-a director also has to know whether the image is moving or static and what is being communicated to the audience
by that movement or lack of movement. Understanding the types of moves and the equipment to accomplish those
moves is also quite important. The difference between the movement of the Steadicam and the movement of a
handheld camera or dolly conveys different visual information and emotional effect
-a director should consider what the visual palette of the film is: what they are saying to the audience about the
characters and their environment through the us e of color. It is also helpful to understand the basic look of the
light and how it, too underscores the theme of the film’s story. Some lighting decisions may be largely determined
by the genre of the film
-many options are available: soft quality light, harsh light, a bright soft image, or a shadow-filled light etched with
-‘cinematrographers are not directing, they are writing with light and motion to tell a story. That distinction is very
-‘the DP is about composition, light and movement, and collaborates with the director to capture the mood and put
it on screen’
-the cinematographer is responsible for the visual interpretation of the film; he is the “author” of the images,
whereas the director is the “author” of the performances. Basically what that means is that the cinematographer
does not direct actors, and the director does not light the set or calculate exposure
-the cinematographer translates the director’s vision into images with a specific mood, through the use of camera
placement, focal length, and light. The cinematographer interprets the script into a visual language that speaks to
the audience viscerally. If done well, the cinematography underscores the essence of the scene, subtly manipulating
the audience’s emotional response to the film and enhancing the story
-the DP is the person the director leans on during production, the one the director will turn to or confide in if she or
he strays off track. The DP is there to help put the director back on course
-most DP’s will agree that they see their role as “the gatekeeper of the image”
The Cinematographer and the Script
-the DP should be as enthusiastic about taking your vision to the screen as you are. He should be bubbling over
with creative ideas on how to make it even better
-DP’s are very visual people who tend to see things rather than hear them
-‘it’s really the two extremes. If there is arrogance with no substance or you have somebody that is so clearly
confused that you know you are going to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders…those are situations I
don’t need to be in”
-when the DP has agreed to bring your cinematic vision to life, it means he related to some aspect of the script and
felt that they could visually enhance your project. Understanding that you are both coming from the same place
thematically, the DP can start to articulate visual ideas to you and being a dialogue on how to interpret the script
into images. It is helpful to establish a bond of connection prior to production
-‘the first thing is to have conversations with the director to get the look, feel, and nature of the film – that’s the first
thing. But then you go back to the script and break the thing down and look at the major sequences, the major
locations and just think how each can be best achieved. Every film you do is a compromise. You just can’t ever
get everything in your head on that page visually; it just doesn’t happen. You have to break it down and decide
what is really important, where do I want to concentrate the most effort. It varies with every script. After you’ve
had discussions with the director – because you can only talk about the script for so long – you have to be on
location, you have to look at the sets or plans or drawings or whatever and start visualizing, working with
something specific’
-‘I have found that in the script, a day can last

 48 hours, so I think maybe we could have a cut and then go back, and what if that scene was dusk for night and
then go into day on the next one? It creates a nice rhythm of light and breaks up a long visual day on the screen.
The only way to make things look reasonably good is to figure out 95% of the problems before we get there; that
way the other 5% of the problems can be absorbed rather quickly and easily on set
-the enthusiastic cinematographer will be anxious to discuss ideas with the director and the production designer
during the early stages of preproduction
-in the same way the writer (who may also be the director) envisioned the script while writing it, the
cinematographer will transform the emotions, words, and descriptions into images that visually punctuate the story
-if the film is a drama, the DP may create quality of light that is dark and shadowy. If the film is science fiction,
they may envision a de-saturated color palette and the use of wide-angle lenses. If it is a romantic comedy, they
may use a glossy high-key look with soft, practical light illuminating the scene. All of these visual references
communicate to the audience and elicit emotional responses, whether anxiety, fear, empathy or laughter
-the DP will read the script initially for content and a basic overall impression; then again for visuals, images,
specific shots, and movement; and then another time to consider the color palette and an overall look of the film
that visually translates the emotions of the story to the screen. They may sketch out some of their own storyboard
ideas or basic blocking
-an established DP will like the idea of working outside of a genre they have become known for
-no one likes to be pigeonholed, but it happens quite often in the film business, and DP’s are not exempt from the
categories. Most DP’s can shoot in various styles, but because of their own individual personalities, they will be
attracted to specific types of material
-ultimately, it is a good script that will get the cinematographer interested in the project – along with a passionate
director bringing forth enthusiasm and creative ideas on how to visually interpret the story. The goal of a film is to
take the audience on a journey, to entertain, and make them believe in or identify with the characters. Therefore,
understanding character and plot is essential and enhancing this with visuals is what makes the film work on a
subliminal level
-‘the sophisticated conversation to have is about character motivation. From the DP’s standpoint, just like from the
actor’s or the director’s, it’s the story, and the story will motivate the questions and eventually will motivate the
look of the film
-once you convey the character’s motivation and have discussions on the thematic elements of the script, the DP
may ask the director a number of questions: How do you see this film? Is it static or moving? Are the shots wide
or close? Is it filled with saturated colors or de-saturated colors? How does the color help underscore what is
happening within the story of the scene? Is it in deep focus or shallow focus? Do we need to see the character
within their environment or not? Does the background need to be in focus? Is the camera handheld or on a
Steadicam or a dolly? Is the film being shot in a studio or on location, and finally, what format were you thinking
of shooting on, film or HD? Understanding what you plan to do technically to interpret the script, and why, is an
important conversation between director and DP that can either enhance or destroy the basic concept of the film
-‘you have to realize that it’s not just about the wide shot of a set – it’s about the close-ups that you’re going to
shoot on that set. And the small objects on that set are going to become big objects in those closer frames. And
although a practical on a desk might look great on a wide shot, if most of the scene is a close-up of a guy sitting at
that desk, and he’s lit solely by that practical, it’s really important that you as the DP are involved in the discussion
of the quality of that light’
-the more articulate you are in conveying how you envision the film to the DP and production designer, the more it
will resemble what you imagined when you wrote it
-‘once I understand the approach to what the director is trying to do, then I go to my photography books or visual
references and try to come up with visual ideas that I can present to the director. Maybe a certain scene could have
a certain type of framing or grain structure or color, and I present these ideas to the director so we can pin pong
ideas back and forth. For me that is very enjoyable, doing investigation, and then, of course, the production
designer comes into play as well, so it’s a three-part collaboration, and I try to be involved in all of it. Hopefully,
the director will orchestrate collaboration between all the departments (costume designer, production designer, and
camera department)’
-you also have to consider what you final product is going to be: Are you finishing to a film print for theatrical
screenings? Are you finishing to DVD? Knowing where you are heading in the final product will affect what you
begin with and your work flow from production to postproduction
-preproduction is the time period that is crucial for ideas being tested and decisions being made in advance as to
what will be executed on set. This is where the creative juices start to flow and lots of conversation occurs between
the director, the production designer, and DP, where visual references come up, where the essence or heart of the
movie is dissected to be reassembled on screen
-directors and DP’s should visit locations together with the director’s viewfinder to talk about focal length for
certain shots and discuss whether they see the film as moving or static or what colors come to mind and what kind
of light is envisioned. Is it a genre piece where you want to stay in line with the conventions of the genre or turn it
on its head? Is it a stylistic film or something more edgy and raw?
-‘as a cinematographer, my job is to collect all these emotional elements and put it into a frame and express it
-filmmaking is about showing the audience what is going on visually rather than just telling them through dialogue
and exposition. By using the subtext of color and light, angles, and lenses, thematic elements of a script can be
enhanced. For example, the cinematographer may use a wide-angle lens shot from a slightly low angle to make the
character seem large and menacing, rather than saying ‘he is large and menacing’
-there are directors who like to storyboard the entire film prior to production and work from them as their visual
interpretation of the script
-there are others who like to work more spontaneously on set, based on the blocking of the actors during rehearsal.
Whatever method the director chooses, the DP must go along with it
-DP’s are always hoping for insight into how the director envisions the film, so storyboards can be a very helpful
tool in the creative process. If a director comes to a DP with every scene carefully mapped out on storyboards, that
can be fine, as long as the DP’s ideas and suggestions are also considered in the interpretation of the script. Most
DP’s will look at anything visual you want to share with them to communicate your ideas. Cinematographers enjoy
conversations about what your intentions are regarding the stylistic look of the film. They want to be your creative
collaborator and will no doubt have excellent ideas and contributions to visually enhance the script
-for films with huge action sequences, storyboarding is essential for both director and cinematographer, due to the
complications of shooting more difficult multiple camera sequences. Sometimes these are the only storyboarded
sequences in a film. It all depends on how the director works
-storyboarding and shot listing give the director and DP the chance to sit down together in preproduction and map
out the shots and the way the film will be covered. This is helpful both for the DP, to have a clear idea of the
various setups used to cover a scene, and for the director, to help them stay on course and get the coverage they
need. If something else comes up during production that might be working even better than what was
storyboarded, that should be considered as well. Generally DP’s are happy to work off the storyboards and shots
lists as long as there is room for creative spontaneity on the set
-‘of course we use our intuition when we are shot listing, but it really gives us a sense of the way each scene is
covered and helps very much in editing. Alejandro has a really good sense of editing and sound, so in
storyboarding we talk about how it’s going to cut, not just the master scene. We shot list as if we are editing’
-most DP’s want to be involved in the shot listing and possibly the storyboarding of the film. It gives them the
chance to previsualize and block out the film with the director
-the best solution is to involve the DP in the creative process by shot listing with them or storyboarding with them
and remain flexible if a situation arises during production that could be better than the storyboard as planned
-not all storyboards need to be perfectly drawn artworks, just sketches that communicate the essence of a sequence
-the cinematography should always enhance the thematic elements of the script through camera work and lighting,
but shouldn’t be so self-conscious that the audience is aware of it. It should be subtle and unobtrusive. A handheld
sequence could reveal tension or confusion in a scene
-some entire films are handheld. The handheld camerawork in the beginning of the film foreshadows that tension is
on the horizon. The frenetic camerawork throughout the film creates a subconscious tension in viewers as we
watch in anticipation
-finding the key emotional moments in a scene and being sure to accent them through the camerawork and lighting
is essential to good filmic storytelling. It is the subtlety of the cinematography that underscores the mood of the
film and it is the director’s responsibility to find whose scene it is and make sure that the camera is capturing the
right moment at the right time. It is the DP’s job to use the camera and lighting to amplify that key moment in the
scene with subtle visuals that will communicate to the audience on an emotional level to visually punctuate the
-have your own ideas about the visual interpretation of the script, such as: What is the essence of the film? How do
we want to tell the story visually? Be prepared to explain why do you feel compelled to tell this story
The Aesthetics of Lenses
-‘what a director has to know is that each lens comes with a certain feel to it’
-selecting the lens is the area of cinematography where the director can be the most influential. When the DP sets
up the requested shot, the first question he will ask is what focal length the director wants: wide, medium, or close?
-understanding focal length is key to communicating the desired composition with a DP. The lens is not only a
technical tool to capture the image but also an aesthetic one, and understanding how to use depth of field and focal
length to tell your story is an essential tool of visual storytelling
-the lens is the eye of the camera. It allows light to enter and hit the film plane, resulting in exposure of the latent
image. Controlling the amount of light is done through exposure calculation designated by the lighting conditions
and the selection of the f-stop as indicated from the light meter reading. F-stops regulate the exposure, and the
diameter of the opening determines how much light enter the camera for exposure. The DP will read the light as it
falls on the subject, which provides an f-stop that should be used for exposing the scene
-there are two series of numbers on the lens: the t-stop and the f-stop. The t-stop is the true light transmission and
the f-stop regulates exposure and is used for calculating depth of field
-the glass on the lens should always be clean, with no smears or scratches on it, to capture the cleanest possible
image. The better the quality of the lens, the sharper and crisper the image will be. Lenses come in varying
degrees of sharpness and softness
-a lens is considered “fast” if the iris opening goes as wide as 1.4, which allows more light to enter the camera for
exposure. Normal lenses that are not high speed usually open to f/2.8 and slow lenses will only open to f/4, which
means more light is needed in low light situations for exposure
-prior to a shoot a DP may test several different lenses and screen the tests with the director, so both can come to a
decision on what kind of lens would best suit the visual interpretation of the script
-many directors will use a director’s viewfinder as a reference, which is like a big zoom lens that has a full range of
focal lengths to help select the desired focal length at the selected aspect ratio and communicate the information to
the cinematographer. It can be useful for scouting locations together to discuss what focal lengths may be used for
a particular scene, or shot and notes can be taken with that information to plan shot lists
-but not all directors like to use the viewfinder and prefer instead to just look through the viewfinder on the camera
to determine precise focal length for composition
-understanding how to utilize focal length and depth of field as creative tools can be very helpful in communicating
subtle thematic issues in the script
-‘it is helpful for us DP’s if director’s know basic technical information
-basically there are two types of lenses: the prime lens, which has fixed focal length, and the zoom lens, which has
a variable focal length. Prime lenses are made to do just one job, to maintain a single focal length. For example, an
8mm prime, or a 27mm prime is each only designed to be one specific focal length
-if the director has selected a certain focal length, like the 27mm and wants to move in a little closer, the camera
will have to be physically moved or the lens will have to be changed to a 32mm to get a little closer
-there are DP’s who prefer to work with primes because of the size of the lenses, and they prefer to move the
camera to accommodate the shot rather than zoom in, because the zoom in will affect what remains in focus in the
background. The zoom will compress the space, where the prime will not compress the space unless it is a longer
focal length. With a prime lens, the camera can be as close as several inches away from an actor. It puts the
audience very close and intimate with the subject, while keeping the background in acceptable forms.
-‘the feeling of intimacy is very different with a 100mm or a 40mm that is close to the actors. It really feels like
you are with them, invading their space with the camera a little. For the audience it’s the difference between being
voyeuristic and safe, looking at something or someone from a distance or being right there with them. That’s why
primes work better for me, because they force me to move in for coverage’
-‘I think that getting into the regime of changing lenses every time you change a shot makes you more aware of
what you are doing, and it really doesn’t take any more time to change a lens. In fact, it takes less, and there you
have it’
-the zoom lens has a wide range of focal lengths. It can be a 10-100mm, which means at its widest opening it is a
10mm (wide-angle lens) and zoomed in, it is 100mm (telephoto lens) and every focal length in between. The size
and weight of the zoom lens is much larger and heavier than the prime lens, because of all the glass in the lens for
the varying focal lengths, so it is sometime referred to as a ‘long lens.’
-the camera can be placed a further distance from the subject and when zoomed in, it will isolate the subject, while
also softening the focus in the background. This is telling the audience to look only at the subject, because the
background will be completely soft focus. Using the zoom can be convenient if you are in a situation that is more
difficult to control and you need to zoom in to a tighter shot without changing out the lens, such as in a
documentary film or when you are grabbing a shot on the fly
-at a longer focal length, the zoom lens can get the subject in a closer shot, but at the same time it will compress and
soften the background, isolating the subject so that they are all we see. These can be very aesthetically pleasing
shots, almost like a portrait
-the zoom in is like the eye of the audience focusing in on what was being shot and zooming out is taking it away
-‘me, I love the change of focal length, I’ll do it in the middle of nearly every shot I ever operate on. You’ll see the
corners of the frame moving, I’m either zooming in…It’s the imperceptibles; you just slightly push in and adjust.
You can always cut it. You can see it with your brain, but you can’t see it with your eye – I just love it’
-‘I rarely have a zoom in the kit. I like zooms only for particular reasons. To me the effect of the zoom is as if
someone is focusing their attention on something; it’s like a point of view, narrowing in on something within a
-generally speaking the high speed primes will have a wider iris opening, such as a 1.4, to allow more light in and
are preferable in low light situations. The DP’s package may include a full set of primes from wide angle, to
normal, to longer lenses as well as a zoom, which can be used for other aesthetic and practical applications
-technically speaking, focal length is determined by the distance between the optical center of the lens and the focal
plane. It is a measurement in millimeters (mm). The focal length directly affects the size of the image within the
frame and the angle of view, which reveals how much of the scene the lens can perceive horizontally. In 35mm
film, a ‘normal’ lens, which is the closest approximation of human vision, is the 50mm
-normal vision means the lens sees closest to the way humans see in terms of peripheral vision, which is about 180
degrees. Objects in the background appear similar to the way our eyes would see them and subjects standing next
to each other also share the same field of view, not exaggerated or compressed by the physics of optics. So the
more objective choice of lenses would be the normal lens, because it doesn’t imply a voyeuristic perspective, nor is
it so close that it intimidates or distorts the actors. It is your ‘normal lenss
-‘the larger the area of the imaging device, the longer the focal length is for the normal lens’
-the wide-angle lens creates an exaggerated sense of depth and pulls subjects standing next to each other further
apart. The horizontal axis of the frame appears somewhat stretched to the sides. So using this type of lens can
distort the subject’s facial features if the camera is placed to close to them. If you were trying to achieve a beauty
shot, the wide-angle lens would not be your first choice, since it will pull apart the subject’s features in a less than
flattering way
-the use of wide-angle lenses and extreme depth of field and camera angles are used to underscore the essence of
the story in Citizen Kane. The choice of enhancing or eliminating depth of field, what is in focus in the
background, is a key factor in the selection of lenses
-since more of the background remains in focus with wide-angle lenses, they are often used in moving shots. A
shorter lens on the Steadicam not only makes the camera lighter, but it is also easier to maintain focus.
-moving through the scene with a wide-angle lens while on the Steadicam, dolly, or handheld requires less focus
pulling, because more of the image will remain in focus than if a longer lens were in use, because there is more
inherent depth of field with a wide-angle lens than with a telephoto lens
-going beyond the wide-angle lens is the fish eye lens, which is primarily used for effects because it distorts the
horizontal edges of the frame into a semi-circular format
-‘Ang Lee has his choices of lenses: Usually we will do a master shot with a 27mm, medium shots will be 50mm;
close-ups 75mm
-the telephoto lens is anything larger than the normal lens. In 35mm, anything beyond the normal lens (32-50) such
as a 75mm-500mm is telephoto. If you set up a shot and don’t want to move the camera or prefer to stay further
away from the subject, a zoom lens could move in from the mid range to the telephoto range to get a close-up
without being physically close to the actor. What the telephoto lens does is isolate the subject and obscure the
background. The longer focal length used, the less depth of field remains. This is more the beauty shot lens,
because all you see in the frame is the subject that you have focused on; everything else becomes a soft blur
-‘but if the camera is moving and it’s on the dolly or Steadicam or any moving platform, generally you put a zoom
on, because it helps you with the focal length. Since you might have arranged your tracks six inches shy of where
you really want to be, it’s just easier to zoom in or out, plus you can bury your zoom in a move and it becomes
much less obtrusive and much more versatile
-if you were on dolly tracks and wanted to zoom in closer while the dolly was pushing in, the zoom could be buried
in the movement itself. These lenses work well when used in combination with a dolly move, but most DP’s prefer
to hide the zooming in or out effect in a movement rather than have it stand out on its own, unless it is for a specific
reason that is imperative in the script
-‘so that was one of those lucky mistakes. I tell students, you’ve got to search for the story all the time, you’ve got
to know the script and know the story, then search for little things that happen, because that’s what makes the film’
-one could do a very effective slow zoom in with a microforce instead of a dolly move to get closer to your subject,
but keep in mind that does affect what remains in focus in the background. The dolly move will maintain your
depth of field as you push in, but the zoom in will eliminate it. Zoom lenses are also handy if you want to sue them
for an extreme rack focus from one subject to another
-each lens carries with it the same basic information, which includes the identification of what focal length it is (i.e
32mm) usually placed on the inside ring of the lens near the glass. There are measurements in feet and meters on
the barrel of the lens, which will usually be different colors, such as white for feet and red for meters, depending on
the lens. Also, there are f-stops and t-stops, which regulate the aperture or iris opening that determines how much
light is allowed to enter the film plane for exposure. Since the lens is placed directly in front of the film plane,
which is the point of exposure, it is like the pupil of the human eye, which can dilate or shrink to a pin-hole size
depending on the light entering. F-stops regulate the amount of light hitting the film plane and are used to calculate
exposure. F/1.4 would be the equivalent of a dilated pupil and f/22 would be the equivalent of a constricted pupil,
as it would be when you are staring into the bright sun
-the f- and t- stops are: 1.4, 1.8, 2.0, 2.8, 4.5, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22
-of the f- and t-stops that regulate the iris opening, 1.4 is wide open, allowing the maximum of light to enter the
film plane, and 22 is the smallest opening, allowing the least amount of light to enter
-depth of field directly correlates to the focal length being used and the aperture opening of the lens. It regulates
how much of the shot remains in focus in the foreground and background. This will dictate how much your subject
can move toward or away from the lens and still remain in focus without pulling focus
-the smaller the format you are working in, the more depth of field you inherently have
-if you are shooting in HD, the depth of filed resembles that of Super 16mm film, since it shares a similar aspect
-depth of field is directly affected by the format you are shooting, the focal length of the lens, whether it is wide-
angle or telephoto, how far the subject is from the camera, and the aperture of the lens (the f- and t-stops controlling
the amount of light reaching the film plane)
-a wide angle lens in any format inherently comes with a vast amount of depth of field and on the other extreme, a
telephoto lens inherently comes with a limited depth of field. If you want your subject and background in focus,
then having depth of field is desired. If it is important to the story that we see what is going on in the background,
that it shares equal importance in the shot with the subjects themselves, then you want to maintain depth of field
through the choices of lenses
-if a rack focus is desired between one character and another when you are staging in depth, then you are trying to
create a limited depth of field and would use a long lens to isolate your subject and obscure the background. In
addition, using a longer focal length will dictate the necessity for a focus pull when the camera is on a moving dolly
-focal length, the iris opening, and the distance of the subject from the camera are the basic elements needed to
figure out what the depth of field will be. First of all, what is the aperture opening? An f-stop is the measurement
of light determined by the light meter reading. In technical terms it is the ratio of the focal length of the lens to the
diameter of the entrance pupil; it is a mathematical calculation that doesn’t necessarily account for the efficiency of
various lenses
-as mentioned, the t-stop is the true light transmission, which is why most DP’s use this more precise calculation on
lenses that have been properly calibrated. A t-stop is used for selecting exposure and the f-stop is used to calculate
depth of field. F-stops and t-stops determine how much light is allowed to enter the film plane; they are used to
regulate exposure
-what this means is that the lens is not designed to open up beyond 4, therefore less light is allowed to hit the film
plane for exposure and more light is needed in the scene. This is why the anamorphic lens is considered a “slower
lens” as opposed to lenses that open up to 1.4, which are considered “fast.” Because they will allow lower lighting
conditions to be read on film, they can be used in very darkly lit situations. What also comes with shooting a 1.4 is
an extremely limited depth of field, so focus is quite critical
-with the aperture open to f/1.4, the maximum amount of light is allowed to enter the film plane for exposure; at
f/22 the least amount of light is allowed to enter the film plane. The term “stopping down” means that the iris is
being closed down a stop, for example, from f (stop) 16 to f (stop) 22. “Opening up” means that the iris is being
opened up a stop, say from f/4 to f/2.8.
-when you are “stopping down” (closing the iris), you are slightly enhancing your depth of field, whereas when you
are “opening up” you are decreasing your depth of field. As the number decrease you are opening up and as they
increase you are closing down
-DP’s may say something like “I can get that shot, but I will have to open up a stop”, which means they need to let
more light in for exposure and in so doing they are eliminating some depth of field, which could result in the need
for a focus pull or re-staging of the actors. Going the other way, closing down will provide more detail in the
background. For example, they might say “I can do that, but now we will see what’s in the background more
-usually while shooting in extremely low light conditions, the lens will be wide open. Some DP’s prefer a “fast
lens” or a “high-speed” lens, because it opens beyond what most lenses are capable of, which allows the DP to
shoot in extremely low light situations. Rather than a lens that opens to 2.8, which will require more light for a
proper exposure
-shooting wide open at 1.4 makes the area of focus critical; it could be less than an inch or the subject will go soft
-on the other extreme if you are shooting outdoors in bright light, you exposure reading may be at f/22 closed
down, with the iris opening just a tiny pin-hole allowing the least amount of light possible to enter the film plane.
With this exposure comes increased depth of field, depending on the focal length
-to decrease the depth of or eliminate overexposure, the DP can apply neutral density filters, which will eliminate a
certain amount of light from entering the film plane. And ND.09 (neutral density filter) will eliminate three f-stops
of light. This calculation would be made from the original exposure, then counting down three stops (so if the
reading was f/32, the exposure would actually be made at f/11 using the ND.09 filter)
-the neutral density filters (ND) are also used to control overexposure on the negative. With a reading of f/32 or
higher, the ND filter can bring the exposure back in range. ND filters are part of a DP’s basic package and are used
to eliminate over-exposure without affecting the color temperature of the film
-the ND.090 cuts three spots; the ND.06 two stops; and the ND.03 one stop. The DP may also have an 85ND.03
combo filter used to color correct tungsten film to daylight while also cutting down one stop of exposure. Neutral
Density filters and color correction filters are used to control exposure and correct color temperature. They are not
special effect filters, such as diffusion, fog, graduated, tobacco, or the multitudes of filters that can have various
effects on the image
-shooting in the mid-scale area on a cloudy day outdoors, the exposure could be at f5.6. There would be some
softness in the background, but also a good portion of the area in focus. As you close down going toward f/22, the
depth of field increases; on the other hand, opening up toward f/1.4, depth of field decreases
-focal length directly ties into this equation of calculating depth of field. A telephoto lens will decrease depth of
field; a 100mm lens in S16mm with the f-stop wide open at 1.4 creates a critical focus situation, a very limited
depth of field. Shooting outdoors with a wide-angle lens such as a 10mm in the S16mm format at f/22 maximum
depth of field with the focus from foreground to infinity
-to read the chart, you first look at the focal length being used and take a light reading to determine the f-stop
selected for exposure, then measure the distance the subject is from the camera. For example, if the lens is being
used (the focal length) is 16mm and the subject is 10’ from the film plane of the camera, with an f-stop reading of
2.8, the focus range (or depth of field) is from near 6’8’ to 20’, a considerable amount of room for the actors to
move around without having to worry about a focus pull
-compare that with a 100mm lens using the same exposure of 2.8 with the subject at 10’ away, which provides a
depth of field of 9’10-.5” for the near distance from the camera and the 10’1.5” farthest away from the camera. In
this scenario the subject has only inches to move without going out of focus. The longer lens eliminated the depth
of field
-as a director, you don’t need to read the charts or make these calculations – it’s the DP’s job, but understanding the
concept helps you with decisions regarding what you want to be in focus in the shot. There is a vast difference
between the range of focus of a wide-angle lens and that of a telephoto. The same f-stop and distance are used in
calculation; only the focal length has changed
-of all the technical elements, understanding the applications of focal length, f-stops, and depth of field are the most
important for the director. They are basic tools to visual storytelling, to the craft of filmmaking. They tell the
audience what to look at and what is important in the shot, and provide visual information that could be key in
understanding the essence of the script. Once the director understands these technical elements, she or he can
utilize them for aesthetic purposes
-it is helpful if the director understands the basic variables that can affect depth of filed, the exposure (f-stop), the
focal length of the lens, and the distance the subject is from the film plane. Frames per second, whether shooting
normally at 24fps or slow motion 48fps or higher, will affect exposure, which in turn affects depth of field.
-anamorphic is really a format to shoot in, but requires the use of specific anamorphic lenses, which have some
characteristics that are different from those of the flat spherical lenses. It has a wide-screen aspect ratio of 2:40
-the wide-screen format of movies began in the mid 1950’s as a direct response to the creation of television. Along
with brilliant color, wide-screen was used as a device to get audiences away from their square black-and-white
television sets and back into movie theaters. Cinemascope was one of the first processes used to squeeze the image
in the viewfinder into a compressed format, which was then un-squeezed during projection by a process of
-the effect of this format is a wide-screen, big-picture image used primarily to tell epic stories. Shooting with an
anamorphic lens requires the DP to use wide-screen compositions effectively, while having to compensate for the
reduced light that enters the film plane. It is more about selecting a specific format, but to create that format one
must use the anamorphic lens primarily seen on Panavision cameras
-Citizen Kane is the quintessential example of a brilliant use of the aesthetics of depth of field. Welles wanted the
film to be seen as the human eye sees, with both the foreground and background in focus. Sometimes the film was
host at a slightly lower camera angle, to empower the character of Charles Foster Kane, or from above to weaken a
character, as in the case of his second wife, Susan Alexander. Throughout the film whenever we see Kane in his
environment, whether in the newspaper office he runs or in the giant castle of Xanadu he has created, all of his
possessions are in focus. He is a part of the world he has created and that world he has created is a part of him
-in a scene shot with a wide-angle lens for depth of field, what the audience sees in the frame may be revealed to be
equally as important as the characters themselves. Depth of field can be used to show a character’s living space;
perhaps their possessions reveal personality traits that visually communicate information to the audience. Showing
a character’s environment can reveal character traits in a subtle way
-using “Hitchcock’s Rule,” the size of an object in the frame should equal its importance in the scene at that
-in the many westerns directed by John Ford, the wide-angle lens is used to show the cowboy as being a part of his
-as the subject moves away from the camera with a wide-angle lens on him, the audience feels like the character is
riding away slowly into the vast openness of the plains. The feeling is enhanced through the use of depth of field
-in horror or suspense films, wider lenses are often used, because they will allow us to see the character in their
environment and we may also see their stalker prior to the character turning around. That sense of suspense works
to engage the viewer into the story
-using a wide-angle lens on a camera that is either on Steadicam or being handheld is helpful in keeping focus as
the camera moves around the room. Since these moving shots are frequently point-of-view shots, they do imply
that we are seeing subjectively through the character’s eyes. With a wide-angle lens, more of the background
remains in focus, similar to the way the human eye would see. From a technical standpoint it is more difficult to
pull focus on a moving shot, so the added depth of field is sometimes used to simply keep more in focus in the shot
-increased depth of field is a characteristic that inherently comes with shooting digital video due to the electronic
zooms most cameras have. Trying to eliminate depth of field when shooting in digital format requires the use of
prime lenses
-the aesthetic reason to eliminate or reduce depth of field in a shot is to put sole attention on the subject selected to
be in focus in the frame. With everything else in the shot soft except for one character in focus, the audience’s
attention is concentrated only on that subject or object. It can be used in many ways, but one example is when the
subject is shown in a busy city environment yet remains the only figure in focus; this may imply that the subject is
either alone in this busy world or not yet a part of it. It can also be used as the subjective point of view of another
character seeing just that person, despite all the chaos around them. It is specifically telling the audience where to
look and what they are looking at is the only thing important in the shot, since everything else is blurred
-another reason to soften the background by using depth of field is to mask the location, to obscure the details of the
environment, to “fake it” – to make it appear to be somewhere else
-using or eliminating depth of field is both a technical and aesthetic tool that directors need to understand how to
utilize properly, so that they can enhance the visual storytelling in their films
-depth of field should also be considered when intercutting between shots. If you want to maintain continuity
between two characters in conversation, they should each be shot with a similar focal length lens to balance a
similar depth of field in the background. If one subject is shot with a long lens, softening the background, and the
other is shot with a wide-angle lens with a greater depth of field, when the shots are intercut, the scene will feel
very odd
-understanding how to manipulate focal length can be used for psychological effect. For instance, you might want
to make the audience feel that something is not right in the scene
-focal length and depth of field are important visual storytelling tools to communicate emotions, provide
information, and establish a visual tone to the film. Since the lens is the eye of the camera, it becomes the eye of
the audience telling them where to look and interpreting the information they are given. What lens to use and for
what scene is a conversation that can easily be shared between director and DP in the planning stages of the film
-most feel that what is important is that the director concentrate on the actor’s performance and leave the technical
aspects of the framing to the DP. Most DP’s feel that it is important for the director to be in the actor’s eyeline
once “cut” has been called so that they are the first person seen by the actor to direct the performance as needed.
Others feel the director should be watching the frame
-DP’s are often either standing by the camera or operating, so it is natural that once “cut” has been called, the actor
is going to look toward the camera, but the DP is not the one to comment on the performance – that is the director’s
domain. The first set of eyes an actor connects with should be the director’s
-“I have found that directors like to see what is actually going to be captured on the film, and being closer to the
performers is what the directors I’ve been working with do
Visual References
-“Cinematography is not about equipment, technology or even beautiful sunsets or vistas. I believe we affect the
audience in a much more subtle way. It’s about composition and lighting and storytelling. I believe actors respond
to light”
-DP’s generally regard themselves as visual artists rather than technicians. The art of cinematography requires an
intuitive sense of light and composition as well as an understanding of how to fully utilize the technological
elements of the medium
-the artist in the cinematographer can see light in a way that many people cannot, and with the mastery of their craft
they have the ability to re-create a certain light or look on film. In the same way a painter mixes and applies paint
to a canvas, a cinematographer blends the various tools of their medium such as lights, gels, flags, silks, and filters
to “paint” their canvas on celluloid. Many DP’s have described themselves as “painters with light”
-“for me, lighting is always about trying to duplicate the romanticism of sources. I think the more abstract forms of
lighting, like soft-lighting techniques, don’t create any tension in movies, especially crime movies. When you’re
doing a crime film, you have to create shadows”
-many DP’s working today have been inspired by the black-and-white cinematography in films from the late 1920’s
through the early 1950’s
-the classic film noirs of the 1940’s are also a major influence on contemporary cinematographers due to their
strong visual style, graphic compositions and spare single source lighting. Noir films are noted not only for their
pessimistic storylines, evil femme fatales, and convoluted plots, but also for their stark low-key lighting and
unusual camera angles
-no one is to be trusted in film noir, and the cinematography worked in harmony with the plots to amplify a sense of
doom and destruction through the use of dark shadows and skewed compositions
-film noir as a stylistic movement was inspired by the dark, eerie mood of the early German Expressionistic films
-in its broadest sense expressionism describes any art that raises subjective feelings from objective observations.
The paintings aim to reflect the artist’s state of mind rather than the reality of the external world
-in film noir the lights not turned on are as important as the lights that are turned on. Many films have a sequence
in which characters emerge from complete darkness into light, often carrying a gun. These films have been an
inspiration partly because the cinematographers did so much with such a basic element as the sharp contrast
between darkness and light
-black-and-white still photography has always been a great inspiration for cinematographers. Lighting for black-
and-white images is generally based on the zone system of exposing and printing photographs of which two notable
photographers stand out, Ansel Adams and Edward Weston
-using the zone system incorporates the blackest black and the whitest white at the extreme levels and every shad of
grey in between into each individual photograph. Ansel Adams’ “Monolith” is a classic example of the zone
system in use. Black-and-white cinematography of the 1940’s into the early ‘50’s also exemplifies the zone
-when a viewer looks at a painting or watches images on film, the brightest object in the frame will attract the eye
first. So the light should illuminate the most important area or subject in the frame
-it would also be advisable to watch the documentary ‘Visions of Light’, which shows many of the masters talking
about films that have inspired them, while providing a historical perspective on the history of American film and
the craft of cinematography. Having an awareness of the cinematic styles of the masters will open doors in your
conversations with your cinematographer, who will invariably know their work
-since a film is a medium of motion, acting, and sound along with many other elements beyond a flat and stationary
canvas, DP’s will study films photographed by “master” cinematographers not only to analyze their lighting styles,
composition, and movement, but the other components of the medium as well
-who is using top light? Who is using cross light? Is there a single source light, or is the key light balanced by a fill
light? What kind of light is it? A hard light or a soft light and how does this affect the image? These are all
questions your DP will be grappling with and issues you should be aware of, especially how the light will affect the
storytelling of your film
-by now the message should be clear that the best collaborations with a cinematographer will occur with directors
who have at least a basic understanding of painting, photography and film history
-besides having a basic knowledge of the fine arts, it is very helpful to know movies, specific directors,
cinematographers, and the styles and genres they work in
-the “auteur” (French for author) theory of filmmaking that has been so important to the practice of filmmaking in
our industry assumes that directors – in collaboration with DP’s – develop a signature and personal mark that
dominates all their films. Perhaps you have the ambition of developing such a strong style yourself; to do so,
gaining awareness of the signatures of great directors and DP’s is essential
-directors and DP’s should also communicate with whatever visual means are necessary to come up with how they
conceive “the look” of the film and to discuss and share images that personify that representation
-listening to music can also work to help develop a visual reference – whether it is classical, new age, hip hop, or a
single guitar, whatever mood the music conveys can be helpful in establishing the visual tone of the film. Often a
director will come to the DP with images from magazines, photography books, architecture books, paintings, or
DVD’s. Or the director and DP may screen films together
-it is important for a director to have an idea of what kind of light or mood the script calls for and what find of
feeling he hopes to convey to the audience through the visuals. A dark, gritty film would emphasize a dark, grim
story so you would find the visuals that convey the essence of that feeling to communicate with the DP
-visual references can come from a variety of sources and should provide a point of departure for the feeling of the
film. It all depends on what kind of story you are telling. A family drama might be made more believable by using
references closely attuned to the story. If nostalgia, warmth, and pleasant home memories are to be evoked, you
might refer to Norman Rockwell for a 1930’s or 1940’s setting, a Life magazine Kodachrome photo for the 1950’s
or warm amber hues
-if the story has a more urban theme, the reference could be from the feeling of a Nan Goldin photograph with a
sparse de-saturated hue. But the most important thing for a director looking for a visual palette for their film is to
communicate with the DP about the strongest thematic elements of the story, so that the images will “visually
punctuate” the essence of the film
-another aspect of the use of light in painting and photographic masterworks is what has been come to be known as
a “filmic” quality, the idea that such earlier art anticipated what would be later done in film
-they create a mood through the direction of light and guide the viewer’s eye around the canvas with careful
composition. Along with these elements, there are perfectly placed highlights to draw the eye to specific areas of
the frame. Study the symmetry in the paintings, the calculated ruptures of symmetry, and be aware of the direction
of the quality of the light
-ask yourself, is there a strong source of light in the painting? Where is it coming from? How is that light balanced
by the fill side or is it not balanced by the fill side, creating sharp shadows and contrast? Is there a top light
illuminating the subject? What kind of mood is created within the painting? How does it apply to the genre or
theme of your film? Looking at paintings from the masters will also help you consider the balance of composition
in the frame and the use of the entire canvas to communicate the story
-I encourage you too see more artist’s work and to visit museums to see the actual paintings. The experience of
paintings in their original format and size is often much more intense then seeing them in reproduction
-“Chiaroscuro lighting” is a style of lighting borrowed from painting and used in many films with extreme contrasts
of light and shadows
-there is a usually strong single source light from one angle (the key side) that creates deep dark shadows on the
opposite (the fill) side
-‘Chiaroscuro’ (Italian for clear-dark) is a term in art for a contrast between light and dark. The term is usually
applied to bold contrasts affecting the whole composition, but it is also more technically used by artists and art
historians for the use of effects representing contrasts of light, not necessarily strong, to achieve a sense of volume
in modeling three-dimensional objects such as the human body. In film, Chiaroscuro is used in cinematography to
indicate extreme low-lighting to create distinct areas of light and darkness in films, especially black and white films
-many films also utilize chiaroscuro lighting, which employs a single light source to illuminate the scene
-almost any film that is using a single light source such as a strong key light with no fill, creating deep black
shadows, is modeled after the chiaroscuro style in painting
-the work of one of the Dutch master painters, Johannes Vermeer, has very often been referenced for films due to
the use of a strong directional light source usually coming from a window to the left as well as the subtle use of
color. In film, with a strong directional light coming from a window would be considered a “source light,” usually
the strongest light in the shot, also known as the ‘key light.’ The quality of light in Vermeer’s paintings is not of
extreme contrast, as in chiaroscuro, but instead of muted pastel shades. Shadows are softer and the colors are more
muted than chiaroscuro pieces, especially depending on the time of day. Early morning light is generally cooler
than the amber hues of the late afternoon
-being aware of various movements in painting will help to isolate which one best suits the film you are creating.
Perhaps your film is more of a Vermeer than a La Tour or Caravaggio? Or perhaps it is more realistic, like Edward
Hopper or Andrew Wyeth? Perhaps inspiration is drawn more from still photography and the works of Ansel
Adams or William Eggleston? There are numerous influences that can be drawn from contemporary art and
photography. Some filmmakers also use fashion magazines or coffee table books as visual references
-the distortion of reality for emotional effect in German Expressionism cited earlier for its influence on early
cinema, continues as an important inspiration for cinematographers and directors. Frequently, the paintings reveal
emotional angst or despair, exemplified in the paintings of Emile Nolde, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and famously, in
Edward Munch’s The Scream
-Surrealism is another cinematic influence that appeals to some filmmakers, because of the dreamlike nature of the
images drawn from the subconscious mind with little or no logical connection
-although perhaps surrealism’s strongest influence has been on ‘experimental’ films. It is also found in the more
widely distributed films of revered directors such as Stanley Kubrick and well-known ones such as Tim Burton.
Such directors keep the challenging flame of surrealism alive
-Impressionism is another movement that has been inspirational to filmmakers. The style of the artists known as
the Impressionists included visible brush strokes and an emphasis on the changing qualities of light through
seasons. It was their intention to objectively record visual reality in terms of the transient effect of light and color
-the quality of the light is what attracts cinematographers and directors to this movement. They were genius in
capturing mood through the ever changing qualities of the light of day
-‘if you show him a scene, he’ll feel the atmosphere in a corridor and he’ll light what he feels to be the atmosphere
as opposed to how he thinks it ought to be lit logically or rationally
-the specificity and particularity of visual references rather than a general background of images can be extremely
important for a director communicating with the cinematographer and vice versa. Many DP’s will come up with a
visual reference to present to the director as a means of opening up the conversation to a visual style or color palette
-understanding the thematic elements provides a point of reference, and both a director and DP can start thinking of
tests to shoot to re-create a particular ‘look’ for the film
-the DP and production designer should talk about how wardrobe and the color of the set affects the overall visual
conception of the film
-if there is any personality to your work as a DP, it is because you are the sum of all things that have influenced you
in your life as your life unfolds
-every situation varies depending on the kind of film you are doing and the personalities of the director and DP
-all of these visual elements can help you to brainstorm and come up with a look that will best suit your film. But
the essential point is that both director and DP come to the table with ideas, share those ideas and talk about the
essence of the film. In preproduction, talk about what you want the film to visually represent while always being
aware of how the visuals will underscore the thematic elements of the film. Test visual styles, films stocks and
lighting, and screen the tests together to decide what will be used for the film
-as Federico Fellini once said “Films are light.” Remembering the quality of light at a certain time of day is an
essential skill for a DP. They will notice the quality, color, and angle of light entering a room at a certain time of
the day, or what the color of the light is just before sunrise or sunset, or the quality of light in a certain location on a
cloudy day
The Color Palette of Film
-the color palette is a subtle way to visually enhance the emotional aspects of a film and guide the viewer to
respond to it viscerally. Understanding the basic components of color – what are warm colors? What are cool
colors? – and how the audience responds to these colors is essential in communicating with a specific color palette
-the cinematographers job is to interpret the screenplay in a visual form and guide the viewer’s emotions through
color, light, shots, angles, and movement. But it’s the director’s job to know what she or he envisions for the film
to begin the collaborative process with the DP. A conversation regarding the interpretation of the script and what
the color palette and look of the film might be should come up early in preproduction. It is important that both the
director and cinematographer understand the thematic elements of the story and how to enhance it through color
and light
-designing a color palette is the step beyond visual references. The references provide the director, DP, and
production designer a starting point, a means by which to communicate a visual look. The color palette is the
actual visual character of the film being created for the screen. Some films have a grainy, de-saturated color
palette, others a slick, saturated palette, others a monochromatic palette, and others a brown dusty palette. The
color palette begins as a direct visual interpretation of the script that makes it a reality on film, when it then takes on
a subtle character of its own. The color palette can convey a mood or feeling that stays with the viewer even after
the film has ended
-the production designer and director will begin discussions about the color of the film early in preproduction,
sometimes even before the DP comes on to the project. Then it becomes a meeting of three minds on how the set
design will look, the color of the costumes, and how the film will read these colors and what effect they will have
on the overall emotional feeling of the film
-the director will articulate ideas about the color palette to the production designer, who will translate the concepts
into tangible sets and props, and will present swatches of material, sample colors of paint, and a general set design
to the director. The DP then comes in the mix with the technical aspects of manipulating the color to capture the
mood or essence of the story and capture it effectively on celluloid. If extensive special effects are being done,
even more testing may be involved
-‘the chief responsibility of the cinematographer is to have discussions with production designers, costume
designers, and set dressers about how they see the film
-to understand how to manipulate color you should first understand the unique qualities of film emulsion and how it
responds to light. These are the tools of the craft that the DP will be dealing with to create the color palette of the
film. Natural Daylight is not the white light our eyes perceive it to be. Our eyes work more like a video camera
automatically white-balancing everything we see. But film reads light much differently than the human eye does –
instead interpreting the color of daylight as a bluish hue. This is reflected in the nature of daylight film stock,
which has a color temperature reading of 5500 degrees Kelvin on a color temperature meter. Daylight balanced
film stock is made to work without any color correction filtration outdoors and is also balanced at 5500k
-the sun is actually a very bright hard light and reads quite hot on the Kelvin scale: blue is actually hotter than
amber in color temperature. Film emulsion is sensitive to color temperature and reads the light as it sees it, so
daylight balanced film is designed to absorb that light without any color correction filtration. The film reads
daylight at 5500k; it absorbs the blues of daylight naturally. HMI lights are also colored balanced to match the
color of natural daylight. Using HMI lights to augment daylight works well on daylight balanced film, because
they are the same color temperature. Even adding a half blue CTB to a tungsten light will bring the color
temperature closer to daylight. Playing with color temperature is to a cinematographer what mixing paint is to a
painter – part of the craft
-tungsten film is balanced at a cooler color temperature of 3200k, which is an amber-looking light. Tungsten light
is similar to what a regular incandescent light bulb in your home lamp looks like, casting a warm amber glow.
Tungsten film was created to be properly color balanced with tungsten lights (3200 degrees Kelvin). It has more
amber tones to it, so it naturally provides a warmer look
-DP’s enhance and manipulate film stocks with various filters and colored gels (CTO color temperature orange, and
CTB, color temperature blue) as well as in postproduction color timing or processing to provide the visual look
appropriate for the story they are telling. They know film and how it responds to light and may mix various color
temperatures to achieve a specific look. These are the tools of the DP’s domain, part of the craft of cinematography
-Here is a basic idea of how the Kelvin color temperature meter reads light:
1700k – the light from a match
1850k – candle flame
2800-3300k – incandescent light bulb
3400k – studio lamps
4100k – moonlight and xenon arc lights
5000-5400k – direct sunlight at noon
5500-6500k – sunlight through clouds and haze
6000-7500k – overcast daylight
7000-8000k – outside in the shade on a sunny day
8000-10,000k – the sky on a partly cloudy day
-as the numbers increase, the light gets hotter. Although emotionally, we consider the colors blue, green, and violet
to be cool colors, and orange, yellow, and red the warm colors, when reading the light on a color temperature meter,
the opposite is true. A color palette is created by using the aesthetics of color in combination with the actual Kelvin
readings used by the DP to balance out how the color will be rendered on film
-when tungsten balanced film is shot outdoors or is mixed with unfiltered daylight, it becomes quite blue. When
daylight balanced film is shot under unfiltered tungsten light, it becomes quite amber. Color correction filters are
used by DP’s to convert tungsten to daylight (85B) and less frequently from daylight to tungsten (80). These are
basic filters your DP will use to color correct film stock to the proper color temperature
-an example of where this might be used us when you are indoors shooting with tungsten balanced film. You have
finished the scene and want to grab an exterior shot with the remaining 100’ of film in the magazine. The DP could
simply pop an 85 filter and the film is color-corrected for daylight without having to change magazines to another
stock. So these filters will always be on hand in case they are needed. The 85 and 80 simply correct color
temperature in camera. There are also filters to color correct fluorescent light, but if for some reason you did not
have these filters, these basic color corrections can also be done during the telecine transfer at the lab
-‘with color palette you want to have some ideas where you’re going. Otherwise the production designer may make
the sets a different color than you and the director were expecting, and they wouldn’t necessarily react the way you
may like on film. That goes for costumes as well. Now when you see someone standing there with the makeup and
wardrobe on, that’s the way it’s going to look on film. The only way it’s going to vary is if you are changing the
color temperature lighting to something much warmer at night with candles, but someone standing outside in
normal daylight, there is no need to test that, it’s going to look the way your eye sees it’
-‘most of the time you are coming into a color palette, then maybe you will alter it, but there is already a color
palette that has been thought about, because the production designer comes on the show so much earlier than the
DP in preproduction, so they have already thought about palette. What I’m thinking about is the texture of the film
and how colors will be rendered. Then I have to articulate to the production designer and director how those colors
are going to shift based on what I’m doing.
-there are many effect filters that are used to alter the color absorption through the lens, such as tobacco filters,
which create a brownish haze over the image depending on the degree of density for the filter, graduated filters
which cast a hue over the top of the image. That are also fog filters, diffusion filters, pro mist filters, and others.
Sometime filters are used in combination with a postproduction process such as a bleach bypass to de-saturate the
image, while others are used to saturate the image.
-there are literally hundreds of filters that Tiffen makes for numerous effects. The DP will test them prior to the
shot and screen the tests with the director before committing to using them for the film. Using filters alters the way
light is read on the negative, so some DP’s prefer not to use them but to instead to adjust the color saturation in
postproduction and through color timing. It is a matter of choice and opinion, and the DP will communicate this
with the director to come up with the final decision on how they want to handle the negative
-what is important for the director to understand is that there are two separate color temperatures of film; one is
tungsten, the other is daylight balanced. Selecting one stock over the other will affect how colors are rendered on
film. Another variable is the EI (exposure index): how fast the film is, which will affect the visible grain structure.
This is why DP’s will shoot tests and screen them with the director, so a mutual decision can be made on the look
of the film
-‘I use a lot of color temperature readings and I use that to render specific colors’
-some DP’s choose to work with a color temperature meter to read the light during production, knowing that they
can manipulate and mix it using certain gels to get the effect they want. The more that is done while shooting the
film in terms of getting the colors you want on the negative in camera, the less has to be done in expensive color
timing session in post. So pre-testing colors on certain film stocks with whatever lab process is going to be done is
-‘color is essential, so a lot of the visual references I will present to the director will have to do with the color of
light, the color of sets, and sometimes costumes. For example, Alexander had a lot of that, in the sense that being
such a long journey, we wanted to represent that visually, to feel a difference in each place in terms of texture,
grain, and color. So we separated the beginning when Alexander is young with primary colors, like white, red,
blue, and as Alexander first goes into battle we got to the warmer colors (reds, oranges, yellows). Oliver responds
to reds and yellows, so I used different filters, such as tobacco filters, because of the colors of the desert or a sand
storm; the color of each location was enhanced by filters. When Alexander returns to Babylon triumphant, I felt
this was his golden moment, so I used 81EF filters, which are a little more yellow rather than tobaccos, which are
redder – very subtle differences. When they go to the mountains, I wanted to use colder colors, because of the
actual climate of the place, but I had a hard time convincing Oliver to go that way. In India we went to cyan, blue,
green, and I remember when I presented those colors to Oliver he said, “don’t show me your 8 Mine green. I don’t
like that color.” I convinced him we had to have a progression, it can’t be all red and yellow, and he finally
accepted it”
-The Hours contains three different color palettes used to delineate the three main characters and their separate
story lines, which take place in different time periods. The film needed to tell the three different stories while still
intertwining them, so that it felt like they were happening simultaneously
-‘the three colors intertwine to separate the storylines while subtly providing the emotional states of the characters’
lives and their environments’
-the elements of color palette the DP works with include the film stock, filters, gels, and lights that are either
tungsten or daylight balanced along with the mixing of color temperatures and exposure to achieve a specific look
on the negative
-it also has to do with what the production designer has created for the background and sets and what the wardrobe
person has selected for costumes. The colors selected should have an aesthetic or thematic basis that is
underscoring the mood or theme of the story or the emotional state of a character. Subtle color differences are often
used to identify the separation of locations of different storylines
-it is important to understand that certain colors recede while others stand out. As previously mentioned the “cooler
colors” are considered the blues, greens, cyans, violet hues; these colors have a tendency to recede when placed
next to warmer colors such as yellow, orange, and red.
-yellow is the most prominent color to stand out when placed in a sea of greens and blues. The viewer’s eye will go
to the brightest area of frame first, so the placement of yellow must be carefully considered. At times DP’s will
play off warm and cool colors to separate storylines
-‘the story is always the most important aspect of my work, and it always leads me to find the visual style that
works for a given movie. Sometimes DP’s get caught up in doing lighting that looks nice but doesn’t reflect the
story. For me, finding a visual approach that’s relevant to the story is part of my work that’s most fun’
-this color distinction orients the viewer as to a location shift while they are viewing the film, but on a more
subjective level, it is also telling the viewer what to feel about each location in terms of the thematic elements of the
-the use of cool colors such as greens, blues, and violets punctuates the cold or isolated aspect of a number of the
films Kaminski shot for Spielberg
-‘there is no doubt that every color is a specific wavelength of energy that can represent or symbolize a specific
time of life….the meanings of colors are universal, even if they have different cultures. Even if the audience
doesn’t see the meanings of different colors, they can feel them’
-Storaro structures his use of colors on the Greek philosophers’ belief that four primary elements bring balance to
our lives: water (green), fire (red), earth (other), and air (blue). He believes that when our lives are in balance,
these colors combine to form pure energy, which is white. During his preparation for every film, Storaro writes an
“ideology” that guides his color use to convey information and emotional subtext
-generally, warmer tones such as oranges, yellows, and reds reinforce a sense of warmth in a story. In some films
the warmer tones support the bonding of family, the warmth of home, perhaps a nostalgic recollection of the past.
We perceive warmer colors to be associated with memories or period piece films. In the case of the Godfather
films, Gordon Willis, selected a warm amber tone to reflect the period piece aspect of the film. This warm tone
was used for years to represent a period piece in stories
-the color will also be affected by how bright (high key) or dark (low key) the lighting is. In the Godfather there is
a great deal of shadow area to contrast the amber light. The top light used on Marlon Brando creates dark shadows
in this eyes, without any fill light, which makes his character more mysterious and more dangerous. We cannot see
what he is feeling, because we can’t see his eyes
-romantic comedies often use warmer tones mixed with bright light (high key), soft light to evoke a romantic
response in the viewer. The audience is comforted by their unconscious psychological response to the warm colors.
The lack of shadows visible in the frame and the warm bright mood subliminally tells the audience what to feel
despite what is going on in the scene
-the production design is generally bright in romantic comedies and darker in dramas. Wardrobe is carefully tested
and considered, as well as how much contrast is visible in the scene
-‘I used different combinations of advancing and receding colors to suggest the interplay of character’s emotions. I
used cool colors against warm colors to establish the characters’ conflicts with themselves and their environments’
-‘far from heaven takes place over different seasons, and that’s a metaphor for what’s happening with the characters
emotionally. We changed the color of ambient night-light as the seasons changed. For the fall scenes the night is a
lavender or periwinkle blue; as we get into winter, and Cathy and Frank’s marriage deteriorates, night becomes
more aquamarine or green-blue, less warm’
-DP’s know their film stocks, as a painter knows paint. They understand the chemistry of film, such as
characteristic curve, sensitometry, exposure, index, and enjoy pushing boundaries of what the film was made to do.
These are technical elements that directors don’t really need to know. The DP will select the film stock that they
feel best suits the film in terms of locations, time of day, grain structure, color saturation, and shadow detail. This
could be several different stocks or just one. The selection of film stock will never be put solely in the hands of the
-it is helpful to test a particular film stock prior to any shoot, based on the lighting and production design created
for that specific film. Consider basic things first, such as, should the film be rich with color? Certain film stocks
are more colors saturated than others – more “punchy” some might say. Some stocks are more pastel in their
rendering of color; others are cooler, and yet others tend to go more amber. Each stock has its own specific
characteristics. DP’s work with these stocks all the time and know them very well. They will shoot tests and
screen them with the director and production designer to select which one best renders the look that has been
decided on for the film
-exposure index (which is the speed rating of the film) affects how much light is needed for a proper exposure as
well as how tight the grain structure is. Each film stock will be affected in a slightly different way from the lab
process used in post-production. As mentioned previously, there are films that are balanced for daylight (5500k)
and there are films that are balanced for tungsten (3200k)
-whether you are shooting the bulk of your film outdoors during the day or at night will specify to the DP what
stock would be best suited. If the majority of the film takes place at night, it would make sense to select a
highspeed balanced film. If you are shooting the majority of the film during bright daylight hours, use a stock that
are slower and designed for daylight conditions
-a 500-speed tungsten-balanced film would have to be heavily corrected with color correction (85) and neutral
density (ND) filters to work in a bright daylight situation. There are DP’s who like to use just one stock for the
entire film and others that are happy to change out emulsions based on the location and time of day. The DP may
shoot tests and screen them with the director, who may respond to one stock over another, but the selection of the
film stock for the project is the domain of the DP
-there are only two companies that make motion picture film: Kodak and Fuji. Selecting the film stock is very
much an aesthetic decision and should not be an economic one. How much film you shoot is a budgetary concern
and is determined by your shooting ratio, how much film you need to shoot to get the coverage needed. That is
figured out in the budget, whether you are shooting at 10:1 ratio (ten times more than you will use in the film) or
-color is such an essential part of an audience’s emotional response to a film that it can be discussed endlessly.
Today’s use of digital technology, such as the digital intermediate, allows for amazing color flexibility that was not
possible in the past. Today’s films are a reflection of this new technology, and they are utilizing its benefits in the
creation of more stylized and color enhanced film
Lighting For Genre
-the genres that are familiar today were all established in the “golden age” of Hollywood at the height of the studio
system. The studios have changed, along with the type of films they generally make, but the conventions
established back then still shape the attributes of the genre film to a certain extent
-the key golden-era genres were the musical, the gangster film, the Western and the screwball comedy. Other
genres that took shape shortly thereafter were the horror film, film noir, the melodrama, and the science fiction
film. The “thriller” evolved by combining elements from horror and suspense films. Alfred Hitchcock’s movies
created the basis of the “suspense” genre, which over the years has earned him the title “the master of suspense”
-MGM made glossy, respectable, wholesome films intended as family entertainment. MGM made both Gone with
the Wind and the Wizard of Oz in a single year (1939). Visually the films used high-key (bright) lighting shot
primarily in studios with glossy sets. The story values emphasized were optimism, materialism, and romantic
escapism. MGM’s major genres in the ‘30’s included the melodrama, the musical, and theatrical adaptations
-Paramount was the studio of writers and directors. Many of the best known originally came from Germany’s UFA
studio. Their themes were full of sexual innuendo and were at times violent. Directors under contract were given a
bit more freedom to personalize their films. During the 1930’s Paramount was like a movie factory churning out
sixty to seventy films per year
-Warner Brothers Studios made a specialty of its appeal to the working class during the 1930’s and was one of the
first studios to embrace sound. Warner Brothers specialized in gangster films, musicals, and biographies. Visually
Warner Brothers came up with the style of low-key (dark, moody) lighting, partially to obscure the sparseness of
their sets. They were committed to the depiction of contemporary social problems
-RKO Studio (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) is known primarily as the studio that created the most famous film in the
history of the cinema, Citizen Kane. The studio was also instrumental in the creation of the Hollywood musical
genre with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
-individually Hepburn and Grant made numerous classic films with RKO and established themselves as major stars.
By the 1940’s the studio was making ‘B’ pictures, which included film noirs and Westerns. Once RKO was taken
over by Howard Hughes, it began to fail and was dissolved completely by 1959
-20th Century Fox was created by the merger of Fox Films and 20th Century Films in 1935. Not the wealthiest of
studios, 20th Century Fox became known for having under contract a major genre director. John Ford, who made
some of his best Westerns for the studio, including the classic Stagecoach. Also under contract was Will Rogers, at
the peak of his fame and child star Shirley Temple in some of her most popular films
-although they were not dominant studios during the Hollywood’s golden age, Universal Studios, Columbia
Pictures, and United Artists were successfully making films that established their own genre standards
-Universal Studios excelled in horror films such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man. Most of their
movies were low-budget features to fill the double bills, the “B” pictures that were eventually seen as prototype of
both fantasy and horror genres
-United Artists was more of a distributor than a studio during the golden age for independent producers
-filmmakers need to understand that such associations still play a part in the industry, although more subtly than in
the golden age, and be aware of which studio (distributors) have an interest in the genre in which you work. Do
they have a “boutique” branch that focuses on lower budget fare? What distributor releases low-budget horror
films? Stylistically what does this genre look like?
-although some films straddle genre categories, most still play with variations on longstanding established traditions
of the genres
-knowledge of them will help to satisfy and challenge the expectations associated with the conventions of genres in
the viewer’s mind. Understanding genre will also help with the pitch of the film as well as the basic visual palette,
and so much of what makes a success today has already been forecast by the success or failure of previous films
-the defining traits of the genre film are that they share thematic, stylistic, and visual motifs. The well-known basic
plot of the Hollywood musical is “boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back,” culminating in a
big show in which, of course, the estranged couple are suddenly reunited. The courtship is carried out through song
and dance rather than dialogue
-stylistically these films were brightly lit, set in an affluent environment where everything turned out well in the
end. They were uplifting and idealistic, and audiences left the theater feeling temporarily transported form the
reality of their own lives. This is what they expected from the Hollywood musical, and this is what the genre
delivered over and over again, the same plot line in a somewhat different situation, always culminating in a song
and dance performance that fulfilled audience’s expectations. The 1930s spectacles, with their dazzling displays,
like Busby Berkeley’s choreography and the overwhelming dance numbers of musicals, almost forced temporary
escape on their audience
-as the musical genre developed, a more serious side was revealed in films made from Rogers and Hammerstein
classics like Carousel and South Pacific, which handled themes of racism and oppressive social conformity along
with the “boy gets girl” plot
-the Western is the most enduring of the Hollywood genres. The Western genre is uniquely American and is part of
our culture and heritage. It continues to fascinate audiences with a glimpse of nostalgia into our violent and lawless
rural past
-director John Ford’s name has become synonymous with the Western genre. The Western genre from the classic
Hollywood days satiated audience expectations. They knew that there was a good guy and a bad guy, that the film
would be set on location in the Wild West, and that the good guy would always defeat the bad guy. Thematically
the excitement of the chase from an attack by Indians or the anticipation of a gunfight in the street was a
predetermined expectation of the genre. In the end John Wayne, Henry Fonda, or Gary Cooper would inevitably
prevail against evil. Thematically the Western changed with the times, making the hero more antisocial and on the
periphery of society
-the screwball comedy has evolved into today’s romantic comedies or “rom-coms.” The classic screwball comedy
involved a controlling woman, through a series of mishaps, eventually landed a somewhat clueless male character
-the starts associated with those films were an important component of their success. They had to have quick comic
timing, as well as chemistry together, to pull off those roles. This holds true today. Actors without wit or a pair
without chemistry is a financial disaster in the making of a romantic comedy. The romantic comedy as we know it
today evolved from the screwball comedy genre. Stylistically these films were bright and romantically lit, with the
couple sparring throughout the film but, of course, always ending up together in the end
-Julia Roberts stepped out of the persona she had created as one in a string of actresses that goes back to Mary
Pickford, then known as “America’s Sweetheart”
-stylistically the romantic comedy films are slick and glossy, frequently set in cities such as New York, Seattle,
Chicago, or San Francisco, where the beautiful backdrops for urban sophistication also become a secondary
character. Visually these films share a similar look, regardless of the DP shooting the film. They are bright,
generally set in affluent or fairly affluent environments, where no one lurks in shadow and everything is bright and
visible even during night scenes. The plot of the couple failing to understand one another repeatedly, then finally
discovering their love for each other, keeps with the conventions of the genre
-the Gangster genre’s classic period (1930-1933) was created shortly after sound’s introduction to film (1927) and
could not have evolved without sound. Screeching tires on city streets and gunshots echoing into the night were
elements of this genre that were key to the impact of the stories themselves. The classic period of the gangster film
was halted due to the enforcement of censorship
-but the genre was fully revitalized in the early 1970’s after the death of the Code and the old studio system
-just as in the Western Genre, the revitalized version was more morally ambiguous than the pioneering films, with a
much more vague distinction between the “good” and “bady” guys
-stylistically these films are darker in tone and in color, the cities in which tey take place are not clean and shiny but
are gritty. Death can come at any moment, so shadows lurk in the backgrounds. The audience selecting this genre
expects violence when they go to see these films and so the intensity of violence in the genre has risen. Murder and
bloodshed are inevitable thematic elements of the new gangster genre
-the Melodrama has been around sound D.W. Griffith started making films in the early 1900’s. He was the king of
the silent melodrama and captivated audiences with his engaging narratives. In Griffith’s films Gish portrayed a
suffering lead character, her pain revealed through close-up of her gazing toward heaven with a somber musical
accompaniment emphasizing the drama
-a traditional definition of the genre is indicated by the name; which combines those elements – music (melo) and
drama – to tell a story that is heightened emotionally beyond the realistic drama. The dramatic musical scores are
used to emotionally manipulate the audience as the story unfolds on the screen
-the genre hit its pinnacle in the 1950’s, with its repressive social environment, it was the perfect time for subtle
social commentary interwoven into the narratives
-‘put more formally, the storyline of melodramas often “depicted a virtuous individual (usually a woman) or couple
(usually lovers) victimized by repressive and inequitable social circumstances, particularly those involving
marriage, occupation, and the nuclear family”
-a tragedy ends the film, but typical of the melodrama, the sad note is paired with an indication of hope. The
melodrama audience is often given a choice to focus on a ray of hope or a larger and fateful event in the film’s
closing segments. When melodrama follows the above pattern, it is dark in tone and mood, often set in a suburb,
with a tragic ending softened by a small positive sign of transformation
-the resurgence of the old Hollywood genres in a new form in the 1970’s did not leave the melodrama behind. It
returned with a vengeance with the tear-erker Kramer vs. Kramer
-the genre provides an emotional range for an actor, with interesting and tortured characters to embody
-the melodrama continues today in stories of dysfunctional families, but is now mixed with comedic elements and
more subtle musical scores
-today’s melodramas are lit in a style closer to ordinary reality, with darks and lights motivated directly from light
in the home or from the windows. Shadows fall naturally on the character’s faces
-the French term film noir (which means “dark film”) has stuck with this genre classic, whose key period was
between 1940-1950. The darkness of the films was natural, given the underworld and hard-boiled detective stories
they retold from pulp fiction. “Trust no one, especially the femme fatale” could be the film noir motto
-the black-and-white format for the films was largely abandoned, but the themes and other elements re-emerged in
the modern, “color noir” version of the genre as seen in films like Chinatown
-favorite images from those classic films are dark lonely streets. Stylistically shadows prevail, characters walk out
of darkness with slashes of shadow across their faces. Even during the day, darkness is the predominant feeling.
Pessimism and doom are certainties
-the horror film is another enduring genre that evolved very soon after cinema itself was created. The earliest
sources came from German Expressionist film
-the essence of the genre was always to frighten audiences and allow them to vicariously experience their worst
fears without any genuine danger, a variety of safe voyeurism
-the horror genre has adapted to change in the audience. The degree of shock, violence, and revolting imagery has
been increased due to audience expectations
-the silent film star Lon Chaney was an icon of the early genre
-the horror genre prevailed throughout the next six decades with remakes of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man,
and the Mummy being made over and over again
-after the demise of the production Code in 1964, the horror film started to change into the slasher/gore films of the
early 1970s, such as Carrie and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Rosemary’s Baby and the Exorcist from the
1970s were not gore but pure horror. The Halloween films, the Friday the 13th Films, and the Nightmare on Elm
street films all were horror/slasher films
-the box office for horror films continues to be strong, keeping this genre alive. Stylistically, it is a visually creative
genre that can be dark and creepy or the horror can take place in ordinary brightly lit situations
-the camera can be loose and handheld, with shifting points of view that can create tension and suspense in the
-the action film is now frequently derived from comic book figures or graphic novels. Today they are more of a
franchise film than a genre, by which I mean that the studios make sure there is room for numerous sequels if the
first one is successful, such as the comic book action hero films, Spiderman, Batman, and X-Men. Because of the
special effects that are now available, these comic book films have evolved into a new genre that didn’t exist years
-the action figure film is generally targeting the younger market, so it must maintain at least a pg-13 rating. The
generic conventions must fit existing comic books, and that always involves some sort of superhero who must
overcome an evil force to save the city or the grid. But the special effects are in a sense the “stars” of the film,
since audiences expect to be dazzled by fantastic explosions, combat, weaponry, or the morphing of characters.
They have become the family popcorn movie of the blockbuster summer or holiday season. Since they are also
franchise films, the endings are left somewhat open so that a second and third film can be made
-predetermined conventions of a particular genre often coincide with basic assumptions about budgets for each type
of movie. Romantic comedies are generally given a decent mid-range budget depending on the cast. “A” list actors
might swell the budget, but it would still be far from the $100 plus millions that a franchise action film receives.
Romantic comedies do not usually include a costly special effects or the building of models, green screen shooting,
animatronics, etc
-understanding the genre that your film fits will predetermine numerous stylistic and thematic elements, whether
you are conscious of them or not. In preparing for your film in preproduction, you may watch numerous films
within the genre with your cinematographer, to be aware of its conventions, even if you choose to go against some
of them. But even if your goal is breaking the genre or using it in your own way, the best way to do so is to
understand the genre thoroughly and intimately
-‘in the best case scenario a cinematographer is an artist, but we are craftsmen first and foremost’
-by now the genre-typical films we have discussed and the general outline of the lighting styles associated with
each genre should be clearly in mind. The established and expected genre conventions are familiar and always
ready at hand. Yet each director and DP tries to approach a film as an individual entity, even though we have
already been programmed to have certain expectations of how a suspense film will look or how a romantic comedy
will look. Making a choice to go intentionally away from a more established look is often a decision that extends
not just to cinematography but all the elements of a picture, from production design to wardrobe
-there are lighting styles that are generally associated with specific genres, such as the romantic comedy being
“high key” or “up key” or the film noir or thriller being “low key.” There are also films that use primarily soft light
or films that use more hard light to create the shadowed effects
-these films embody Hitchcock’s famous remark that terror and suspense are most powerful when “ordinary people
are put in extraordinary situations.” We can add that terrifying drama results from pairing ordinary landscapes and
lighting with the force of extraordinary events
-genre lighting tends to remain consistent. Romantic comedies are generally going to be lit more brightly with what
is known as “high key” lighting
-some independent films are considered comedies and may be lit less high key. The visuals are there to underscore
the thematic elements of the film, so if nothing dark or ominous occurs, why would shadows be present in a
comedy? It would send a different message to the viewer, who would subconsciously wonder what was lurking in
the shadows
-in the three-point lighting setup, the “key” light is usually the brightest source of light in the scene. It will be the
light that generally augments the source light in the shot. The source light is an existing lamp or a window that may
be visible or implied in the scene. The key is usually a motivated light that the audience will accept as being
created by the source light whether visible or invisible. A strong key illuminates one side of the scene. If left
alone, dark shadows would be created on the opposite side. So a “fill light” is used to balance the shadows the key
has created. How much or how little fill used determines the contrast ratio of the scene (how much shadow
difference there is from one side of the subject’s face to the other). If the fill light is of equal strength with the key
light, it could almost balance or completely fill in the shadows. The resulting contrast between the key and fill side
would be very minimal, a balanced contrast ratio, with very little difference between the key and fill side, meaning
that the ratio is 1:1 or 2:1, a”high-key” (bright light)
-the third component of the three-point lighting setup includes a back light or a kicker, which is used to separate the
subject from the background. In a high-key lit environment the background will be fairly flat and without shadows
-in the comedy or romantic comedy, the lighting style is considered “high key” because the contrast range between
the two sides of the face would be almost the same. For example, if the key side had a reading of f/4 the fill side
could have a reading of f2.8, meaning there is only one stop difference between the two sides of the face, making
the contrast ratio 2:1 which is considered “high key.” If the lighting were even brighter, the two sides of the face
would read exactly the same making the contrast ratio 1:1. The background would also be readable, perhaps just
one stop under from the subject. A bright, non-threatening atmosphere has been created in a high-key setup. Of
course many other lights are used in this situation, but overall the lighting structure is generally derived from the
three-point lighting concept
-“a happy film should be a brightly lit film, because your mood changes with the density of the photography”
-something else you might notice in high-key films are that the “source lights” present in the scene, such as lamps
in the room that will all be turned on. This lighting style tells a romantic comedy audience to relax, because
nothing ominous will suddenly appear from the darkness
-low-key lighting is when the fill side either doesn’t exist or is much darker than the key side, such as in all of noir
films, many thrillers and suspense films, and horror films. In these films the backgrounds are not always lit
brightly. Source lights are not all turned on and it is implied that anything or anyone could come out of the
shadows. This darkness creates the tension and suspense that these genres are known for. Low key lighting could
have a contrast ratio of say 4:1 or higher depending on the amount of fill light used to bring up the shadow area
created by the key light, it could be 10:1 which is more of a chiaroscuro effect. The backlight could be very dim or
non-existent depending on the mood being created. A recent film like Lust, Caution has a dark low-key look to it
that underscores the darkness of its theme
-dramas are more realistically lit. There are some shadow areas and faces that are not always evenly lit. There is
more room to play with light and shadow in these films, depending on what the thematic elements of the story are
and where the film takes place. The use of location shooting and seasons creates a more realistic effect in many
films where the light becomes a way of bringing to life the environment
-sometimes characters are assigned specific colors that indicate something about their emotional state. This also
becomes part of the lighting. A film that takes place in the Northeast in the winter is going to have a cooler blue
feel to the exterior than one that takes place in the autumn with a more amber feel. Interiors can be created to be
warm or cool depending on the situation. A cozy home would reveal warmer hues, whereas a cold environment
may have more blues present in the light with perhaps a little more shadow. But contrast has to do with the
difference between highlight and shadow, not necessarily color
-the light and camerawork in the film is so subtle that it allows the actor’s performances to shine through and touch
the audience. We register the emotion in their eyes. It is a classic family melodrama with natural lighting
-there are auteur directors known for working in a specific genre and other directors who are successful in many
genres. The same is true for cinematographers
-cues in the lighting and sound of a film tell the audience that, despite the seriousness of the situation, it’s okay to
-the lighting and imagery tell the viewer this is not a comedy, and it is not okay to laugh. Something terrible and
unexpected could happen at any moment
-these two examples suggest how powerful the effect of lighting and visual elements can be in the same basic
location, with different effects carefully managed in a combination of lighting, set design, casting and music
-“I have noticed in watching the films of today that they are fighting the preconceived idea of the genre film a bit.
There’s a change of gears in Hollywood right now. Maybe some are going a little too far with the handheld
camera, available light, dark, moody, out of focus, etc. To me is doesn’t work. If it isn’t written in the script, and
you haven’t got a decent bloody story to start with, then energizing the photography or handholding or double
printing doesn’t make a good film. All it does is create this incredible MTV two-hour rock video”
-we all like certain genres of film more than others, according to our individual tastes. The visual effects of our
favorite genres may well be part of what attracts us to them as well. In the romantic comedy, we may want the
couple to get past all their quarrelling and end up together. In the Western, we want the hero to take down the bad
guy with a shoot-out in the street. In the musical, we want to see amazing dancing and romance. We want the
gangster to be violent with a certain charisma, and for the action films to have emotional tension as explosive as the
cars or gas tanks that will catch fire. In a melodrama, we may just want a good cry. In a thriller, may be in the
mood to be manipulated by the suspense. From horror we may want to scream. As a director, you’ll need to satisfy
such audience expectations, but in a way that is fresh and distinctive enough so that the audience feels that they
have experienced something new
-music can be considered early on, as it is often a guide for everyone involved in a film to keep in mind the
emotional response desired from the audience
The Tools and Aesthetics of Movement
-“the camerawork and movement has to fit into the performance and the emotion of the scene. That way the
audience won’t notice it, but the energy is all there”
-movement is an integral part of motion pictures; it is what they were designed to do. But the question of when to
move the camera and when the camera should remain static often arises in a director’s mind. What should be
considered is how the movement will help to tell the story. Camera movement should always be incorporated into
the visual interpretation of the script for the screen
-DP’s think visually, not only in terms of light and shadow but also in terms of camera movement
-when a DP reads a script, movement will inevitably come to mind for certain shots or scenes, and he may suggest
these ideas to the director. In other cases the director may have a specific idea already mapped out regarding
camera movement and will request that the DP execute those moves. Whatever the situation, one must carefully
consider the how and why of camera movement
-movement can be subjective, where it is the point of view of one of the characters, such as through the use of a
handheld camera or Steadicam shots. It can also be objective, where it simply observes a character with no implied
point of view. The camera in the is case may just follow the subject from point A to B
-the Pan is a horizontal movement of the camera that is locked down to a tripod in a static position. With the head
of the tripod loose in pan mode the camera can do a sweeping move from left to right or right to left. It is a move
that can show the width of the screen and all that is visible. Pans can be used to follow a subject from one side of
the frame to the other or can be used in combination with a tilt. All that is needed to create this move is a camera
and a good fluid or gear head tripod. Generally the pan is a more objective movement recording what is happening
by following a character from point A to point B. It is a shot that lacks depth, since it moves horizontally, and is
often in combination with other moves
-the Tilt is a vertical move where the camera is docked down to the tripod but the head is loose enough to smoothly
move up and down. This can be used to tilt up from the feet of an actor to their face or to tilt up as an actor moves
from a sitting position to a standing position, but the camera is not moving from where it is situated – just the head
of the tripod allows this movement to take place. One could tilt down as an actor goes from a standing to sitting
position. Used in combination with pans, one could follow the actor across the room, tilt down as they sit, tilt up as
they stand and follow them out of the room. A tilt does provide movement within the frame. Like the pan, it is a
move that is not creating any depth, because the camera is staying in the same objective position. What is needed
for this move is also a good gear head or fluid head tripod
-this creates an illusion of movement without any real movement at all. The camera is locked down to the tripod
and the zoom lens can bring the subject either much closer to the viewer or much further away depending on
whether it is zooming in or out.
-“zooming in” brings the subject from a long shot to a close-up, but since it is zooming in, it is also flattening out of
the background, making it become soft focused and diminishing the depth of field, what is visible in the
-“zooming out” you may go from a close-up to a long shot, which will have the affect of moving away from the
subject, although the camera is not moving at all – the lens is going from telephoto to normal to wide angle. This
has the effect of pushing the background away while increasing the depth of field as you zoom out. When you
want to move in on a moment, the zoom is a device that will give the frame a sense of movement where none exists
DP’s opinions vary greatly on whether or not to use zooms, but they are frequently used in combination with dolly
moves, which hide the movement of the zoom
-with a “tracking shot” the camera is moving in a vehicle either away from the subject, following the subject, or
moving beside the subject. The camera could be mounted on a high hat, sandbagged to weigh it down, and placed
on the back of a convertible with the top down. The camera operator holds onto the camera and shoots while the
car drives away and the subject being photographed runs toward the car. Another way a basic tracking move is
created from the vehicle slowly driving beside the subject with the camera either shooting out of the car window or
from the side of a van or sunroof, whatever is available on the vehicle you are using. This is a low-budget way of
creating movement in your film. There are many devices that have been created to support the camera while an
actor is driving a car being towed by the camera truck and the camera is “tracking” the move. This type of shot
could be used to follow a subject down the street or as they run toward you or away from you. It is still more of an
objective point of view, as the viewer is watching the movement rather than participating in the movement
-technically, a dolly move is also a tracking shot, since it can also be moving beside or in front of the subject. But
dolly moves use a different terminology such as “dolly in” and “dolly out” rather than tracking. To dolly in, the
camera will push toward the subject, who may be stationary or may be moving away from the camera. To dolly
out, the camera mounted on the dolly will pull back as the subject moves toward the camera. Technically both are
tracking moves
-the “handheld shot” is a form of movement that takes the camera off of the tripod and mobilizes it into the scene.
The effect is somewhat shaky, since the camera operator cannot completely stabilize the movement and the camera
may exaggerate the movements of the camera operator as they walk or swish pan to follow an actor. Since the
camera is not locked down, the horizon line may become skewed. This type of movement creates a tension or
confusion in the scene. It is a loose movement that until recently had been used exclusively in documentary
filmmaking. The handheld camera is quite different from one that is locked down to a tripod, because the camera is
on the shoulder of the operator and can follow actors around. The movement gives the scene more energy and
creates a subjective perspective that involves the audience in the action. Therefore it differs from the previous
movements described. The decision to go handheld is going to change the movement from an objective point of
view to a subjective one, and should be used for that reason. The handheld camera involves the audience in the
story from an emotional standpoint
-another question for the director to consider: Is the camera moving or is the actor moving in front of a static
camera? If the camera is static, the movement takes place in front of the camera with actors moving within the
frame. Good blocking and choreography of the actors can make an otherwise static scene quite interesting
-this type of movement involves blocking the actors in front of a static camera that may not move at all or may pan
or tilt to accommodate the movement of the actors. It gives the audience the feeling of being a voyeur more than a
participant in the action
-the static camera takes the objective stance of the audience watching. Actors can move all around the frame, the
camera can pan, tilt, and zoom, all while the camera is on sticks in a static position
-a camera that is moving – whether it is on a dolly, handheld, or on a Steadicam – provides more of an involvement
on the part of the viewer. With the camera moving, the viewer is taken into the action and experiences it just as the
actors are experiencing it. If they are fighting and the camera is handheld, we are in the there fighting with the
characters, almost taking the hits. If the characters are dancing and the camera is swirling around, then the viewer
is dancing too. If the actor is drunk and the movement is handheld and off kilter, then the viewer is drunk and not
seeing clearly either. A moving camera takes on a subjective point of view, involving the audience in the action of
the story. The moving camera can also provide various points of view, perspectives of one or more of the
characters. The viewer can see what they see, and subsequently feel what they feel.
-“sometimes camera movement is really born out of the situation at hand. There’s a stylized camera movement that
takes you from one place to another and there is movement that services the blocking of the actors. I’m a big fan of
both. The shots that stylize the film are more predetermined, but the shots that are more motivated by the
movement of the actors are maintenance within the body of coverage. That will allow you to create an energy to
the scene, because the actors are able to move. It can be a static shot that shows the whole space and everybody
walking back and forth or a shot that dollies from one place to another. Those two styles of master shots are very
different and one is born out of the blocking of the actors”
-camera movement has become very apparent in films and episodic television shows, often setting the tone of the
story. In traditional motion pictures, movement is used in a much more functional way. The stylized camera may
not be clearly underlining the essence of the story, but is used to create energy on the screen. An action film may
handheld from start to finish to underscore the tension and energy of the characters involved or to create an
immediacy to the moment, a pseudo-documentary feeling. Some might say the stylized use of camera movement
can be distracting from the storytelling process of the film. A director should not strive for pretentious camera, one
that the viewer is constantly aware of, because the camera is there to tell the story unobtrusively and add energy
when it is a part of the story itself. The audience should not really be aware of the movement; it should just come
naturally out of the scene
-“to move the camera just for the sake of moving, that I don’t understand. There should be a dramatic or
conceptual reason to move. All you are trying to do with movies is impart information, tell a story. So everything
should be oriented to telling the story, each shot should tell the audience some piece of information. So that camera
should be motivated when it moves by something the in the frame. Or motivated by the concept, such as in horror
movies to build suspense. To just be moving the camera – anybody can do that. It doesn’t tell the story”
-there are some directors who are known for the brilliant use of their camera movement. There are many other
directors who use movement for specific emphasis and there are others who overuse it and therefore may negate its
-generally camera movement should be motivated, whether it is a subjective motivation, such as something a
character has realized internally or a physical external motivation, like following an actor from one place to
another. This type of camera movement is more functional and is used to serve the movements of the actors as they
walk around a room (panning) or stand up from a seated position (titling). In combination with a zoom lens, a
director could go in for a tighter shot when the moment becomes more intense by simply zooming slowly and not
moving the camera at all or zooming while the camera gently pushes in on a dolly, which brings the viewer closer
to the action
-any movement or lack or movement is an aesthetic visual choice and should underscore the story itself. Lately it
has become fashionable to go handheld for aesthetic reasons and this has become an accepted practice in numerous
contemporary films and television shows. But keep in mind that a technique that becomes overused tends to lose
its impact
-today’s handheld films don’t bother to give us a break and will continue to be handheld throughout
-very often directors choose to go handheld during an argument sequence, because the handheld energy adds to the
tension within a scene that involves action or aggression. Movement can be used to create energy within a scene
but will lose its impact if it is not used in combination with static images. If something is moving around the frame
and suddenly stops, it forces the viewer to really look at what the camera is focused on. It contrast, if something is
static for long periods of time and then finally moves, it creates energy in the scene
-where the camera is in a particular scene or whether it is moving or static is an essential storytelling tool for the
director to utilize
-audiences today are more accustomed to a handheld camera and will readily accept it since it is used on episodic
television programs as well as theatrically released films. Many T.V. programs use a constantly moving camera
-the handheld camera doing a swish pan gives a documentary feel that implies urgency, as if the event is happening
at that moment
-a lot of shows use the “walk and talk” sequences to cover long pages of dialogue in one long moving shot.
Stylistically, this is what audiences have come to expect from these type of dramatic episodes and they have
adapted to this style of shooting
-“camera movement is a way to keep the actors in the scene longer. If the scene is three pages long, it would be
nice if you could get the whole thing in one shot and make the shot count. If you move the camera and make each
shot and each performance count, then you are engaging those actors to give it to you right then and there. Then
you are actually getting the scene and you’re in it”
-there are numerous kinds of camera moves and they are all quite different. Each suit a unique situation, from dolly
moves, crane moves, jib moves, handheld moves, pans and tilts, tracking shots, and Steadicam shots. The
movement in a scene can be carefully planned in preproduction or occur spontaneously on set
-some DP’s like to watch the blocking during the rehearsal and then make suggestions to the director regarding
camera movement, while other directors may have a very specific idea of how they want a scene covered. The
important thing to remember is that the movement should be motivated, whether the motivation is physical or
psychological. There should be a reason for the camera movement to further progress the story, whether it is a
subjective move or a purely functional move, to get the actors from one point to another
-“there’s an enormous difference between following somebody handheld and following somebody with a
Steadicam or on a dolly with a crane. You really need to know why you are doing one of these moves. A lot of the
time practicality comes into it. You don’t always get the Chapman Titan crane; you might have to do it handheld,
because it’s more expedient. Every time you pick up a camera, you are somewhat compromising what you do and
you are trying to do. If you pan on a long lens, it’s a very different look than tracking with somebody, there’s a
very different feel to it”
-it is important to consider the style and genre of the film and the movement that best suits the tone of the film you
are making. Consider whether it has a high energy tension throughout, like an action film, or whether it is a slow
undulating film that gently draws the viewer into the story
-an important consideration with movement is the contrast of it. When the camera is continually moving and then
suddenly stops, the audience becomes very aware of what they are now looking at in the frame. The fact that the
movement has stopped conveys information on a subliminal level and forces the audience to pay close attention to
what the camera is now paused on. A long dolly shot that brings the viewer into a room and suddenly stops to
introduce us to a character, is saying to the viewer “this is important. In contrast to this, if a film is primarily still
and then suddenly moves, the audience is alerted to information the director is providing with the movement,
shifting the energy of the scene
-an audience will get accustomed to whatever style of the film they are presented with, so constant movement is
best highlighted with periods of stillness to accent it. If an actor is running down the street, it makes sense for the
camera to be tracking with him, but if two people are sitting quietly talking or looking into one another’s eyes, the
camera might be still and listen to the conversation. A camera moving around during this quiet scene could imply a
tension between the characters or that they are so engaged with each other that the world outside their peripheral
vision doesn’t exist. A director should consider why the camera is moving in a scene and whether or not the
movement more effectively tells the story. There should be a concept behind the use of movement to cover a scene
-“I think in a movie that has a lot of action – that’s where you move the camera, that’s where you get your visual
energy, but when you have to record plump lines, why not stop it gently and listen, so the audience is forced to
listen to what the characters are saying”
-there are numerous types of cranes available to filmmakers today and they vary in terms of size and cost. A large
Titan crane should be considered for a very specific type of move. It is not just sitting around the set in case the
director is suddenly inspired to use it. A crane may not be in the budget for all films or may only be used for one or
two specific shots. A well-utilized crane shot may open a film or close a film or may be used for a specific shot
that with careful blocking will convey a mood or specific information to the viewer
-a great deal of time and expense goes into the planning of a well executed crane shot
-crane shots generally provide a high angle view of a situation before coming in closer to establish the environment.
An example would be a panoramic view of a town as a car drives into the shot, and then the crane moves down to
follow that car as it passes through the town
-in both of these films, the opening crane shot establishes the season as well as the quaint little town in which the
story takes place, while introducing us to the main character in the film as she interacts with people in the town. In
these films the crane shot is used as an establishing shot before it moves in closer for details. The opposite shot
would be to start off with a detail of someone or something and then crane away from them, leaving the character
small and helpless at the end
-as the crane ascends it creates an omnipresent perspective, pulling away from the story on the surface level and
providing a bird’s eye view
-technically a crane is a device which is used to create large vertical moves in one shot, including going below the
level of its mounting surface if needed. It is able to go places that would be difficult for a dolly or a camera
mounted on a tripod
-“so the moral is, if it’s not going to end up in the movie, you shouldn’t shoot it”
-“there is a precision to the dolly shot. You can get in and out of scenes a lot easier on a dolly and you can hold at
the end if the dialogue is going on for another two pages. You don’t want to be on a Steadicam for something like
that, because even a great operator who can hold his horizon is still going to float if you are trying to be static.
There is a precision to the dolly move; there is an elegance to it that is just different”
-the dolly takes the camera off the stability of sticks and onto the stability of a moving device. It can be used on
tracks that are laid down for smooth movement that is either straight, semicircular, or off tracks with different
wheels on a smooth surface. The dolly move can be used alone or in combination with zoom lenses or hydro lift
devices, which can elevate the camera as it moves on tracks in either a forward or backward motion or in a circular
or semicircular motion. If the dolly is used outdoors or on an uneven floor the tracks must be laid down and
wedges put in to keep the tracks level. Dolly grips are trained to push the dolly, camera operator, assistant camera,
and even the director at the correct speed. Dollies are considered standard equipment on a film and television sets
today. DP’s love to have a dolly available because they can be used to cover longer scenes of dialogue with
movement that can be used as one long master shot
-DP’s like the precision of the dolly’s movement, since it can be carefully choreographed to hit specific marks. For
the DP who likes to operate the camera, they continue to do so while on the dolly. Besides the movement of the
dolly, which can be quite fluid, the camera can also be raised or lowered on a hydraulic lift system, or used in
combination with a zoom lens.
-“with the dolly or crane, I can get the camera going on a very specific path. The reason this is so important is
because the lighting style I like to use is cross light, so I tend to shoot with wider lenses than someone more
conservative would. So often the lights are right on the edge of the frame. When the camera starts moving, for sure
they will be on the edge of the frame, so I don’t want the camera movement to completely destroy what I am doing
with light. With the dolly I can go precisely where I want to go”
-the shot tries to maintain the composition of a two shot, while the camera dollies back and zooms in at the same
time, the effect makes the background come closer to the subject, due to the zoom and shifting depth of field, which
creates a sense of the world closing in on the character. It is a move that connotes subliminal messages to the
viewer regarding what is going on emotionally in the story – which makes a very effective, although somewhat
stylized camera move
-given that both the dolly and the zoom can move from a long shot to a close-up, what is the difference between
them? The primary difference is that a zoom is a product of a long lens coming from a static camera mounted on a
tripod. As the lens zooms in toward the subject, the background starts to push forward while becoming soft focus.
By the time the zoom is completed, the background will be entirely out of focus as the subject now fills the frame.
The zoom in tells the audience to look only at the subject in the shot
-on the other hand, the dolly will actually be moving the camera toward the subject, so the background will not
have such a radical shift in depth of field. Things will actually shift but still remain in focus in the background,
which add a feeling of motion to the shot. The background at the end of the dolly in could be quite different than it
was in the beginning of the shot. If there is more than one subject in the shot, the dolly will have a more rapidly
shifting perspective to the foreground subjects than to the background subjects. As the camera dollies in, the actors
in the foreground will move out of the frame quickly as the camera passes them and goes closer to the subject of the
shot. Meanwhile, the background actors will be visible from the beginning of the shot to the end of the shot and
remain in reasonable focus
-the Steadicam combines the stabilized look of a conventionally mounted camera, maintaining an even horizon line,
with the fluid motion of a dolly shot and the flexibility of a handheld camera. It allows the camera to go places
where a dolly can’t fit, like going down stairs or outside on rugged terrain, or running through woods. With its
armature and balancing device that give it a more fluid motion, the Steadicam is designed to absorb the jerky
movements of a handheld camera
-the Steadicam operator wears a harness that is attached to an isoelastic arm, which is connected by a gimbal to the
Steadicam armature, with the camera mounted at one end and a counterbalance weight at the other. The
counterbalance includes the battery pack and a monitor. The monitor substitutes for the camera’s viewfinder, since
the range of motion of the camera relative to the operator makes the camera’s own viewfinder unusable. In film
industry the armature and weight are traditionally called the “sled” because they resembled a sled in the early
models of the Steadicam
-it provides a unique movement that is quite different from dolly or handheld moves, yet has the effect of being
handheld because of where it can go. The Steadicam shot creates a more fluid movement with a stable horizon line.
It can turn 360 degrees, follow another actor, or easily go up and down stairs. It can have a floating ethereal
movement or a more stable handheld movement
-a trained Steadicam operator, not the DP, always operates the Steadicam rig
-“I just don’t like “here’s the Steadicam” shot, I try to hide it as much as possible”
-“we’ll fix it in post” There are numerous things that can be fixed, such as adding a bit of an eye light, or softening
up facial imperfections, or changing the color of something, eliminating a shadow in the background, many things,
but not everything. The general lighting and color palette the DP is going for should be present during production,
so they can be enhanced or tweaked during the DI process in post
-“all of one’s experience of life subconsciously informs every creative decision one makes. That’s what makes
each individual cinematographer different”
-filmmaking is very hard work. It involves a passion and commitment to stay focused and on track. The
director/DP relationship can ripple out to affect the entire crew and cast, so it is crucial that these two key players
send a strong signal of a solid working relationship. The relationship may not always be perfectly smooth, but it
should be one in which differences nevertheless contribute to the project
-to use a metaphor, if the Director is the Admiral of the Navy, leading the way with the Captain of the ship, the
cinematographer, everyone else on the film will trust and follow along. Take your role seriously, and the journey to
making your films should be a rewarding, positive experience