When it comes to 2D images, like a standard photograph or a film you’re watching projected on your local multiplex’s screen, depth is an illusion. From cinematography to photography to painting to hand-drawn animations, artists must fool the human eye into thinking it’s viewing something in a three-dimensional plane when it’s actually flat.
Piecing together a captivating story becomes easier when you master different techniques proven to add depth (or the illusion of depth) to a shot. Here are four tips that will help give your cinematography the power to convince viewers that they are experiencing a world as real as their own.
Focus is perhaps the most powerful (and common) method of creating depth in both photography and film. Our human eyes have evolved to do this wonderfully—hold out your finger in front of your eyes, focus your vision on it, and notice how everything behind it becomes a blur.
This lens technique, called shallow focus, allows filmmakers to achieve depth by fooling our brains into naturally believing there’s space in between the plane in focus and the one that’s out.
Light and Shadow
If there’s one natural agent that influences our depth perception in the real world, it’s light. Point a light at something, whether near you or behind other objects, and your eyes will be drawn to focus there. By using high contrast lighting, filmmakers are able to inject both depth and dimension to their compositions.
Whereas soft lighting can make an image appear flatter, sharper lighting delivers harsh shadows that help add an illusion of depth. Usually, the higher the contrast you create between shadow and light, the stronger depth you’ll get in a shot.
If you want a quick (and fun) way of better understanding linear perspective, take out a blank sheet of paper and draw from the perspective of someone looking down a long hallway, bridge, or railroad tracks. You’ll notice that to match a realistic sense of depth you’ll have to draw converging lines that start wide near the bottom and become closer as they recede toward the vanishing point.
By using camera placement in combination with wide angle lenses, you can add depth by making the horizon seem farther away. Veteran cinematographers learn to get creative by utilizing different camera placements to achieve depth and energy via varying perspectives.
Though it may seem like a simple concept, occlusion is a powerful tool for creating depth, especially in CGI films and video games. Occlusion refers to the visual obstruction of a distant object with another object in the foreground. Similarly, for astronomers, occultation is all about studying what stars become visible and hidden depending on the course of the Moon’s orbit around Earth.
In filmmaking, this technique works alongside parallax to create depth. Usually, this effect comes naturally when filming people and objects positioned in front of other things. But if you ever find yourself with a tracking shot that feels like it’s lacking depth, considering having more objects in order to have a sharper occlusion effect. If there’s one filmmaker who learned how to make the tracking shot his own by using different techniques, including occlusion, it’s Steven Spielberg. You can find more information about studying cinematography at New York Film Academy here.
While there are plenty of YouTube videos and other visual aids to supplement yourcinematography school education, there’s a tried-and-true source that works even when the wi-fi is down—books.
What’s great about books is that you can study each page at your own pace, and often books on cinematography come with simple yet informative visual aids. Also, if they are still in print, there’s a good chance they’ve had the time to prove themselves a useful resource.
Here are some books on cinematography you can check out:
Cinematography: Theory and Practice: Image Making for Cinematographers and Directors by Blain Brown
A lot of the core tenets of cinematography have stayed the same for the last 100 years or so, but with the advent of digital filmmaking that is no longer the case. Blain Brown’s definitive 2016 book covers a broad range of cinematography topics and includes much of the modern, digital equipment and techniques that come along with them. This book makes a great basic blueprint for you to familiarize yourself with the craft before honing your skills in a hands-on cinematography program. In general, you should always try to get the most updated print; currently, Brown’s book is in its third edition.
FilmCraft: Cinematography by Tim Grierson and Mike Goodridge
By working on set with state-of-the-art equipment, cinematography school is a great way for you to master a complicated craft. However, the value of some books is how they can hone in on very specific projects or people, and use these examples to explore the practical techniques you’ve learned. FilmCraft’s Cinematography book is a prime example of this—by looking closely at iconic films like Psycho, Chicago, and Hero, and through discussions with veterans of the art form like Vittorio Storaro and Christopher Doyle, this book lets you see cinematography in action.
On Suspiria and Beyond: A Conversation with Cinematographer Luciano Tovoli by Luciano Tovoli
Even more specific is On Suspiria and Beyond, a book that focuses on one specific director of photography, Luciano Tovoli. By devoting an entire book to an interview with Tovoli, you can get firsthand knowledge from a veteran who has worked with such esteemed and talented directors as Dario Argento, Michelangelo Antonioni, Andrej Tarkovskjj, Julie Taymor, and many others. Tovoli was passionate about the use of color and goes into vivid detail about specific sequences from his work on the mind-bending horror filmSuspiria. This book looks at cinematography in a hyperfocused manner you won’t find elsewhere.
Painting with Light by John Alton
Academy Award-winning director of photography John Alton (An American in Paris, The Big Combo) first published Painting with Light in 1949, but his writings on the art form still hold a lot of weight. Once you’ve mastered the tools and craft in cinematography school, Painting with Light will help you explore how to use image making to determine the visual mood of a film, incorporating lighting, camera techniques, location choices, and more. As a plus, the book is not afraid to use non-technical language, so even beginners can delve into Alton’s work, perhaps as a precursor to taking cinematography classes.
Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers by Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salivate
This book features fifteen conversations with modern cinematographers to give a firsthand look at how directors of photography work on set and approach their jobs. Authors Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salvato are both film critics, while the newest edition of Masters of Light features a preface by veteran cinematographer John Bailey. This is a must read for anyone looking to get inside the heads of contemporary cinematographers.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced the nominees for the 91st annual Academy Awards, to be given out during ABC’s televised ceremony on Sunday, February 24. The Oscars will cap off a months-long awards season featuring industry veterans, newcomers, and as always, endless debates about who deserves to go home with the golden statue.
Polish director of photography Lukasz Zal was previously nominated by the Academy for Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, which he co-shot with Ryszard Lenczewski. Both Ida and Cold War showcase Zal’s immense talent with black and white photography. He has shot mostly documentary shorts and a few short films, making the nominations for two of his only features that much more notable.
The Favourite, Robbie Ryan
This is the first Oscar nomination for Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan. He has shot previously for director Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, American Honey) and Stephen Frears (Philomena). In total, Ryan has been director of photography for over 80 features, shorts, commercials, and music videos, including the films Wuthering Heights, The Last Days on Mars, and Slow West.
Never Look Away, Caleb Deschanel
Caleb Deschanel is a veteran director of photography who has shot such Hollywood films as Being There, The Right Stuff, The Natural, National Treasure, The Passion of the Christ, and Jack Reacher. This is Deschanel’s sixth Oscar nomination for cinematography; among others, he was nominated for Fly Away Home and The Patriot. His next film will be Disney’s live action remake of The Lion King.
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
In addition to writing and directing Best Picture nominee Roma, Alfonso Cuarón also shot the semi-autobiographical film, a rare distinction for Hollywood directors. Roma was filmed in black-and-white on an Arriflex Alexa 65 digital camera, giving it a stark, unique look that has been near-universally praised. Other cinematography credits for Cuarón include several short films in the 1980s, as well as the television series Hora Marcada. While typically Cuarón delegates the role to other talented directors of photography such as Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki, this is his first credit as a cinematographer in nearly three decades.
A Star Is Born, Matthew Libatique
Matthew Libatique is a Queens-born Filipino American cinematographer who has previously worked with directors such as Spike Lee, Jon Favreau, and Darren Aronofsky, and was previously nominated for an Oscar for shooting Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Libatique was director of photography for the first film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man, and is currently working on the latest DCEU and Harley Quinn film, Birds of Prey. His other cinematography credits include Requiem for a Dream, Gothika, Everything Is Illuminated, Inside Man, Straight Outta Compton, and Venom, among many others.
New York Film Academy Cinematography Instructor Matt Kohnen has been making movies since the mid 1990s. As an independent filmmaker, he’s seen the best and the worst of what the industry has to offer. His films can be seen all over the world thanks to Amazon Prime Video.
Here, he speaks with NYFA Correspondent Joelle Smith about his passion for film, his favorite classes to teach, and how he creates movies on an indie budget.
NYFA: When did you first know you were in love with cinema?
Kohnen: It was a gradual process. I’ve always loved movies. More than film, I loved stories. I devoured books. I got into theatre in high school and I stuck with it through undergrad, but I quickly realized I was not a good actor. So, I turned to writing and directing. In the late ‘90s, the indie film scene was hitting its stride, and I liked that atmosphere of creative risk. I haven’t looked back since.
NYFA: What kinds of stories did you start off wanting to tell?
Kohnen: I like stories with a touch of the fantastic to them. I’ve always been a fan of science fiction, or any work that goes beyond our current understanding of reality. Not because of the escapism — I like sci-fi because it allows us to take society, and its current trajectory, to the extreme.
I still write science-fiction, but the reality of indie filmmaking is that the price point is usually too far out of reach. My brother, Sean, and I have been working on telling small stories with big emotional impact.
NYFA: When did you decide to become a director and why did you choose this career path?
Kohnen: It’s hard to say there’s a “decisive moment,” per se. It’s not like when you apply to college. I never chose this particular path. It was a gradual thing. I became a director because, at UC Irvine, where I earned my undergrad in theater, the best roles were reserved for grad students and current faculty members.
I had to hustle and tell my own stories if I wanted to get something done. I found it very empowering. So, I kept at it. Learning that hustle turned out to be a great thing.
If you don’t get pulled into the studio orbit, which is very rare and hard to do, then you have to do it yourself — otherwise, you won’t do it at all. Most of my choices were less deliberate and more about finding a way into the industry. You just have to take the plunge, scary as it is.
NYFA: Your films Aaah! Zombies!! and The Funeral Guest center on death, and how such an event can bring people together. What is it about the theme of life after death that inspires you?
Kohnen: Funny, I’ve never heard my two features linked in that way. Not sure it’s the “death” issue that links them to me as much as it is the “outsider” parts. Both films feature the perspectives of people who are on the outside of something, looking in.
In Aaah! Zombies!!, the theme of life and death that inspired me was a funny idea that Sean and I had about subverting the classic horror genre. But as we wrote, the script took on a life of its own. The story became more about the characters who were dissatisfied with their current lives in some way. The humorous irony of it was this incident, in most zombie movies, would have been the “end” of the story. Instead, this incident sparked the “beginning” of our story because we stayed with their POV. It took death for them to begin living.
I like to look at perspectives that are outside what we are normally given. The perspectives we do not expect to see are often much more interesting; to see that something that is considered a monster can, in fact, be as human as anyone else. What connects these two films is the bond formed between characters.
In The Funeral Guest, the main character is on the outside of life, looking in on others. She doesn’t have a life of her own. Funerals are the place where the emotions and love and connection that she craves are on full display. Again, it takes the tragedy of someone else’s loss, and her being mistaken for someone that she’s not, to allow her to forge a true connection.
NYFA: Tell us about your latest project.
Kohnen: Currently, I’m in the writing phase of a couple new scripts. One of the scripts we will be producing ourselves on a very-low-budget. The other script has a different path. I’m trying to launch that project with a larger production company. I’m not really in a place to talk much about either of those projects right now.
The Funeral Guest is available on Amazon and Amazon Prime, now. Go get it!
NYFA: What was the most challenging aspect of making this film?
Kohnen: Both of my features have had relatively low budgets. Cost presents a challenge all its own.
For Aaah! Zombies!!, it was more of an FX-driven piece, but it also took place at night. For three weeks we were vampires, staying up all night. (Get it? Vampires? Because we were working on a zombie film?) After that, Sean and I said we’d slap whichever one of us wrote “EXT. NIGHT” in a script ever again. A pact we promptly broke, of course.
Overall, the issue facing most low-budget films is that they require every single person to be on top of their game. There’s no money to paper over mistakes. There isn’t any time to “find it” on set. Indie sets will shoot as many as five or six pages per day.
Trying to stay creative and focused, while still allowing for the play and flexibility that is required to make it all good, is probably the hardest part.
NYFA: What is your favorite thing about teaching at NYFA?
Kohnen: I love working with my students. People who come to NYFA have prepared to commit to this field. They love film. Many students arrive having already experimented with making their own films. When they make a breakthrough, I love seeing their eyes open and that “ah-ha” moment spread across their face, when they figure out what had been missing from their creative toolbox. Watching their art move up another level is extremely rewarding.
I also love that NYFA is international. Every day I watch students from vastly different worlds interact. Our students are bonded by their passion for film.
One of my favorite outcomes of the intersectional interaction that takes place at NYFA occurred when Co-Instructor Nick Sivakumaran and I, on one of our early Cinematography Practicum shoots, sat a kid from the middle of nowhere Montana next to a young woman from India. These are two people who would never have met in any other iteration of the world. They wound up married. They still are. I love that.
NYFA: What’s your favorite class to teach at NYFA?
Kohnen: Second Semester Cinematography in the MFA program is my favorite class to teach. It’s great because the students have received a good base from semester one. When they arrive in Second Semester Cinematography, we start introducing students to the dolly, advanced lighting, and camera. I love seeing them rise to the challenge.
NYFA: Is there a piece of advice you give your students as they head toward graduation?
Kohnen: Keep your eyes focused on the horizon, and put one foot in front of the other, every day. Even if it’s only one step, have goals, and know that as hard as it may seem, good work will always be recognized. Good luck!
Ready to learn more about Cinematography? Check out our Cinematography School offerings at the New York Film Academy.
While the acting and Best Picture awards typically dominate the buzz and conversation leading up to the Academy Awards, the cinematography category often has — quite literally — the showiest nominees. While typically the director has a say in how a film will look, as well as how specific shots will be laid out, their director of photography is usually the one tasked with creating this look.
Lighting, camera angles, camera movement, focus, and depth of field are just some of the choices a film’s cinematographer will make, with or without the director’s input. They will also have a say in the types of film stock and camera equipment used on set. All of these decisions culminate in a film’s final look, which is why it’s the director of photographer who will take home the Oscar when a film wins the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.
While all of the nominees made the short list because of their unique, harrowing, complex, or gorgeous looks, here are just some of our favorite wins from the past decade:
Life of Pi – Claudio Miranda
Ang Lee adapted the novel Life of Pi and perfectly captured its otherworldly tale of a young man trapped in the middle of an ocean with a tiger. The movie is bright, colorful, and larger than life. In addition to taking place mostly on water, it incorporates magical islands and neon-infused skies, making it one of those films that should be illegal to watch on your phone. This deserves the 4K widescreen TV treatment at the least. No wonder it managed to beat out cinematography legend Roger Deakins’s outstanding work on the James Bond smash hit, Skyfall, as well as the other nominees in 2013.
Check out Life of Pi co-star and New York Film Academy alum Vibish Sivakumar here.
Life of Pi
La La Land – Linus Sandgren
Another colorful entry in this list is 2016’s La La Land, though the backdrop was less ocean fantasy and more theatrically artificial Los Angeles. But by combining traditional filmmaking techniques with modern sensibilities, Sandgren managed to put the audience in the world of writer/director Damien Chazelle’s making. La La Land earned multiple nominations and was a certified hit that left smiles on lots of faces.
La La Land
Gravity – Emmanuel Lubezki
With nearly the entire action thriller taking place in space, you’d think there wouldn’t be much to shoot outside of star Sandra Bullock in an astronaut suit — but that’s partly why Lubezki’s work on Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is so impressive. By using outer space as negative space, Lubezki was able to capture a loneliness and isolation on levels rarely seen in cinema. Conversely, by using the bright blue Earth as a massive, larger-than-life backdrop in certain shots, the film never lost its sense of place, even as Bullock drifted aimlessly into a black nothingness.
Birdman – Emmanuel Lubezki
Lubezki won a second consecutive Oscar for his work on Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, a film comprised of several long, complicated takes edited together to look like a single, continuous shot. This technique was used to some extent in Lubezki’s previous film Gravity, as well as Children of Men, but it was here where he really mastered the technique, transforming it from a mere gimmick into a statement about acting, theatre, and filmmaking in itself.
The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
Emmanuel Lubezki appears frequently on this list because he became the first person to ever win three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography in a row, a distinction that shows just how brilliant he is behind the camera. His third win came for The Revenant, again directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, and again filled with seemingly endless one-shots. Even more impressive was that The Revenant used only natural lighting and was shot nearly entirely outside in the wilderness on very cold days. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, The Revenant manages to be one of the most gorgeous looking films of the last decade.
Who will win this year’s award? Could it be Roger Deakins for his expansive work in Blade Runner 2049? Or Dan Laustsen’s grimy fairy tale noir look for The Shape of Water? Or maybe Rachel Morrison, the Black Panther cinematographer and first ever woman nominated in the category for her work on Mudbound? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Interested in studying cinematography and taking home an Oscar or three yourself in the future? Check out New York Film Academy’s cinematography programs here.
From “Jaws” to “The Color Purple,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Schindler’s List,” Steven Spielberg has given us many of the most iconic moments in cinema. We have already extolled the genius of Spielberg in this previous NYFA article, but today we examine some of the specific cinematographic techniques he employs to achieve such spectacular results to help inspire your own cinematographic stylings.
Sideways tracking shot.
A sideways tracking shot follows the movement of the characters. Although it is a classic technique, Spielberg makes it his own. “Spielberg adds considerable visual texture to the shots by putting all manner of objects and extras between the camera and the two main subjects, to enhance the richness of the frame and the visual perception of movement,” writes this LA Video Filmmaker article.
Spielberg also uses the variant of having the actors approach the camera after tracking, ending in a close-up, as exampled by the scene in “Jaws” when the camera tracks Brody and his wife to the fateful boat.
Introducing a character.
As the below video essay details, Spielberg often uses either action or fraction (glimpses of body parts or features) to introduce his protagonists, and some of his most memorable introductions employ both. Think of one of the most iconic character introductions of all film time: to Indiana Jones in the first “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
The long take.
A long take, aka a “oner,” is a continuous shot played out in real time. Unlike other directors, Spielberg’s long takes tend to be less stylized and more emotionally driven. As this No Film School article puts it, “Spielberg disguises these long takes in a number of ways, allowing audiences to become immersed in the dramatic energy of the scene without feeling the kinetic energy of the camera.” For some examples from everything from “Saving Private Ryan” to “Jurassic Park,” check out this video by Tony Zhou.
Over the shoulder.
Over the shoulder shots are common enough in cinema, but Spielberg uses dramatic and claustrophobic over the shoulder shots to create effects that push the boundaries of classic cinematographic framing. The dramatic shot uses a wide lens, making the character in the foreground look bigger than the other character, which conveys a feeling of dominance. The claustrophobic shot increases the amount of shoulder in the frame, pushing the main subject away from center. This article offers some “pretty pictures” to illustrate these techniques in “Amistad” and “Munich.”
Frame within a frame.
A cinematic frame within a frame utilizes physical objects–mirrors, windows, doors, power lines–to divide the frame and create striking composition. In “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” Spielberg and his cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, use a circular lamp fixture, and in “Minority Report,” they use a headset held by one of the characters in the foreground. The novelty of these framing devices suggests how you can use everyday objects for brilliant aesthetic effects.
What are your favorite examples of Spielberg cinematography? Let us know in the comments. Learn more about cinematography at the New York Film Academy.
Many people may dismiss an arts degree as useless, but that’s because many take what artists do for granted and do not understand the skills and technical expertise necessary to work in the entertainment industry. Take a cinematographer for instance. Without cinematographers, you would never get to go to the movies on Friday nights or watch some of your favorite TV shows. Cinematographers have a lot of marketable skills, but the truth is that the true value of a degree is what you make of it.
If you love films and are fascinated by the process of filmmaking, being a cinematographer could be for you! Here are all the things you can have with a quality cinematography degree that will be with you forever:
An Eye for Detail
Whether you’re creating an animated film or recording a wedding, cinematographers need to be mindful of every small detail in order to make a film piece work. Perspective, angle and composition are just a few important parts of a film, but one without the other makes for a messy product.
Cinematographers learn quickly to refine their craft.
Great Communication and Interpersonal Skills
On the set of a production, the cinematographer needs to manage the camera and lighting crew, working with key personnel — like the chief lighting technician — as well as working with other creatives like the director and production designer. It is essential to be able to effectively communicate with other crew members so that everyone can work together to create the best piece possible.
If you thought filming scenes alone was time-consuming, there is another test of a cinematographer’s career that depends on one essential skill: patience. A quality film product takes time to develop and edit, so you’ll have to learn how to not rush or leave a project at the last minute. That includes being patient with actors or other crew members as well.
You are probably already creative if you’re interested in working in film, but the good news about pursuing a creative degree is that it helps you develop an even more creative mind. You’ll work closely with some of the best minds in cinematography and be challenged to develop your own unique “signature style” in not only film, but in everything you do.
Fantastic Photography Skills
You cannot make a film without having some knowledge of photography. Being a cinematographer means you are a talented photographer as well, which can come in handy while looking around for your next big gig or working on your own project. There’s always a demand for good photographers for weddings, graduations, and other milestone events.
Yes, a Livable Salary
As with any arts degree, you might be tempted to wonder if you’ll make it big or be the “starving artist” stereotype. More importantly, will your degree lead to a livable wage? With hard work, it definitely can! Getting a gig right out of school may depend largely on your own efforts, and the community and network you build with your peers while you study. This is why NYFA focuses on collaborative projects that help you develop the skills you’ll need to function on a professional set and develop the reputation and competency you’ll need to seek jobs. Learning to be professional and make valuable connections every day is the key to landing your dream job. Until then, offer to book photography sessions or look for jobs in advertising while you build your portfolio. But make sure to make time for your own ideas as well!
Beyoncé set the bar high with her HBO video extravaganza that dominated the MTV Music Awards last summer. But it’s not just “Lemonade” that’s got the cinematography geeks all a buzz. From Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” to Bowie’s heartbreaking “Lazarus,” many of this year’s Grammy-nominees enlisted top-notch directors and cinematographers to bring their music to filmic life. Here we pull back the curtain on the magicians behind the cameras, who made the year’s best songs look great.
Up for 11 Grammys, the tour-de-force album celebrates black women, the South, and music itself. The HBO spectacular testifies to Beyoncé’s ability to direct the look as well as the sound of her art with its four Emmy nominations. Beyoncé employed a talented roster of cinematographers to capture her star-studded cast. Malik Sayeed took home the MTV best cinematography award for his work on “Formation,” and other notable cinematographers include Dikayl Rimmasch (who also wears his hat as director on the project), and Meadowland director Reed Morano. As Film School Rejects concludes: “There’s a reason why Beyoncé’s special looks and moves like artful cinema: there’s a team of talented artists behind her.”
In a recent article, we examined the most filmic music videos by Radiohead, and looked forward to the next single off “Moon Shaped Pool,” up for alternative album of the year. Radiohead did not disappoint! Paul Thomas Anderson directed and, as this article at Flavorwire suggests, likely acted as cinematographer for the much-analyzed “Daydreaming.” From domestic interiors to snowy cliff exteriors, Anderson pulls the camera through endless doors to create a symbol-laden look that invites film and music fans alike to watch and re-watch.
“25” is up for eight Grammys, including album of the year. The single “Hello” is up for song of the year. The video for “Hello,” directed by Xavier Dolan and with cinematography by André Turpin, is an intimate portrayal of loss and regret. Actor Tristan Wilds was cast opposite Adele and, as revealed in this New York Times article, it seems the singer and her talented team approached “Hello” as they would a short film. Despite the flip phones, the look packs an emotional punch, causing Adele to say, “It’s my best video and I’m so proud of it.”
Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?”
It’s not a big surprise that Bieber’s “Purpose” is up for album of the year, but finding him (or at least his video) a topic of discussion at No Film School is a bit of a surprise. Yet it’s not the heartthrob the indie film buffs are interested in, but rather the work of cinematographer Joshua Reis. “Breaking Down the Cinematography in Justin Bieber’s ‘What Do You Mean’ Music Video” praises Reis for his designed color theme, which ties together the traditionally lit exteriors with the innovatively lit interiors (shot in an actual hotel room): “Reis does some beautifully intriguing things with light and color in the music video — the harsh shadows and the neon greens and reds create what Matt [Workman] describes as a ‘modern film noir’ look.”
David Bowie’s “Lazarus”
The heartbreaking video of impending death and impossible resurrection was released three days before Bowie’s passing. With the help of cinematographer Crille Forsberg, director Johan Renck (of “Breaking Bad” fame) created a look that helped Bowie turn “hospice care into high art,” according to Pitchfork, who listed the video as #2 in its list of the Best Videos of 2016. Bowie is up for five posthumous Grammys for his final album “Blackstar.”
What are your picks for the most cinematic moments in music videos this year? Will you be watching the Grammys on Feb. 12? Let us know in the comments below!
If you’re studying cinematography or currently between jobs, there are plenty of opportunities outside of the world of film to lend your talents and make some money along the way.
One of the most enjoyable – and lucrative – is shooting wedding videos.
But it’s also not without its pressures, especially given that you may be the sole party responsible for capturing exceptionally personal footage (and there’s only one opportunity to get it right.)
Luckily you’re a cinematographer, ergo you’re already far more qualified than the bride’s drunk Uncle Tom. So, let’s get started!
1. Communication > Videography
Poor communication skills won’t only create a bad impression (and therefore stymieing future recommendations), but it’ll also leave you woefully under-prepared for the couple’s big day.
No two weddings are alike, and the same goes for the couple’s expectations. Will there be any outside-the-norm events they want you to capture? Has the groom got a special surprise he wants you to be there for? Any particular guests or parts of the venue that need extra attention?
Even just agreeing on the times you’ll be there and shooting need to be established long in advance so that everyone is on the same page.
This doesn’t just stop at the couple, either. It’s imperative to speak to the venue, too, and find out the rules, regulations, logistics and possible restrictions that you may face on the day. Same goes for the DJ or band, although for different reasons (more on this later.)
And when the day is done, you job isn’t. There’s an element of customer aftercare in wedding videography; naturally you’ll want to carry out editing and post-production work, but also ensure they’re happy with the footage you deliver. If you’d set up expectations properly in the initial steps, this should be easy to achieve and you’ll be rewarded with a glowing testimonial.
2. Pack for Expedience
By all means pack your car with as much videography equipment as you like, but bear in mind that when the action starts, it’s no understatement to say that you’ll be running around like a lunatic. Capturing a wedding video is a full-contact sport!
To help you get from one side of the venue to film the bride’s make-up session to the other side of the venue to film the groom’s side of the wedding party, try to limit yourself to no more than a single camera and two lenses (three, at a push.)
You can always return to the car during brief reprieves to swap out gear ahead of the evening’s festivities.
3. Two Halves of the Equation
A wedding photographer need only worry about light; you’ve got the envious job of not only capturing video, but audio too.
Avoid the crying baby at the back of the venue, use multiple audio recording devices (especially if the one in your camera isn’t great) and consider putting a lavalier on the groom and/or wedding officiant – be sure to allow for extra setting-up time to arrange this!
The other consideration to make is the evening’s entertainment – needless to say, bands and DJs can be louder than your portable mics can handle without peaking. If possible, ask the act if you can plug directly into the PA system (not always doable, but great if you can.)
4. Hit the Same Beats as the Photographer…
… but keep out of their way! Definitely liaise with the photographer before the ceremony if you get the chance, but either way, don’t get under their feet when the fun begins.
Giving the photographer room to move comes with another benefit: the more you blend into the background, the more relaxed the couple will be. Being constantly aware that you’re being recorded is enough to make anyone paranoid!
Otherwise, your aim as a videographer is to capture the same key moments that the photographer will be aiming for, albeit in live-action format.
5. Keep Calm and Carry On
The run-up to the ceremony itself can be the most tense and nerve-wracking moments of anyone’s life. Don’t let the atmosphere get to you personally; a videographer running around in a fluster only exacerbates things.
Stable video is also the main goal – given that tripods aren’t usually effective (aside from the main ceremony), it’s doubly imperative that you remain as calm as possible while in the eye of the storm. Stay focused, keep tabs on the key players, and identify the best shots. The happy couple are counting on you.
Have any great tips for creating the best wedding video? Let us know in the comments below!
When asked why he preferred shooting with all-natural lighting, Stanley Kubrick simply replied, “Because that’s the way we see things.”
It’s a trend that’s growing in filmmaking. The excellent “Dallas Buyers Club,” for instance, used only all-natural lighting during filming. This sounds like it might make things difficult, but it actually came with its own benefits. Director Jean-Marc Vallee stated that the actors didn’t have to worry about hitting their marks to keep within lighting zones, so it offered a lot more creative freedom for the cast. The sheer heat of artificial lighting rigs was also not missed!
Whether you’re shooting with natural light simply because you’re on a budget or for stylistic reasons, we’ve got some tried and tested tricks on how to get the best out of it.
When Shooting Indoors:
If the room has windows, it’s generally a bad idea to shoot towards them. This will lead to overexposure and a nasty, bleached-out effect to the background (as well as anything in front of the windows being underexposed). Rather than wrestle between the two extremes, place place the camera adjacent to the window — to get more of a sidelight. This provides natural lighting from the window and avoids blow-out. This is extra important when interviewing for documentaries!
Load up on gel sheets. Specifically, ND gel. When applied to windows, it really cuts down on the amount of daylight and makes exposure a lot easier to manage (more on how ND filtering works here).
Aside from lighting itself, the most important thing in any cinematographer’s lighting kit are reflectors. We cannot understate this: they’re definitely vital outdoors, and even more so when shooting inside using only natural light. It’s by far the easiest way to manipulate and maximize whatever lighting you do have to get rid of problematic shadows. Note: You may find it difficult to get a proper return if you are reflecting indirect light.
Shake it up. You can’t always manipulate the light exactly to your liking, so manipulate the subject instead. Extreme planning before a natural light shoot is important so as to not waste time on the day, but be mindful that it’s sometimes best to scrap what you had on paper if it’s not looking right in the camera. Reposition everything if you must, and be mindful of those shadows as you go.
Scrims are your best friend. Scrims will not change the quality of light from hard to soft, but it will knock down the intensity by diffusing light. Diffusion may be your best friend.
When Shooting Outside:
Take advantage of blue hour and golden hour. Blue hour refers to the sliver of time after the sun disappears over the horizon but the sky is still lit, while golden hour is well known to filmmakers as the hour leading up to sunset (or an hour after sunrise). Blue hour is really handy for when you want to illustrate that it’s nighttime but don’t have any way of lighting a scene during actual darkness, and golden hour simply makes everything look gorgeous. There’s even a website that helps you plan for it in advance. That all said…
It’s not all about the golden hour. Keeping track of the sun is a very important factor in outdoor filmmaking, but you’ll also need to be conscious of what might get in between you and the sun at any moment — i.e.: clouds. While there’s not much you can do about the weather, you can note down any trees or buildings that might cast shadows at any given time (ideally when you do your first location scout).
Make sure everyone on the crew is prepared ahead of time. As with shooting indoors, you don’t want to be spending any more time than necessary setting up a shot or running through lines with the actors, especially when the sun is rapidly heading towards the horizon.
Make use of flags. Just as reflectors give you better control of how much light is going where, you’ll often find yourself in a situation where you’ve got too much light (particularly during summer day shoots). Flags — or cutters — are sections of thick black cloth stretched around a metal frame that allow you to block out sections of light and add some dramatic contrasting to the shot.
Pay attention to color and emotion. Getting the optimal amount of light is one thing, but getting the right “flavor” is another altogether. Be sure to check out our guide to color design, since a clinically perfect shot without any emotion whatsoever isn’t very compelling.
So there we have it: Hollywood-style cinematography without a Hollywood budget.
Got any of your own tricks on working with natural light? Any lessons you learned the hard way while out in the field? Hit us up in the comments below and share with the class!
If you’re having trouble making a confined area appear larger when filming in a small area, you’re not alone; professional filmmakers also find themselves returning to the drawing board when attempting to create space and illustrate depth and scale in a small area. And even with all the fancy CGI and other advanced technology at their disposal, filmmakers often choose to rely on techniques that have been around for almost as long as cinematography itself.
Below are some of the ways you can make your small space feel much grander and make the most out of a limited area — so that you’re not forced to cut any awesome ideas you had in mind. With enough practice, soon you’ll also have an eye for making even a tiny room appear bigger.
One of the oldest tricks in the book for creating the illusion of depth is called deep space, and can be used to trick the audience’s brain into imagining that the space is deeper than it actually is. Why do we use the word “trick?” Because any screen you are looking at, whether it’s a movie screen, a computer, or your handheld device, the image has height and width but there is no depth. The audiences’ eyes are always focused on the surface of the screen. Depth is an illusion created by photography. But in the look of “deep space,” we are doing everything possible to enhance this illusion.
Here are a number of things you can do to create deep space:
1. Use wide-angle lenses.
Wide-angle lenses expand space, while telephoto lenses compress space. By using the wide-angle lens, we can create the illusion that the space is much deeper than it actually is. The wider the lens, the deeper the space.
2. Use high number F. stops.
Using the higher number F. stops (f. 11, f. 22, f. 32) when exposing your image, will dramatically increase your depth of field. Depth of field is a technical term used to describe how much of the image is in focus. We can have everything in the frame from three inches to infinity in focus or we can shrink depth of field so that someone’s eyes are in focus and the tip of their nose is out of focus. By using high f. stops, we can put the background into focus; the audience will be more likely to look at it. And when they do, their brains will be fooled into thinking that they are refocusing from the foreground to the background and back again, heightening the illusion of depth.
3. Stage your actors perpendicular to the flat picture plane.
By staging one of your actors in the foreground and another in the background, the audience will be fooled into imagining that they are looking into the distance of the shot.
4. Move your actors perpendicular to the flat picture plane.
Watching the actors move toward or away from the camera will reinforce the illusion of depth in your shot.
5. Move the camera perpendicular to the flat picture plane.
Moving the camera into or out of the shot, even slightly, is like taking the audience by the hand and leading them through the space, giving the depth more credibility.
6. Light with shadow.
Shadow is something our brains use to determine the depth of objects. Just imagine if I drew a circle on the page. It would appear flat. But as soon as I began to shade it, the circle would have the illusion of a third dimension. So use light to create shadow on your actors and your set, to reveal the contours and depth of your image.
7. Place bright objects in the foreground and keep the background dark.
Bright objects have the illusion of advancing, while dark objects have the illusion of receding. By placin actors in bright costumes, against dark backgrounds, we can enhance the illusion of depth.
8. Place warm colors in the foreground and cool colors in the background.
Just like bright and dark objects, colors have a similar effect. Warm colors have the optical illusion of advancing, while cool colors have the illusion of receding. So by placing actors in warm colored costumes against cool colored backgrounds, we can, once again, enhance the illusion of depth.
A SIMPLE TRICK FOR DEALING WITH EXTREMELY SMALL SPACES
This all sounds good, doesn’t it? But what if you’re shooting in a really small space, say a bedroom in a typical student apartment. It’s probably the size of a closet! Perhaps the room is so small, you can’t even get the camera inside it. Some cameras are large. If you throw in the tripod, assuming you’re using one, you might find that you’ve taken up 2-3 feet just with the camera. In addition, some lenses have a minimum focusing distance. In other words, even after squeezing the camera into the room, you can’t get far enough away from your subject to focus on it.
Well, here’s a handy guerilla shooting technique: shoot into a mirror. That’s right. Get a mirror and mount it on the wall and back your camera away. By doing this you can effectively double your distance from your actor. If the mirror is 3 feet from the actor and the camera is 3 feet from the mirror, you’re now 6 feet away from the actor. This means you can use a longer lens if you choose and solve that tricky problem of minimum focus distances. Of course, your image will be flipped left to right. But if that bothers you, you can always flip it back again in the editing room. Naturally, the better the mirror, the less likely you’ll have ripple distortion in the reflected image.
What’s your favorite trick for capturing expansive footage in a small space? Let us know in the comments below!
Beyoncé may have begun her career as just one member of a commercial RnB band, but Beyoncé has evolved over the past two decades to become the most powerful woman in entertainment and a master of all trades: singer, songwriter, dancer, producer, and business woman.
But Queen Bee has another talent that is frequently overlooked; Beyoncé has an amazing knack for great cinematography when it comes to her music videos.
September 4 marks Bey-Day, so it’s a fitting time to look back on the evolution of a pop icon with five of the most cinematically brilliant Beyoncé videos to date.
“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it)”
The one that put an already unprecedented career right into the stratosphere. With over half a billion views on YouTube, “Single Ladies” will always be a timeless icon of Beyoncé at her best.
Female empowerment is a hallmark of both Beyoncé’s songwriting and music videos, but she’s also got a penchant for black and white cinematography.
Coupled with a clever use of lighting to effectively remove the set entirely, the stark imagery and clean lines accentuate the exceptional dance choreography by putting it front and center. And while there are a few cuts in the video edit, the “Single Ladies” video was shot in one take — making the finished product even more of a technical marvel.
The golden lesson for filmmakers here is that less is often more.
“Run the World (Girls)”
While we all love a bit of stripped-back Beyoncé, she can also take it to feature film-like extremes to great effect, and the video for “Run the World” is a classic example.
Implementing a strong visual theme reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” universe, everything here is cranked up to 11: alongside the usual dance-heavy routine, we’ve got an insane amount of extras, special effects, location and costume changes, props, fire, water cannons, and floodlights.
Oh, and a lion for good measure.
The color pallet is also eclectic, with bright block coloring of the girls’ outfits playing in contrast to the muted tones of the wider set and the monochrome outfits worn by the male extras.
The camera work in “Run the World” is worth singling out, too, since it’s effectively a master class in exploiting visually interesting angles. At one point (the 3:17 minute mark) it even shoots upside down.
The only thing stopping all this turning into a jumbled mess of visuals is a clinically perfect approach to the editing, with every shot exactly as long as it needs to be.
Aaaand we’re back to Beyoncé at her most basic. In fact, it’s the least technical music video she’s ever produced…
… because sometimes, the best approach is to just grab a camera and start filming.
From a musical standpoint it’s perhaps not Bey’s most well known track, but the video itself serves as a delightfully goofy reminder that, above anything else, filmmaking should be fun.
Beyoncé’s most political (and arguably controversial) video output to date, with more than a few overt references to Hurricane Katrina and racial tensions across the country.
The video was directed by Melina Matsoukas, a Grammy Award winner who has worked with Beyoncé on a number of occasions since 2007. Matsoukas stands firmly behind the idea of substance mattering far more than expensive equipment: “It’s not necessary for a quality video. A good video has the right visuals, a well conceptualized story and should be exciting and elicit reaction.”
With “Formation,” all those boxes are well and truly checked.
With the release of this year’s unanimously praised “Lemonade,” the queen of reinvention managed to push the envelope of innovation even further by putting out a 60-minute conceptual film to support the record.
Divided into 11 chapters incorporating poetry by Somali poet Warsan Shire, we couldn’t possibly explore the entirety of the visual extravaganza that is “Lemonade” in this short post. But suffice to say, this piece draws you in with impressive set pieces and a delicate yet purposeful handling of the divisive themes presented throughout. While “Lemonade” often delves into the poetically abstract, it never loses the viewer to outright obscurity and the pacing keeps things moving through both the light and dark of the album.
If this is the direction Beyoncé is heading for the next stage of her career, we’re all about it.
The GoPro was designed to solve a problem that Nick Woodman discovered while surfing in Australia in 2002; he wanted to capture the intensity of taking on big waves to share with others, but since he couldn’t afford the expensive equipment available at the time he had to settle for filming the surfers from the beach.
Enter the GoPro.
Although they didn’t immediately become widely used in Hollywood, GoPro cameras today are used in many professional productions, such as 2012’s “Leviathan” and 2014’s “Need For Speed.” Like these big-budget movies, you too can create amazing scenes with your GoPro. Of course it’s not enough to just strap it on and see what happens — you’ll need to plan ahead to enhance your cinematographic experience with this innovative tool.
Show Multiple Angles
One of a cinematographer’s greatest responsibilities is giving viewers a sense of space. Another term used for this is coverage, which involves using several shots to let viewers know where they are. GoPro cameras make it easier to gain this footage since you can pretty much strap one on anywhere you desire.
GoPro cameras are especially useful for action scenes, such as an intense car chase. You know filming the cars from a distance isn’t going to cut it, so what you do is attach a GoPro camera to one of the vehicles. Seeing the action close up as the vehicle zooms past surrounding objects will provide an entirely new level of immersion for the audience.
To really give a sense of space, professionals recommend using more than one GoPro camera. This was done in “Need For Speed” to give them more angles to use with during editing. With more views and footage to work with, they were able to combine together the shots that were more effective at sucking you into the action while not leaving you disoriented.
Use The Protune Setting
Simply put, the Protune setting on a GoPro allows you to capture a higher level of color image quality. You can seamlessly integrate between your GoPro and cinema footage to deliver gorgeous scenes, even if your regular camera is much more powerful. Even though the GoPro footage isn’t enhanced dramatically, but it is enough to be used in professional films.
With the Protune setting you can adjust a number of things, including exposure, ISO, white balance, sharpness, and more. More importantly, its color correction features lets you capture highlights and shadows by setting the color to flat. A flatter look provides more flexibility when looking to improve the footage in post-production.
Take It Anywhere, Shoot Anything
Getting the most out of a GoPro camera means using it in ways no other camera can be. Arguably the neatest perk is its small size, which means you can easily take it anywhere you go and strap it onto anything. GoPro has given filmmakers all over the world the freedom to deliver video from immersive perspectives that previously required overpriced equipment.
Think outside the box to give an otherwise forgettable scene a bit more memorable. Shooting a scene where a bulky guy is benching hundreds of pounds? Strap the GoPro onto the end of the bar to let the audience feel the heavy weight being pushed up and down. From vivid sports moments and calm nature scenes to an intimate documentary interview, the GoPro eliminates the limitations of a regular camera.
A shade over twenty years ago, a little indie band from Oxfordshire, England released their debut single. That single was “Creep,” and it immediately put Radiohead on the map.
Having come out of the gate swinging, the band only grew in popularity and managed to stay ahead of the game thanks, in part, to a deep commitment to dramatically evolving their style along the way.
Thom Yorke and his merry band’s penchant for experimentation hasn’t solely been confined to music, either. Their accompanying music videos are also a strange mix—at times avant garde, at others outright bizarre, but more often than not they’ve served as food for thought for both musicians and filmmakers alike.
With this in mind—and with the new album A Moon Shaped Pool having just landed with the film referencing music video for “Burn the Witch”—let’s take a look back over Radiohead’s five most thought-provoking music videos with a cinematographic eye.
Lotus Flower (2011)
Directed By: Garth Jennings
Black and white, sparsely shot, slightly unhinged and not making a lick of sense. If that sounds like David Lynch to you, you’re not the only one.
Going on to gain a Grammy nomination, the video was directed by Garth Jennings who notably directed 2005’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which is pretty much the polar opposite in feel to the “Lotus Flower” short. Jennings has never revealed whether Yorke’s white shirt and bowler hat is a nod to Stanley Kubrick.
No Surprises (1997)
Directed by: Grant Lee
Lo-fi simplicity is something of a hallmark of a good Radiohead video, as proven with this visually arresting, one-shot video for one of OK Computer‘s finest songs (and one that the band spontaneously played in one take on getting set up for the album’s first recording session.)
While the song itself is inspired by nursery rhyme, the music video is very reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s cinematic style—simple ideas executed without distraction, preferring to put the subject at the forefront of the frame.
There’s also a touch of David Fincher about it, owing to the moody palette and lighting, but the take home here is that a captivating, suspenseful idea usually trumps any visual effects wizardry (and countless similar music videos have followed in the wake of “No Surprises”).
We won’t reveal how they minimized the risk of drowning poor ol’ Thom; for that, you’ll need to see the Radiohead documentary Meeting People is Easy.
Karma Police (1997)
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
Following deftly on from “No Surprises” was the record’s second single “Karma Police”, which had an equally captivating video to match. Curiously, the idea was originally pitched to Marilyn Manson, who declined.
Directed by maestro Jonathan Glazer (who also directed “Street Spirit” and Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity,” among feature films such as Under the Skin), the video is a typically surreal depiction of an antagonistic situation, and if it looks like it was inspired by some kind of fever dream, that’s because it actually was. But in terms of presentation, the Coen Brothers is strong with this one but Glazer has also admitted borrowing liberally from Kubrick throughout his career.
Of the working process and of getting collaborators on board with bizarre ideas, Glazer says: “It starts with an idea that I’ll be able to articulate, and then it’s about almost putting that idea in a laboratory and inspecting it… and it’s a long process. We don’t start with a story, we start with a feeling, and [that feeling] is your North Star.”
Alas, despite being one of most people’s favorite Radiohead music videos, Glazer himself saw it as a failed experiment.
Directed by: Jamie Thraves
Even Radiohead’s most conventional music videos have an air of mystery around them.
The overdriven melodrama here is almost certainly inspired by Douglas Sirk, whose influence can also be seen in Pulp Fiction (and directly alluded to by Tarantino, also, when Vincent Vega orders the “Douglas Sirk steak.”) Thraves was picked out specially by the band to direct the short after seeing his experimental University efforts; it was Thraves’ first assignment, and he’s gone on to work with the likes of Coldplay and Damien Rice since.
We can’t help but wonder if the sidewalk guy’s mysterious final line gave inspiration to Sofia Coppola—at the end of Lost in Translation, a similar scenario plays out and also drove viewers up the wall with intrigue.
Pretty clever marketing trick when you think of it.
Burn The Witch (2016)
Directed by: Chris Hopewell
At the time of writing, this one’s fresh on the ‘tubes, so it may be a little premature to call this an enduring Radiohead classic, but we suspect it will be and serves as a great point to close off.
Hugely different from everything that has come before for the band, The Wicker Man is clearly the main influence on this one. The story is as creepy as it always was, but made even more sinister here when presented in the style of a 1960s English kids TV show (a la Trumpton and Camberwick Green.)
In reference to the almost glaring contrast between the bright art style and the sinister undertones, animator Virpi Kettu revealed that this was at the behest of the band themselves who wanted to satirize the idea of idyllic rural communities as espoused by right-wing politicians.
It’ll be interesting to see which single follows from A Moon Shaped Pool, but in the mean time do let us know your thoughts—got a favorite Radiohead music video you wish had made the cut? Any neat film tricks you’ve been inspired to try out? We’ll see you down in the comments!
Learn more about the School of Cinematography at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.
Establishing shots have gotten a lot easier, grander in scope and, moreover, inexpensive thanks to the advent of drone filmmaking.
Long gone are the days that you’d have to hire a helicopter to get that perfect aerial shot, but the laws regarding drone filmmaking are yet to catch up. Given it’s a topic that comes up frequently amongst our filmmaking school students as they embrace drone technology, today we’re going to delve into the specifics.
And the overview is quite a snappy one. In a nutshell:
– Do not fly above 400 feet – Give way to all other aircraft – No drones weighing more than 55lbs – Do not fly within 5 miles of an airport (without first getting approval from air traffic control) – No flying near people or stadiums
All well and good, and really, the above constitutes common sense (and as far as we know, there aren’t any filmmaking drones that weigh anywhere near 55lbs—the heaviest we could find is the $150,000+ Phantom 4K Flex drone clocking in at around 30lbs).
But one line that the FAA issued in recent times has caused quite a bit of head scratching and frustration:
“The aircraft should be flown strictly for hobby or recreational use and not for payment or commercial purposes.”
Obviously, this is of concern to a filmmaker looking to produce a movie that they’ll ultimately sell or show for profit. So what gives with this little rule? Why does your financial situation have any kind of impact on drone flight safety?
There’s a lot of literature issued by the FAA on this topic, but to boil it all down, the authority has deemed it necessary to draw a line in the sand when it comes to commercial drone piloting—i.e for-profit filmmakers—because that would come under “civil operating,” and unless the distinction is made there, it means that anyone and everyone could technically self-certify their own unmanned aircraft and commandeer the skies without limits.
Essentially, it’s to avoid unregulated chaos but this does add some extra red tape to us as filmmakers since a Section 333 exemption is required. Applying for one is a rather lengthy process and the average reviewal takes around 120 days—not hugely practical when you’re trying to get a production in the can.
The good news is that there is a lot of pressure being put on the FAA to relax its rules when it comes to filmmaking, and the recent news that it has just granted a blanket exemption to a handful of Hollywood companies suggests it’s considering this.
A Note on Locality & Privacy
As you can probably imagine, locality plays a big part in what is and isn’t permitted. You can fly a drone at 100ft in the middle of Death Valley to your heart’s content and not get into any trouble, but flying in around The Mall in Washington is prohibited and comes with some hefty fines for doing so.
Also, as a responsible filmmaker you’ll want to observe social etiquette and respect the privacy of the public i.e. no flying or filmmaking over or near private property (and even some public land prominently displays ‘no drone zone’ posters, which should be observed.)
However, the landscape seems to be quickly changing, with two recent developments occurring this month. Firstly, the FAA issued a hefty $1.9 million fine against an aerial photography company that had been flying drones through crowded airspace in New York City and Chicago without permission. And just this week, the Obama administration announced plans for the FAA to start a drone registration program just as the holiday season begins, when drone sales are expected to rise significantly. While details of the plan are still being ironed out, it will effect hobbyists as well businesses.
In conclusion, as the regulation of drones continues to evolve, be sure to keep up to date on all drone-related news, always exercise your common sense, and look up local FAA guidelines and prohibitions where you are (and adhere to them!)
Learn more about the School of Cinematography at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.
Film-grade camera drones have never been more accessible, with the price points for even high definition aerial filming rigs quickly becoming attractive not only to professionals already in the industry but also to cinematography school students and even hobbyists.
All prices are approximate at the time of writing—be sure to hit the HD settings on each YouTube player to see the demo footage at its best!
DJI Inspire 1
Price: $2,800 Weight: 2935g Drone Specs: 18 minutes maximum flight time, 48mph top speed, 4500m altitude, 5m/s ascent speed Camera Specs: 4k video at 24 FPS, 12.4 megapixels, 100-3200 ISO range for video
It’s easy to see why the DJI Inspire 1 has become the go-to, professional grade drone for 4K aerial filmmaking. As well as packing an impressive set of specs, the gimbal-mounted, super-high resolution camera allows for a fine degree of control over the shooting angle.
For those who are a little divided over the price, it’s worth noting that the Inspire 1’s design is modular so it can be easily upgraded further down the road without having to buy a whole new drone.
DJI Phantom 3 Advanced
Price: $999 Weight: 1280g Drone Specs: 23 minutes of flight time, 35mph, 6000m altitude, 5 m/s ascent speed Camera Specs: 2.7k at 30FPS, 12.4 megapixles, 100-3200 ISO range for video
The Phantom range of aerial drone cameras have become something of an industry standard, and the third iteration strikes a good balance between cost and quality. The Phantom 3 comes in two flavors—the “advanced”and the “professional” below, which ups the specs at a higher price point.
DJI Phantom 3 Professional
Price: $1259 Weight: 1280g Drone Specs: As above
Camera Specs: 4k at 25FPS / 2160p at 30FPS / 1080p at 60FPS
For an extra $259, the Professional version of the Phantom 3 will give you greater resolution and framerates without sacrificing any of the maneuverability.
Price: $500 Weight: 420g Drone Specs: 22 minutes of flight time, 29mph, 6m/s ascent speed, 200m altitude Camera Specs: 1080p recording with a 14 megapixel fisheye camera
Lightweight and extremely zippy, the Parrot Bebop is a smart choice for those who want HD stabilized video without having to spend a king’s ransom—there are cheaper drones out there (and even some lesser-priced models in the Parrot range)—but the Bebop gets the balance right and is one of the best drones you’ll find for $500 or under…if you can live with the slightly limited operating range.
Phantom Flex 4k Drone
Price: $110,000 and up Weight: About 13 kilograms Drone Specs: Unknown, but it can lift a cinema camera. Camera Specs: 1,000 FPS at 4k and up to 3,000 FPS at 720p (in five second bursts). Stores 2TB of RAW data.
We’ve covered the more budget-end of the drone filmmaking spectrum, so now let’s look at what is currently the most expensive (and impressive). Clocking in at over 30lbs once the camera and lenses are installed, the Phantom Flex 4K is less of a drone and more of an aircraft. The price tag is eye-watering, but the footage speaks for itself:
Learn more about the School of Cinematography at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.
Cinematography is a highly complex field that relies just as much on sheer intuition as it does technical prowess, with many cinematographers spending years if not decades honing their eye for what constitutes as a great shot. As one of our graduates from cinematography school put it when asked about the best piece of work she’d done: “I don’t know. I haven’t filmed it yet.”
The quest for the best can also see a cinematographer having to invest in some pricey equipment along the way, though you’d be surprised at how much money can be saved with only a little makeshift ingenuity (resulting in everyone else on set gazing on in awe at your clever yet effective tricks).
With this in mind, scroll on to discover some of the toolbag essentials every cinematographer should carry with them…as well as a few insider secrets that many overlook!
Cinematography Hacks & Essential Tools
Tape. We’ll get the tape thing out of the way first, which is by far the most obvious entry on this list but one which cannot be overstated: you’ll need tape. A lot of tape. Pack as many rolls as you think you’ll need, then throw an extra couple in your kit bag…then add another for good measure.
Wheelchair Dolly. Want a quick and cheap way of getting steady shots without the use of extensive tracking? You need to get yourself an inexpensive, secondhand wheelchair.
Obviously the shots aren’t going to be quite as steady as if it was on a track and you may require some stabilization, but there’s no denying that the resulting footage is pretty spectacular when compared against the cost (especially given that you can get lightweight, foldable wheelchairs for next to nothing on Craigslist sometimes). For reference, the above shot in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless was achieved using a wheelchair dolly, assumedly without any stabilization whatsoever. Not bad, huh?
Ivar Side Unit. You’re probably wondering what the heck an ‘Ivar side unit’ is, and what has it got to do with cinematography? Not a lot, really – it’s a $13 side unit from Ikea:
What’s relevant about it is that with a little bit of modification, it makes for a superb makeshift dolly track for those occasions where a wheelchair doesn’t cut it—thanks to Romain for this one! You can see how he’s done it here.
A Bag of Rice. As a good director of photography, you’ll have stands and clamps and tape to secure just about every piece of equipment going…except for that one thing you forgot about that you just can’t stand up straight on the day. But don’t fear—a pound of rice loosely filling a bag can serve as a resting cushion for your camera or pretty much anything else you need to stabilize.
Vaseline. Need a soft focus filter? Simply smear a light amount of vaseline over otherwise clear glass, and you’re good to go.
Flexible PVC Piping. It’s a little bulky, but given the amount of times this stuff will save your bacon, you won’t regret throwing some in the back of the car (you’ll want to pre-split some of them for ease of inserting things into them).
Velcro Straps. Gaffer tape is one thing, but many DPs overlook the power of a simple velcro strap – a multipack of brightly colored straps is a quick alternative to tape, and is far easier and less messy to undo after you’ve finished a shoot. Particularly good for cabling!
Swiss Army Knife. Don’t just pack a box cutter and assume that’ll do. Invest in a decent Swiss army knife and you’ll truly be ready for any eventuality.
Knowledge. This may sound glib, but more important than having the best gear on the planet is knowing how to use the stuff. After all, a $500 camera in the hands of someone who is intimately familiar with it can usually achieve far better results than someone with a full RED camera rig and a thousand filters but no idea how to use them…
Over at our cinematography school, we regularly chat with filmmakers on the topic of contemporary trends in cinema—what’s hot right now, what is likely to trend in the future, and what’s already had its day.
There’s been some great discussion so far, and we figured it would be useful to summarize the observations here. Presenting:
Contemporary Trends in Cinema: 2015 Report
We’re seeing a lot more aerial footage being incorporated into final cuts as of the last couple of years, particularly for establishing shots. Why? Simply because drone technology has become more accessible and affordable, with aerial devices capable of shooting at even 4k resolutions available for a shade over the $1,000 mark.
It can certainly add a lot more production value to an edit for relatively little cost, though it’ll be interesting to see if its usage frequency will plateau in years to come once it really becomes commonplace or increases as the technology continues to advance.
Particularly over the past year, it seems to be a strong contemporary trend for cinematographers to pare down lighting rigs and keep things simple and soft, with as few lighting sources as possible (and often a heavy reliance on using solely natural and ‘golden hour’ lighting.) The use of backlighting is also in a period of waning at the moment.
When practiced to the extreme, this can give a very moody effect to the resulting film—either intentionally or unintentionally—but this hugely depends on the color palette and saturation used in conjuction (more on this below.)
Otherwise, it’s a contemporary trend which was, in all probability, born out of a need to soften some of the harsh edges which ultra-high digital footage can suffer from; either way, it’s a welcome break from the ultra-complex lighting dynamics that were necessary with some film stock of the past.
As well as subdued lighting, we’re also seeing an increased use of subdued color in film (particularly with regards to desaturation and muted color design.) Two excellent examples of this aesthetic used to great affect can be seen in this year’s Ex Machina, and last year’s brilliant Her:
This seems to be a pervasive trend not just in film, but also advertising too:
And once you’ve noticed it, you’ll spot it numerous times across the span of a single commercial break!
The Rise of Handheld Shots
Cameras are getting less unweildy, and jib/dolly setups are becoming more plentiful and functional. As a result, it’s not a huge surprise that handheld footage is currently trending—this rise to ubiquity seems to have coincided with the release of the MoVI M10 rig back in 2013, offering increased stability while still allowing for the organic feel of shooting handheld:
Expect more handheld and steadycam footage going forward, with ever-more impressive results being achieved as new rigs and systems hit the market.
Shallow Depth of Field
While the swing between ultra-shallow and ultra-deep depth of field is something that alternates from era to era, we’re currently in the midst of a shallow depth of field glut (so much so, it’s gotten to pandemic levels as of late!)
The current boom has been, in part, ushered along by the market introduction of cameras with gigantic sensors (such as the Canon 5D MkII) making it very easy to achieve the look with or without telephoto lenses. When done right, it looks stunning and can add a good dose of realism to the shot… but we’re also seeing it overdone as of late, so be sure to use the technique sparingly.
Noticed any other contemporary trends in cinematography over the last few years, or any newly emerging trends that you think are set to dominate the next few? We want to hear your thoughts—head on down to the comments below and let your voice be heard!
There are few fields in filmmaking as nuanced as cinematography, and when it comes to getting the best out of your work as a director of photography, knowledge is definitely power.
Today, we’ll be sharing a few well-established ports of call that all cinematographers should check out in order to take their craft to the next level. No matter what level of experience you currently find yourself, the following list will put you in good company:
10 Great Resources for Cinematographers
Advanced Filmmaking – A superb resource with an abundance of video content, much of it aimed squarely at the cinematographer. The premium content comes with a rental fee, but there is a (rather excellent) free video over on the site which will leave you itching for more.
Cinebag – No director of photography should be without a good cinematographer’s bag, and this is definitely the place to go in order to pick one up. If you can’t find what you’re looking for over on Cinebag, it probably doesn’t exist.
AbleCine – Need quality gear for a production but don’t have access to any and can’t afford to buy it outright? AbelCine is a very reputable rental site with an extensive selection of high-end equipment available, including the mighty Phantom Flex line of high-speed cameras. They also offer attractive equipment financing options (like, 100% financing with no down payments) and other useful cinematography resources on the site too.
Ron Dexter – A cameraman and director with more experience than most of us will ever hope to amass, and he’s not shy with sharing his knowledge, either. His website has, at this point, grown into something of a bible on…well, everything, and you’ll be hard pressed to find an aspect of filmmaking or camerawork that isn’t covered here.
IEC – The Internet Encyclopedia of Cinematographers is exactly what it sounds like; a comprehensive list of a sizeable number of professionals who have or still are working in the industry. It’s by no means a finished list and is indeed ongoing, but it’s already reached a fairly all-encompassing scale.
Cinematography.Net – Its presentation might be a little clunky and the idea of a mailing list will sound positively quaint to younger cinematographers, but there has been a wealth of great discussion held on it so far. Even if you don’t want to sign up for the mailing list, over 3,000 pages of all the gold has been archived so far for your browsing pleasure.
Robert Bresson: Notes on Cinematography – A short, concise, and highly recommended book from the legendary director Robert Bresson which is widely heralded by many as an essential read for anyone working in the field. Best of all, it’s freely available as a PDF via that link.
American Society of Cinematographers – While membership with ASC is conducted by invitation from the organization only (based on their body of work), there is a wealth of free content on the site to benefit from and even more if you become a paid subscriber. The ASC is neither a union nor a guild—in their own words, it’s an ‘honorary association’—and as such should not to be confused with our following entry…
IATSE – Dedicated to representing DPs and other camera professionals the world over, the International Cinematographers Guild is the main union for the field operating within the Inernational Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
NYFA Student Resources – Okay, so you’re already here but if you surfed on in at random you may not be aware that we’ve got a mountain of other content, from industry trends, useful how-to’s and discussions to get your inspiration flowing. The content is split across fifteen different departments, so no matter whether you’re at cinematography school or studying the art of screenwriting, there’s something for everyone.
Got any other great resources for cinematographers or other film professionals to check out? Sharing is caring—drop a comment with your suggestion below for the rest of the group!
All defining moments in the rich tapestry that is cinema history, and all black and white… but why is it that monochrome filming has become an almost lost artform?
50 Shades of Black and White
Indeed, if you look up any list of the most critically acclaimed black and white movies, you’ll be hard pressed to find many released after 1960. Over time, the aesthetic is one that has been pushed to the fringes and seen as something that is inherently ‘arthouse’ (usually with a slightly pretentious air.) It’s a phenomenon exclusive to cinema, too—in photography school, students are usually urged to master black and white shooting (and especially film development) before moving to color, but not so in filmmaking. With the latter, black and white is a tool seemingly reserved only for the masters.
But as of recently, the tide seems to be changing and we’re seeing an increasing number of releases that are not only inspirational for those of us wanting to re-embrace monochrome, but that also serve as great examples as to why more people should do so.
Let’s start off with the most acclaimed black and white feature of recent times, and the one that immediately springs to mind as an industry game changer: 2012’s The Artist.
On paper, The Artist was a hugely big risk. In a world where only the most brash and lowest-common-denominator comic action movies earn big bucks, would anyone be tempted to watch a movie that’s not only black and white but also silent?
Indeed, the marketing team had a hard sell. At the time of writing, the most recent YouTube comment on that trailer reads: “No way I’m watching it. A silent movie? Please.”
And that’s even after it won awards and became high up the list of most recommended movies of 2011. But won awards it did, and it would be hard to imagine the movie presented in any other way. This gets to the crux of when it’s appropriate to shoot in black and white: when the subject matter calls for it.
Incidentally, it was the first monochrome film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture since Schindler’s List in 1993, which is another superb example of a story that wouldn’t have been enhanced had it been show in color.
Of course, there is a small amount of color within the film courtesy of the iconic girl in the red coat, the symbolism of which has given us a talking point for decades (As an aside, this small color feature technically means that The Artist was preceded by The Apartment in 1960 as the previous all-black and white winner of the Best Picture award.)
And this brings us on to our second takeaway point that cinematography school students should bear in mind: just because a movie is devoid of color doesn’t mean it has to be devoid of potent symbolism, and a cinematographer working in black and white should execute their ideas boldly and with confidence.
And as Spielberg showed us, we don’t have to dogmatically stick to one approach or the other. Although it’s technically more challenging to only highlight certain props or characters with vibrant color while all else is in grayscale, the resulting effect can be extremely compelling as we saw in the first Sin City movie:
As long as the filmmaker is armed with a good screenplay, a talented team and a dose of confidence, black and white filming—when appropriate—can add a very complex atmosphere to a production, and can also lend an air of reverence to the subject matter when done right. A case in point is last year’s compelling A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night—of the choice to film the vampire flick solely in black and white, critic Drew Taylor writes: “[the movie gives] the impression that you’re witnessing something iconic and important unfold before you.”
A study in how to create an atmosphere if ever there was one:
In short, as long as you’ve got the preliminary substance, shooting in black and white can deliver the style. But more than anything, it’s knowing when to shoot in black and white—all of the both are great examples of this, but there are some occasions where it becomes superfluous…