How To’s

How to Style Your Cinematography like Steven Spielberg

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.

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. 

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.

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Cinematography Jobs: How to Shoot Stylish Wedding Videos

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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How to Incorporate Your GoPro in Your Cinematography

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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

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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

 

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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.

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How To Implement An Alluring Color Design Scheme

Color is a seemingly magical tool, and a hugely important asset in the cinematographer’s toolbox for conveying a particular mood and eliciting the desired emotions in a movie’s audience.

Of course, it isn’t really magic—the science behind which colors work well together on film and the effects they create are taught at cinematography school 101, and the theory behind color design is well established at this point in the history of cinema.

That said, it’s always good to refresh that knowledge from time to time, especially since it’s an integral part of effective filmmaking. Today, we’ll be looking at:

Color Design in Film: 5 Important Things to Consider

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1. Know This Well

The color wheel above is an iconic representation of the red, yellow, blue—or subtractive—color model, and is an essential concept in pretty much any field of the visual arts and cinematography is no exception.

Learn this like the back of your hand, though there’s no harm in keeping a reference card in your field kit bag. Or pinned up in the edit room. Or superglued to the back of the assistant DP’s head. Everywhere, really.

But equally important is knowing what to do with it. Moving on to:

2. Color Temperature

Looking back to the color wheel, you’ll see that colors running clockwise 90 to 270 degrees—i.e. the right-hand side—are predominantly warmer than those on the left-hand side. The upshot of this is that scenes which feature warmer colors are more lively and energetic, while the ‘cooler’ colors give the impression of stillness, and calm and somberness when applied to film.

It’s a fairly basic principle, but the results of applying warm and cold colors effectively really do speak for themselves. Check out this scene from The Dark Knight, which features a heavy amount of graytones and cobalt blue and the effect it has on the overall mood:

Notice also in the above scene that the cold colors play very well against the fire and blood. Given that you won’t want to just use either warm and cold palettes all the time, let’s explore…

3. Creating Contrast With Opposing Colors

Any two colors that lie opposite each other on the color wheel can be used together to create a real vibrancy to a scene, particularly when it comes to pairing a warm and a cool color. A good demonstration of this can be found in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi—really, any Ang Lee movie viewed with a cinematographer’s eye will teach you volumes about effective color design:

You’ll likely have to carefully balance saturation and contrast in the editing suite when putting together two very vibrant and opposite colors, but the payoff can be more than worth the time it takes to get it right. That all said…

4. Know When to Dial It Back

Just because two or more colors work well together doesn’t mean you necessarily have to push them to the limit and oversaturate them. In fact, sometimes the best color design can be found in moderation.

If you think back on any of Tim Burton’s movies, you’ll notice they have the strange knack of giving the impression of both vivid color as well as a macabre, washed-out look… all at the same time.

It’s an exceptionally clever trick, mainly achieved by keeping most of the key characters and majority of the scenery on a grayscale but applying bright color design to secondary elements (almost the reverse of common convention.) Here’s a clip from the iconic Edward Scissorhands:

And finally…

5. Mix & Match

While all of the above can be considered conventional wisdom, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel free to experiment with color combinations. A lot of great cinematography has been born out of experimentation, so bend the rules and see what happens—using colder colors for a romantic scene to create a contrasting and jarring effect, for instance, or mixing two colors that don’t typically work in order to make the cinematography feel alien and unsettling.

Your experimentation won’t always work, but there’s certainly no harm in trying (and the more you discover what doesn’t work, the more you’ll intuitively get a handle on what does.)

NYFA’s Mike Williamson On Cinematography And How To Find Work After School

Mike WIlliamson Associate Chair of Cinematography at NYFA

NYFA: Would you mind telling us about your background and what drew you to a career in cinematography? What was your film education like?

Mike Williamson:   My love of cinema began in high school where I was lucky enough to have a humanities class where I got to see many of the classic silent films like Metropolis and The Passion of Joan of Arc. I connected with the incredible images in those films, and that is probably where I realized that a film could be a work of art. I continued by studying film history at the University of Michigan, again I was fortunate enough to be in a good program that required us to make films as well as study them. I was drawn to the camera and I discovered that I had a talent for telling stories visually. After shooting a number of short films, I moved out to Los Angeles to study cinematography at the American Film Institute. I felt it was important to find a good program in Los Angeles, and I knew that meeting people at school would help me transition to a new city and give me the contacts I’d need when I started working professionally.

NYFA: In addition to learning the technical demands of cameras and lighting and gaining hands-on on-set experience, what else do you feel is essential to one’s cinematography education? Do you think cinematography students benefit from gaining a solid foundation in the different facets of filmmaking, such as directing, writing, editing, etc.?

MW: You want to feel confident in the fundamentals of camera and lighting because that’s the basis for you to be able to say, “I can make this movie.” Once you’re confident in your skills, it’s about your ability to work with everyone else on set and how you handle your relationships. If you have an idea for a great shot, how do you pitch that to the director? If a crew member makes a mistake on set, how do you handle that? The better you understand everyone else’s job, the more successful you’ll be in a major creative position such as cinematographer. Being a cinematographer puts you in a leadership role and I think you need the experience of managing people on smaller projects before anyone is going to hire you to do it on a larger project. These are the things that you get to learn in film school that give you an advantage over someone who has only worked in the entry-level crew positions.

NYFA: Of everything you teach as an instructor of cinematography, is there one essential lesson you try to impart to each aspiring cinematographer?

MW: I tell students that their understanding of the story and their emotional connection to the characters will have a huge impact on how they shoot their films. While it’s important to have a solid plan for how to shoot each scene, you need to be engaged in the scene creatively and emotionally or the photography will suffer. Spending time understanding the script and thinking about the characters is enormously helpful in creating shots that will engage the audience and pull them into the film.

NYFA: You’ve served in a multitude of positions throughout your career, from electrician to gaffer to director of photography. How important is it for aspiring cinematographers to be well-rounded across numerous departments?

MW: Every day that you’re on set, you will learn something (if you’re paying attention). Working as an electrician, I got to see how different DP’s would light a scene, set up shots, talk with the director, interact with the crew and so on. As a gaffer, I got a much deeper understanding of lighting and how to execute specific ideas. Sometimes you’ll see a lighting set-up that you want to use in your own work, sometimes you’ll see someone accidentally insult their director without realizing what they’ve done, so you’re exposed to both good and bad examples. I’ve taken something from each experience, and I’m particularly grateful that I don’t have to make all the mistakes that I’ve seen other DP’s make. I’d also add that being able to work in different crew positions was very valuable early in my career because it allowed me to make a living in the film business straight out of film school. Having a good cinematography education prepared me to work as an electrician, dolly grip, gaffer, and so on. Those jobs kept me in the business so that I could be there when the cinematography jobs came up.

NYFA: What has been a highlight for you in your career as a cinematographer?

MW: Anytime that you get to see one of your films playing to an audience in a theater, it’s always exciting, particularly if it’s a premiere. It sounds simple, but I still get a rush out of it. Having a feature film that I shot premiere at Sundance was a big milestone for me. Shooting 30 Days of Night: Dust to Dust was particularly challenging and I’m proud of the quality of photography that we were able to achieve on a very tough schedule.

NYFA: What advice do you give students in terms of finding work after completing their program or workshop at NYFA? What do you think is the most crucial professional skill one can develop to realize their goals in the industry?

MW: I tell students that their first jobs after school will most likely come from their fellow classmates, so it’s important to be there as a crew member and support them when they’re shooting their projects. We also encourage students to collaborate with directors in the filmmaking program, you need to take advantage of all your opportunities to build your network. As a cinematographer, you need to be meeting directors and producers, the goal is to have a number of people who trust you to shoot their projects and will call you when they get that first big job. You want to be someone that people like to work with, so your attitude on set is critical.

NYFA: How does serving as the DP on a television show—in your case 30 Days of Night: Dust to Dust—differ from working on a short or feature film?

MW: The challenge with a TV series is that you’re trying to achieve the same photographic quality as a feature, but the schedules are usually much tighter. There are so many great things happening in television these days, aside from great scripts, we’re seeing cinematography that’s much more daring and bold than what would have been acceptable on TV five years ago. So as a DP, it’s an exciting time to be working in TV, but you have to be prepared for a very demanding set of circumstances. To succeed on this kind of schedule you need a number of skills. You have to be able to pre-visualize your lighting and create lighting diagrams so that your crew can pre-light large sets, you need to plan coverage that incorporates multiple cameras, and you need to manage a large crew (and possibly multiple shooting units). The more complex the shoot, the more it will test your planning skills as well as your photographic abilities.

NYFA: Having worked on a wide range of productions, what is the one constant you’ve found in how one should conduct his or herself on set?

MW: Regardless of what anyone else is doing or the attitude that they bring to the set, you need to do your best work every day. Your level of commitment can’t be dependent on anyone else, you need to be professional and invested in the work no matter what.

NYFA: How do you help students to develop their unique cinematographic voice? How did you develop your own?

MW: Like most people, I started to develop my own voice by studying and imitating the work of cinematographers that I admired. I think it’s important to study different examples of great filmmaking, it helps you to develop your own taste and it broadens your idea of what’s possible. From there, you try to emulate the work that you admire: you recreate a particular shot, you try to figure out how someone lit a particular scene, you try to capture a certain moment the way that they did. Oddly enough, when you copy something, you end up seeing the differences between your scene and the one you’re emulating. Invariably the two will be different and you’ll have made the scene your own in some way. As you do this and the tools and techniques become more familiar to you, then they become part of your arsenal and you can use them in new ways.

NYFA: Do you have any parting words of advice for students and aspiring cinematographers?

Keep shooting! Being a cinematographer is an amazing job, and it takes time to master all the skills that you need to make beautiful images. Be patient with yourself and shoot everything you can!

Mike Williamson is the Associate Chair of Cinematography at the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus.

How To Work Your Way Up To Director of Photography

Cinematographer at work on set

A lot of film students learn the hard way that more often or not you don’t just become a professional director—like most careers, you have to work your way up the ladder. What many might not realize is that it’s almost just as hard to reach the ladder’s second highest rung—the Director of Photography. There are a few different routes one can take (unless it’s a really cheap shoot and you can win the position just by owning your camera) but most of these paths have several difficult steps before they take you to the top cinematographic spot.

Like most paths to any position in filmmaking, the lowest spot on the totem pole is the production assistant. On-set PAs will work for any and all departments, including those overseen by the Director of Photography—the camera, lighting & electric, and the grip departments. Much of a PA’s time will be spent getting everyone else their coffee. It might not feel anything like what you had in mind when you decided you wanted to make movies, but a PA is as much a part of the team as anyone else, and while their work may go unnoticed, it does not go unappreciated. By working hard, being friendly and likeable, and networking with those around them, PAs can find work on subsequent shoots, and eventually a promotion.

The Camera Department

It goes without saying that many DPs come from the camera department. As with all the departments on set, the specific responsibilities of each position depend entirely on the size and nature of the shoot. Generally speaking, though, there are three primary positions in the camera department: the camera operator, the first assistant camera, and the second assistant camera.

The camera operator is the individual physically working behind the camera, their eye in the viewfinder. While some DPs prefer to work the camera themselves, it is usually to their advantage that someone trusted does it for them while they watch the shot from a monitor or with her or his own naked eye, getting a better sense of the shot. Since the camera operator is one of the few positions a DP may want for his or herself, it goes without saying that many have made a direct jump from here to cinematographer.

The first assistant camera, sometimes called the focus puller, is responsible for several tasks besides its namesake. 1st ACs keep the camera department’s equipment clean, which involves “checking the gate,” the tedious but all-important process of removing a lens and cleaning the inner workings of the camera of any hair or dust or broken pieces of film. Even on digital shoots, 1st ACs must make sure the CCD is operating at full capacity in order to produce the best possible shot. Focus pulling is a skill that can require years if not decades of practice. An out-of-focus shot is a blemish on the record of any camera department and therefore one of the most important jobs on set. An expert 1st AC is a gift for any film set, and carries a reputation that could easily earn them the DP spot on their next project.

The second assistant camera, occasionally called the clapper loader, is typically in charge of loading the film and keeping track of all camera reports and paperwork. Keeping with this, the 2nd AC also slates each take. They also make marks for actors and measure distance for the focus puller.

There is not as much hierarchy within a given department as one might think. For the most part, most positions are at an equal standing, all reporting either to the head of the department or the Director of Photography directly. (On a strictly professional set, nobody should ever communicate with the director, everyone must interact up the food chain through the appropriate channels.) Even a position such as first assistant technically has no authority over the second assistant—they just have different, equally important duties.

It take years to become skilled at any one position. Many people have made very successful careers out of exclusively being a 1st AC, camera operator, etc. For those with an ambition and calling for the DP spot, though, the camera department is a great place to climb the ladder.

The Lighting & Electric Department

A member of the electric and lighting crew

A strong DP will usually choose the look he wants after discussing it with the director in private. He will relay this to his crew, who, if they are dedicated and competent can then find that look without any further input from the DP. This may seem counterintuitive, but the DP is after all the Director of Photography, and his job is to direct the crew, not micromanage them. An efficient camera operator will know what lenses to use to achieve the DPs frame. And a good lighting department will know what type of lights and where to place them without having to ask the DP, who should be more focused on the bigger, creative picture.

That makes the head of the lighting department, the gaffer, a very important position for shooting a film. A gaffer and his crew may also be called electricians, but this is mostly nominal because of the voltage and amperage the team must work with in order to maintain the power-hungry film lights. While the job is very technical, the gaffer must have an artistic bent as well, a way with lighting that may take years to develop in order to achieve a certain look with the tools at hand. This makes the gaffer a close ally of the DP, and a logical preceding step to the position.

The lighting department is more hierarchical than the camera department, with assistant gaffers reporting directly to the department head. However, another important position is the best boy electric, the gaffer’s direct assistant, a foreman for the entire department. The best boy manages the crew itself and their workplace, paperwork, loading and unloading and maintaining equipment, and coordinates with the other departments. On location scouts and other second unit work, the best boy can even fill in for the gaffer. While it’s rare for best boys to make the immediate jump to DP, they are a hair’s breadth from the gaffer position and therefore one more step closer to being Director of Photography.

The Grip Department

Grips set up a dolly

The grip department is similarly structured to lighting & electric. It is headed by the Key Grip, who helps achieve the director and DP’s vision by utilizing the appropriate equipment needed. The grip department is in charge of all non-lighting and non-camera equipment, like flags and C-stands and bounce boards. This equipment not only shapes the light for a scene but also helps the camera achieve its intended frames. As a department head that directly works with the cinematographer, the Key Grip is another direction from which someone could make the jump to DP.

The larger a shoot, the more grips it will employ, grips who could work their way up to the best boy grip, a position very similar to its lighting & electric equivalent. The grip department also includes positions that work closely with the camera department, such as the dolly grip and crane operator. These positions, while lower on the totem pole than others, work closely with the camera and therefore come into contact with the DP more than other lower-level grips. It may be difficult to jump right to the top from these positions, but they are a step or two closer than other grips and another option to consider when plotting a course to the top.

Networking

No matter where you’re coming from or where you’re looking to advance, networking is very important. Once you head a department or work closely with the DP in another capacity, you must build and maintain that relationship. Someone who has made the journey before you has the best perspective for you to learn from. This presents a tricky balance as the DP is your ally but also your future competition in an industry with far less high-quality shoots than high-quality craftsmen and artists. You will compete directly with your former boss for jobs, and every DP who makes a recommendation knows this. It is only through a good working relationship and hard-earned respect that a DP will recommend you to producers and directors for one of their projects.

Or you could go to those directors and producers yourself, networking and building relationships with those you come into contact with through your current and previous positions. The 1st Assistant Director especially is a crew position that directly represents the interests of the producers funding the project and that also works closely with department heads and best boys. A strong relationship with your AD can help you make the case with those signing the paychecks that you should be their next DP.

No matter what path you choose and what relationships you cultivate, a good attitude, a strong work ethic, and an artistic ambition are all needed for you to work your way up to Director of Photography. At NYFA, our 2-Year Photography program helps students build that foundation.

How To Be A Better Cinematographer: 5 Ways You Can Develop Killer “Cinematographer’s Eye”

Just as a comedian has the ability to see humor in every day scenarios, a cinematographer is able to see hidden beauty and storytelling elements in a scene. It’s an art form like any other and shares a number of skill sets common to conventional photography, and developing what’s known as the “cinematographer’s eye” is practically essential when it comes to taking your movie projects to the next level.

How to Develop Cinematographer's eye

And cinematography is a skill that can be learned and improved upon, no matter what your current level of experience. If you want to grow in leaps and bounds, here are five essential things you should study in order to advance your craft.

1. Study Silent Film

When you’ve only got visuals to work with, you’d better make sure your visuals are damned good.

That’s precisely why the silent film era is a great go-to source for examples of how filmmakers got the most out of their cinematography, rather than using it as an afterthought. A fine place to start would be with G.W. Pabst (who we’ve analyzed previously), but here are a few more that are worth delving into:

  • Charlie Chaplin (obviously)
  • D.W. Griffith
  • King Vidor
  • Erich Von Stroheim
  • Cecil DeMille
  • Fritz Lang
  • F.W. Murnau

In fact, try making a silent short yourself – it doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but tying your right hand behind your back is a surefire way to develop a killer left hook.

2. Study Cinematography

Sounds obvious, right? If you want to get good at cinematography, you should study the craft of cinematography. Unfortunately, it’s something which many filmmakers—both professionals and hobbyists—either put on the back burner or worse, ignore entirely.

Cinematographer's eye

There’s nothing wrong with learning by doing or picking up experience out in the field, but couple this time spent at an intensive cinematography school, and you’ll be able to get deeper into the subject a lot quicker. Even if you’re not actively involved in cinematography duties while on set (or it’s not something you’re looking to break into), a cinematography program can help bring you up to speed on what the cinematographer actually does, helping you to work as a much more unified team.

3. Study Your Equipment

This goes for any role in the production team, but a cinematographer in particular needs to be a jack of all trades and pretty much a master of them all, too (particularly on smaller productions in which the director and cinematographer is usually one and the same).

In particular, a good cinematographer is one who knows every single camera and piece of lighting equipment on set, inside and out. Your job will be to translate the thoughts and instructions of the director—which might not necessarily be overly articulate—into real life results. Naturally, you’ll only be able to do that effectively if you know exactly how to manipulate your tools; coaching those enlisted to help you to do the same is also paramount, so be prepared to brush up on your coaching skills while on set.

Cinematography equipment

Essentially, all this boils down to skills in both communication and technology, so there’s no substitute for getting elbows-deep in theory and doing your reading. It may sound dull, but you’ll want to memorize every page of every instruction manual of every camera you’re likely to use, and then put this learning into practice with every lens you can get your hands on at every chance you get.

Same goes for lighting equipment and techniques, but at the same time, don’t try and stick too close to the book either. Sounds paradoxical, but every set and situation will be different—you can’t force a square peg into a round hole, so make sure you keep a spirit of innovation and problem-solving around you at all times. You’ll be surprised at the number of techniques you’ll pick up (and possibly even invent) through experimentation.

4. Study Photography… With No Humans in It

Photographing human subjects is easy (comparatively speaking), given that there’s a definite object to frame and that the object itself is malleable by the photographer.

Take the human out of the shot, however, and it’s not immediately clear what the subject is (or should be).

Photographer's Eye

That’s where the cinematographer’s eye comes in; identifying why the shot is important and needs to be taken in the first place, followed by how best to tease out all of the relevance and show it in the best light. As such, a lot of good instruction on framing and composition can be gleaned from such photography and instantly applied to filmmaking; some of the most expensive photos ever sold don’t depict living subjects, and there’s plenty of inspiration out there to draw from.

5. Study Graphic Novels

Think that comics books are a waste of time and can’t teach you how to frame a shot?

Graphic novel cinematography

Enough said.

 

How To Shoot A Feature Film On An iPhone

It’s no secret that filmmaking can be an expensive pursuit, especially when you’re looking to invest in a full set of shooting equipment. Although the entry-level prices for cameras, lenses, lighting and sound equipment are becoming more affordable, it can still add up to a sizeable sum.

This raises the question: how cheap can you go while maintaining a professional sheen to your film, and is it even possible to shoot an iPhone feature film?

iPhone feature film tips

The short answer is: yes!

The longer answer is: yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than just pointing and shooting.

Today, we’re going to unpack the longer answer and teach you How To Shoot A Feature Film On An iPhone.

Creating an iPhone Feature Film: What’s Achievable

Firstly, it’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with using an iPhone while working on set (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise). Whether it be for framing shots, getting quick takes or multiple angles, or simply for back-up purposes, one of the fundamentals taught at cinematography school is to always have a secondary camera on set. For many, a smartphone will suffice and may be the only thing within budget. Even if expensive secondary cameras are readily available, many seasoned professionals will attest to the usefulness of keeping one handy while on set.

Secondly, we know that an iPhone feature film is possible because it’s already been done a few times to great effect:

As can be seen from the above, there are quite a few benefits to shooting with such a compact camera and, in certain scenarios, can outweigh many of the disadvantages. If you’re looking to follow in their footsteps and craft your own iPhone feature film, there are some things to bear in mind:

1. iPhones are not the only camera phones.

Although we’re guilty of using the ubiquitous term iPhone here to describe any quality phone with a camera, obviously other smart phones are out there and many of them trump the iPhone’s specifications.

iPhone feature film

Courtesy Gizmag.com

As any cinematographer knows, it’s not just about the megapixels so you’ll want to do some research into the final details before making your choice, but it certainly doesn’t have to be an iPhone. Speaking of which…

2. Consider Your Storage Options

While the iPhone does feature 64Gb of storage on the pricier models – which is currently unsurpassed by any other smart phone – it doesn’t have the option to increase this with the use of SD cards, unlike Samsung’s Galaxy line.

Courtesy Gizmag.com

Courtesy Gizmag.com

Depending on the scope of your project, this could be a real kicker; there’s nothing worse than traveling 200 miles to shoot at a remote location, only to run out of space on the phone within an hour of shooting. Of course, this can be remedied by backing up the footage on the fly to a laptop (which is also useful for keeping the phone juiced up), but this may be a clunky solution for some.

3. Get a Lens Kit

If you’re shooting a full feature-length movie with a phone, getting a lens kit is practically essential for improving the overall look and feel of the footage. Aside from enhancing the quality, it’ll also give you options when you’re out shooting in the field in terms of fish-eye, wide and macro angles. There are even mounts which allow you to hook up your Canon EOS or Nikon SLR lenses right onto the iPhone, emulating a true DSLR experience while shooting.

iphone-telephoto-lens-a36c_600.0000001297643131

A lens kit won’t set you back too much, with many of the quality kits sitting in the $40-$100 range.

4. It’s All in the Render

Given that the footage you take on your iPhone isn’t going to come close to anything taken on a 4k studio camera, don’t compound the problem by compressing it in the editing sweet.

aeproblem

Render all of your editing in the highest bit rate available and in a loss-less format, and be wary of how post-processed effects may affect the quality.

5. Don’t Neglect the Sound

Although you can cut many corners when shooting an iPhone feature film and save a considerable amount on the final budget, one area which you should probably avoid scrimping on is the sound.

PeakStudioTracks

It isn’t too costly to make sure the soundtrack of your otherwise inexpensive iPhone feature film sounds great, but a poor soundtrack will really detract from the entire product.

Make the sound your number one priority (at least in terms of production), and the rest will follow.

Final Thoughts

Creating an iPhone feature film is already a possibility, and the practise is likely to rise in prevalence as camera phone specifications increase with newer models. It won’t work with every genre – think ‘found footage’ movies and gonzo documentaries rather than space operas – and you may have to use a little ingenuity to get the best results…

… but isn’t that what cinematography is all about?