Become A Cinematographer


Filmmaking is a hard and expensive occupation to pursue. There are so many departments to pick from and each requires a degree of knowledge that proves to be difficult. Knowing how to do aerial shots from the sky and smooth movements on the ground requires knowledge, skill and patience. Picture profiles are very important and bring out a mood in a film. Many people take films for granted, thinking that the products are easy to create, but this remains incorrect. In order to be successful in film, a cinematographer needs to take film to a new level with cinematic lighting, professional equipment, camera movements and know how to be creative with aerials.

I have been making films since 2011 and I have to say, it’s hard. There are so many barriers to entry with equipment expenses, legal paper work, skill needs, education needs, connections and so much more. I have learned that there is so much to know about cinematography and it will take years to become even just good at it. It took a great amount of dedication to get to where I am, and even now, I still have so much to learn. Cinematography has a vast learning curve and I know that sometimes it can be daunting. Passion is the only thing that will pull you through. It is so hard to break into the business, but with passion, success is promising.

I have had to practice all the knowledge I own or else I could forget. Filming with drones, jibs, expensive gear and a multitude of different departments, I can get a better grip on cinematography and start producing some major films. As I have slowly gather more and more equipment, I have started to know the do’s and don’ts with films. With more and more time put into my career I have a better chance with larger productions.

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Drones, an innovation that has taken the world captive faster than most of the latest trends, is now owned by the average picture taker who can capture the most stunning aerial shots. However, this has not completely removed the need for skill for the best flight patterns. Flying drones still requires practice in order to produce great videos and when one knows how to control them and what add-ons will further improve their results, flying these aerial cameras will become more of a revenue than just a hobby. When flying drones, camera movement remains a defining factor on whether it would make the cut. I’m not just talking about moving the camera’s position with the drone, but also rotating the camera on its roll, tilt, and pan axis. Moving on this axis, the operator must position the subjects and landscape correctly in the frame.

Camera stabilization can take films to a professional level that can only be done with high end expensive equipment. Gimbals and steadicams remove the jolts and bumps as well as give the camera smooth and precise movements. Most of the time, cinematographers will use this for long scenes or where there requires movement from one room to another in one take. This can also be used for speed as one can knock out multiple shots, one after the other without having to do too much resetting. Moving a gimbal around comes easily and the camera is stabilized in every way with powerful motors. A steadicam stabilizes primarily the up and down movement. This system requires more skill, but under certain situations can prove better than a gimbal.

Moving the camera is not just reliant on equipment but also knowing how to achieve the shot and to what effect. Results like this take countless hours of work and more hours of dedication. A director controls the camera to move in slowly towards a subject for a desired feeling or to bring an idea into context. Also, moving the camera with quick actions will bring out the feeling of anger, confusion, or terror. A cinematographer cannot just move the camera; a purpose and meaning is needed. Knowing what shots to take, filmmakers have a more effective product and reach more audiences with a more compelling story. With a wide angle view of the scene, filmmakers will establish the area or show the scene layout from a distance. Stationary close-ups were designed for dialogue but this can be changed depending on the situation. Film is an art, a beautiful creation that is there for the enjoyment of others while at the same time telling stories. An experienced cinematographer will think outside the box and know how to appeal to the viewer.

Lighting has always been one of the most important fundamentals when it comes to cinematography and also one of the main things brought to mind when the word cinematography appears. Without light, there would be no moods, nothing to reveal, and this would be boring. But lighting turns out to not be as simple as pointing a light toward the subject. There are many ways to place the light at different angles to create specific looks. Even different lights will illuminate in their own ways. Color temperature will depend on what the scene and director needs. Jells can be used to cover the lights to cast a desired color. Blue jells will give a cold look or a white color to the subject whereas an orange jell will make the scene warm and happy. Different lights will either cause a harsh or soft light and this will also be where diffusion comes in.

Five basic types of lighting exist in the filmmaking world. Flat is as simple as it sounds. The light is directly in front of the subject and just behind the camera, removing any shadows and making the scene flat. Butterfly is very similar, except the light is positioned a little higher, creating a kind of triangle below the tip of the nose onto the top lip. Loop is next with exactly the same as Butterfly except the light is off to the side about 30 degrees or so. Then there is Rembrandt which remains to be the most common and pleasing to the eye. Being the simplest to carry out, this effect can be achieved with just one light. Split is last where the light shines from the side of the subject at a 90 degree angle. All these lights give off a different look and will cast a stunning result. Flat results in a more beautiful look whereas Split will appear more dramatic. Rembrandt shows as more cinematic but with extra emotion. Just these five ways of lighting can change the look of a film drastically (Ward).

Jibs and Cranes become very handy in a creative sense where they allow cinematographers to achieve very high shots without sacrificing movement. They add a dynamic option which contributes to the beauty of cinematography. Mainly they are used for establishing an area, but they can be used more carefully. On many occasions, Jibs have been used as a form of storytelling intended to tell a specific message. As a result, there are many films today which contain complex, dynamic scenes which move the camera from low to high or visa versa. The primary use for a jib is height. Many rules in film affect the choice of why you would use a jib, but the main reason is to have a high sweeping shot to give the scene depth or a giant or big feel. Moving the camera very slowly from high to low as characters walk toward the viewers will not only establish the shot, but also slowly close in on the conversation to give the sense of progression (Hooper).

Spice up the set with extra fog or props. Making the set look more pleasing and appropriate for the scene can go a long way. But decorating a location is not just determined by how it looks to the eyes, but primarily by what the camera sees as it will capture the look of the light, smoke, and anything else differently. So just because it looks great to the eye, it may look very awkward through the lens. Effect or emotion remains one of the primary reasons to dress a set. Normally, the cinematographer looks to either create a creepy feel with fog in a house, a dreamy feel with warm lighting or some other creative look. The cinematography world takes a lot of creativity to achieve the look needed. Often, cinematography is figuring out on location how things will be done. It is different with every shoot (Hardy).

Planned set dressing can be very rewarding. Many times filmmakers have to be prepared to decorate a scene that they will be shooting. Set dressing also include the clothes of the actors. Clothing color and style will tell a very significant amount of detail about the character. It will also cause the audience to ignore the character’s input or drawing attention to them.

Picture profiles are vital for a film’s success which is not only measured by its profit, but mainly by how it moved the audience. A large part of this includes the picture profile. What is a picture profile? Simplified, it is the color, style, temperature, and look of the image. This will change depending on the camera as well as the environment’s temperature, time of day, or weather. This is why many filmmakers say that you should not just get one camera; instead, use the camera that best suits one’s needs and vision. Many people ask what camera they should get. Filmmaking rests mainly on the phrase, ‘It all depends.’ For example, if a film contains many night scenes, you might want to choose a low light camera such as the Sony A7sii. On the other hand, filmmakers could choose the Panasonic Lumix GH4 for its profile but they would have to use the right lighting since it will not perform as well in dark areas as the Sony A7sii. It all depends on the situation to achieve a specific picture profile. Many times, one camera can adapt to many situations, and this causes the decision to be harder to make between cameras (Hurlbut).

The Black Magic 4K Ursa is a great example of how someone would choose a camera. It is specific in its ISO (sensor sensitivity) settings. At 200 ISO, the shadows on skin tones seem too dark or unnatural. If this is changed to 400 ISO, the skin looks more natural and clear. Now, obviously the lighting and other factors played a part in this, but overall, ISO 200 on the 4K Ursa is not the best. Shane Hurlbut puts it this way, “I know I hit this color grade a little too hard here, but I did not like the 200 ISO overall” (Hurlbut). This is a great example of using a camera specific to its needs to achieve the right look as 200 ISO could be used in a situation with specific conditions that would look strange any other way (Hurlbut).

Aiming for success, a cinematographer must be dedicated to understanding cinematic lighting, professional equipment, camera movements and know how to be creative with aerials. Educated in set dressing, cinematographers will have a better chance of appealing to the culture, while at the same time, telling a story. Without a doubt, this will produce a lovely result. Depending on what a cinematographer envisions for a scene, the type of lighting will vary and so will the equipment. In order to succeed and receive a worthwhile reward, a creative cinematographer needs to show dedication in his job and love his work with a passion.

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