Blog

Cinematography
,

Cinematography

INTRODUCTION

Often times, cinematographers are artists with experience in painting and photography.

The Director of Photography (DOP), also known as the cinematographer, works closely with the director and interprets the action of the story in terms of light, shade, composition, and camera movement. Other responsibilities include selecting the type of lenses to be used for a shot, which influences the appearance of the image, and determining the camera position and angle. The DOP rarely operates the camera directly; this function usually falls to a camera operator.

CINEMATIC TERMINOLOGIES

Here are some “Jargons” to get you started in Cinematography:

SHOT: All video is made up of shots. A shot is basically from when you press “record” to when you stop recording. Like the individual photos which make up an album, the shots get put together to make a video.

FRAMING & COMPOSITION: The Frame is the picture you see in the viewfinder (or on a monitor). Composition refer to the layout of everything within a picture frame- what the subject is, where it is in the frame, which way it is facing/looking, the background, the foreground, lighting etc.

When you frame a shot, you adjust the camera position and zoom lens until your shot has the desired composition.

TRANSITION: Shots are linked (edited) in a sequence to tell a large story. The way in which any two shots are joined together is called the transition.

PAN: Side-to-side camera movement.

TILT: Up-and-down camera movement.

ZOOM: In-and-out camera movement (i.e closer and more distant)

IRIS (exposure): The opening which lets light into the camera. A wider Iris means more light and a brighter picture.

WHITE BALANCE: Adjusting the colours until they look natural and consistent.

SHUTTER: Analogous to the shutter in a still camera.

AUDIO: Sound which is recorded to go with the pictures.

 

 

 

 

BASIC CAMERA FUNCTIONS

Most domestic camcorders can do just about everything automatically. All you have to do is turn them on, point, and press record. In most situations this is fine, but automatic functions has some serious limitations. If you want to improve your camera work, you must learn to take control of your camera. This means using manual functions. In fact, professional cameras have very few automatic functions, and professional camera operators would never normally use auto-focus or auto-iris.

This is where most beginners ask “why not? My auto-focus works fine and my pictures seem to look okay”. There are two answers:

1.Although auto functions usually perform well enough, there will be some situations they can’t cope with (e.g bad lighting conditions). In these circumstances, you may be faced with unusable footage unless you can take manual control. More commonly your shots will be usable, but poor quality. (e.g going in and out of focus).

2.Your camera can’t know what you want. To get the best result, or obtain a particular effect, it is often necessary to override auto function and go manual.

As you learn more about camera work you will begin to appreciate the better results gained through manual functions.

ZOOM

This is the function which moves your point of view closer to, or further away from, the subject. The effect is similar to moving the camera closer or further away.

Note that the further you zoom in, the more difficult it is to keep the picture steady. In some cases you can move the camera closer to the subject and then zoom out so you have basically the same framing. For long zooms you should use a tripod. Zooming is the function everyone loves. It’s easy and you can do lots with it, which is why it’s so over-used. The most common advice we give on using the zoom is use it less. It works well in moderation, but too much zooming is tiring of the audience.

FOCUS

Auto-focus is strictly for ARMATEURS. Unlike still photography, there is no way auto-focus can meet the needs of a serious video camera operator.

Many people find manual focus difficult, but if you want to be any good at all, good focus control is essential.

Professional cameras usually have a manual focus ring at the front of the lens housing. Turn the ring clockwise for closer focus, anti-clockwise for more distant focus. Consumer cameras have different types of focus mechanisms- usually a small dial.

To obtain the best focus, zoom in as close as you can on the subject you wish to focus on, adjust the ring until the focus is sharp, then zoom out to the required framing.

IRIS

This is an adjustable opening (aperture), which controls the amount of light coming through the lens (i,e the “exposure”). As the open the iris, more comes in and the picture appears brighter.

Professional cameras have an Iris ring on the lens housing, which you turn clockwise to close and anti-clockwise to open. Consumer-level cameras either use a dial or a set of buttons.

The rule of thumb for Iris control is: Set your exposure for the subject. Other parts of the picture can be too bright or dark, as long as the subject is easy to see.

WHITE BALANCE

White balance means colour balance. It’s a function which tells the camera what each colour should look like, by giving it a “true White” reference. If the camera knows what white looks like, then it will know what all other colours look like.

This function is normally done automatically by consumer-level cameras without the operator even being aware of it’s existence. It actually works very well in most situations, but there will be some conditions that the auto-white won’t like. In these conditions, the colours will seem wrong or unnatural.

To perform a white balance, point the camera at something matt (non-reflective) white in the same light as the object, and frame it so that most or the entire picture is white. Set your focus and exposure, the press the “whit balance” button (or throw the switch). There should be some indicator in the viewfinder which tells you when the white balance has completed. If it doesn’t work, try adjusting the iris, changing filters, or finding something else white to balance on.

You should do white balance regularly, especially when lighting conditions change (e.g moving between indoors and outdoors).

AUDIO

Virtually all consumer cameras come with built-in microphones, usually hi-fi stereo. These work fine, and are all you need for most general work.

Getting better results with audio is actually quite difficult and is a whole subject in itself. More of this will be handled at SCRIPT to SCREEN. Meanwhile, you just need to be aware that audio is very important, and as such shouldn’t be overlooked.

If you’re keen, try plugging an external microphone into the “mic input” socket of your camera (if it has one). There are two reasons why you might want to do this:

1.You may have a mic which is more suited for the kind of work you are doing than the camera’s in-built mic. Often, the better mic will simply be mounted on top of the camera.

2.You might need to have the mic in a different position to the camera.

The level at which your audio is recorded is important. Most cameras have an “auto-gain control”, which adjusts the audio level automatically. Consumer-level cameras are usually set up like this, and it works well in most situations. If you have a manual audio-level control, it’s a good idea to learn how to use it (…more on this at SCRIPT to SCREEN).

If possible, try to keep the background (ambient) noise level more or less consistent. This adds smoothness to the flow of the production. Of course some shots will require sudden changes in ambient audio for effect.

Listen to what people are saying and build it into the video. Try not to start and finish shots while someone is talking- there is nothing worse than a video full of half-sentences.

Be very wary of background music while shooting- this can result in music that jumps every time the shot changes, like listen to a badly scratched record. If you can, turn the music right down or off.

One more thing… be careful of wind noise. Even the slightest breeze can ruin your audio. Many cameras have a “low-cut filter”, sometimes referred to as a “wind-noise filter” or something similar. These do help, but a better solution is to block the wind.

SHUTTER

At the beginning level you don’t really need to use the shutter, but bit deserves a quick mention. It has various applications, most notably for sports or fast-action footage. The main advantage is that individual frames appear sharper (critical for slow motion replays). The main disadvantage is that motion appears more jerky.

Shutter can also be used to help control exposure. More on this at SCRIPT to SCREEN (see www.dhfilmacademy.com for more info).

EFFECTS

Many consumer cameras come with a selection of built-in digital effects, such as digital still, mix, sreobe etc. These can be very cool, or they can be very clumsy and tacky. They require dedicated experimentation to get right. Like so many things in video, moderation is the key: use them if you have a good reason to, but don’t over do it, not at all for movies.

You should also be aware that almost every effect you can create with a camera can be done better with editing software. If at all possible, shoot your footage “dry” (without effects) and add effects later.

Remember: Although it is sometimes the more practical solution to use automatic features, as a general rule you should do as many camera operations manually as you can.

PLANNING IN CAMERA WORK

This is the most important step, and perhaps the most difficult to master, It should be where most of your energy is directed. Camera work is only one skill in a large process. To be good at camera work, you must have a clear picture of the whole process, and some idea about what the finished product should look like and sound like.

If there’s one thing that separates the amateurs from the pros, it that amateur “point and shoot”, whereas pros “plan and shoot”. Planning is everything.

For general camera work, you can divide your plan into two parts: The “Shoot Plan” and the “Shot Plan”.

Shoot Plan

In this case, the word shot refers to a shooting session. If you think of everything you record as being part of a shoot, and have a plan for every shoot, then you’re well on the way to having better organised footage.

First of all, be clear about the purpose of every shoot. Generally speaking. Everything you do should be working towards a general plan. Exactly what this is will depend on many factors.

1.If you’re making a feature film, then the long term plan is to gather all the shots required by the script/storyboard.

2.If you’re creating home videos, the long term plan might be to create a historical archive for future generations.

Planning means adopting an attitude in which you take control. When you get out your video camera, instead of thinking “This will look good on video” and starting to shoot whatever happens, think “What do I want this to look like on video?”. You then shoot the action to achieve your goal.

Plan the approximate length of the shoot: How much footage do you need to end up with, and how long will it take you to get it?

Shot Plan

Once you have a plan for your shooting session, you’re ready to begin planning individual shots.

First of all, have a reason for every shot. Ask yourself, what am I trying to achieve with this shot? Is this shot even necessary? Have I already got a shot that is essentially the same as this one?

Once you’re happy that you have a good reason to get the shot, think about the best way to get it. Consider different angles, framing etc. The art of good composition takes time to master, but with time you will get there.

Ask yourself what information you wish to convey to your audience through this shot, and make sure you capture it in a way that they will understand.

Take the time to get each shot right, especially if it’s an important one. If necessary, get a few different versions of the shot so you can choose the best one later.

Also. For post editing, leave at least % seconds of pictures at the beginning and end of each shot. This is required by editing equipment, and also acts as a safety buffer. Finally, one more piece of advice: before planning or shooting anything, imagine watching it completed.

 

FRAMING

Shots are all about composition. Rather than pointing the camera at the subject, you need to compose an image. As mentioned earlier, framing is the process of creating composition.

Notes:

1.Framing technique is very subjective. What one person finds dramatic, another may find pointless. What we’re looking at here are a few accepted industry guidelines which you should use as rules of thumb.

2.The rules of framing video images are the same as those for still photography.

3.

SOME RULES OF FRAMING

1.Look for horizontal and vertical lines in the frame (e.g the horizons, poles). Make sure the horizontals are level, and the verticals are straight up and down (unless of course you’re purposely going for a tilted effect).

2.The Rule Of Thirds. The rule divides the frame into nine sections. Points (or lines) of interest should occur at 1/3 or 2/3 of the way up (or across) the frame, rather than in the centre.

3.“Headroom”, “Looking room”, and “Leading room”:

These terms refer to the amount of room in the frame which is strategically left empty. The shot of the baby crawling has some leading room for him to crawl into. Without this empty space, the framing will look uncomfortable.

Headroom is the amount of space between the top of the subject’s head and the top of the frame. A common mistake in amateur video is to have far too much headroom, which doesn’t look good and wastes frame space. In any “person shot” tighter than a MS, there should be very little headroom.

4.Everything in your frame is important, not just the subject. What does the background look like? What’s the lighting like? Is there anything in the frame which is going to be distracting or disrupt the continuity of the video?

Pay attention to the edges of your frame. Avoid having half objects in the frame, especially people (showing half of someone’s face is very unflattering). Also try not to cut people off at the joints- the bottom of the frame can cut across a person’s stomach, but no their knees. It just doesn’t look right.

Once you’re comfortable with the do’s and don’ts, you can become more creative. Think about the best way to convey the meaning of the shot. If it’s a baby crawling, get down on the floor and see it from a baby’s point-of-view (POV). If it’s a football game, may be you need to get up high to see all the action..

Look for interesting and unusual shots. Most of your shots will probably be quite “straight” that is, normal shots from approximate adult eye-level. Try mixing a few variations. Different angles and different camera positions can make all the difference. For example a shot can become more dramatic if shot from a low point. One the other hand, a new and interesting perspective can be obtained by looking straight down on the scene. Be aware that looking up at a person can make them appear more imposing, whereas, looking down at a person can diminish them.

When you watch movies, take note of the shot which stand out. There’s a reason why they stand out- it’s all about camera positioning and frame composition. Experiment all the time. (… more on this will be handled at SCRIPT to SCREEN).

BASIC SHOT TYPES

There is a general convention in the video industry which assigns names to the most common type of shots. The names and their exact meaning may vary, but the following examples give a rough guide to the standard descriptions. The point isn’t about knowing the names of the shot types (although it’s very useful), as much as understanding their purpose.

SHOTS

In film, a shot is a continuous strip of motion picture that runs for an uninterrupted period of time. It generally portrays a subject. Shots are generally filed with a single camera, and can be of any duration. A shot can be compared with a word with each frame being a letter, a scene as being a whole sentence, and a sequence as being an entire paragraph or chapter.

The distance from the camera to the subject greatly affects the narrative power of the shots.

As a director of Photography you have many tools and techniques that can shape the look and feel of a film. You can vary a shot’s perspective, lighting, location, or other qualities to achieve certain effects. One powerful way to communicate your vision is through camera angles. Shooting your movie monster from far away, for example, will achieve a very different look than if you were to shoot it up close.

During the planning stages of a film, the director and possibly the director of photography may meet with a storyboard artist to illustrate the flow of shots that will best tell the story. There are a number of camera angles that a director has at his or her disposal. The most common of these are the establishment shot, long shot, medium shot, over-the-shoulder shot, and close-up shot.

Establishment shot

A shot, normally taken from a great distance, or from a “bird’s eye view” that establishes where the action is about to occur.

Long shot

A shot that shows a scene from a distance (but not as great a distance as the establishment shot). The Long shot is used to stress the environment or setting of a scene.

Medium shot

A shot that frames actors, normally from the waist up. The medium shot can be used to focus attention on an interaction between two actors such as a struggle, debate, or embrace.

 

 

Over-the-shoulder shot

The shot of one actor taken from over the shoulder of another actor. An over-the-shoulder shot is use when two actors are interacting face-to-face. Filming over an actor’s shoulder focuses the audiences’ attention on one actor at a time in a conversation rather than the both of them.

Close-up

A shot taken at close range, sometimes only inches away from an actor’s face, a prop, or some other object. The close-up is designed to focus attention on the actor’s expression, to give significance to a certain object, or to direct the object to some other important element of the film

Imagine you are directing a science-fiction film about a monster that is threatening Abuja. You picture the larch monster stumping among the buildings of the city, frightening citizens and wrecking havoc. How can you make this threat seem real to the film viewers? How can you communicate your vision on the screen? THE STORYBOARDS

An Establishment Shot of the city of Abuja.

A long shot of the monster stumping traffic.

A medium shot of two characters discussing a plan

An over-the-shoulder shot of a character in conversation

A close-up of a frightened passerby.

…more on Shot types, Camera movement and angles will be handled at SCRIPT to SCREEN. See www.hdfilmacademy.com for more info.

 

More on Cinematography: Depth of Field, Working with other equipments e.g Dolly, Crane etc will be handled at SCRIPT to SCREEN.