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What one area to master


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#1 John Adolfi

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Posted 08 July 2006 - 05:59 AM

This question is to the experienced cinematographers in the house. If one was to focus on one of the many elements of cinematography first , which one is vital to get great pictures? Use of filters, understanding composition, lighting, knowing film guages, lense selection, proper camera mounting, camera movement, rigs, other? And why.

Edited by John Adolfi, 08 July 2006 - 06:00 AM.

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#2 Ram Shani

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Posted 08 July 2006 - 06:46 AM

cinematography is the and product of all this elements so you need to master all but i think light is one of the most importent . no light no picture and its the heart of cinematography
thats why it takes years to learn to be cinematographer
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 July 2006 - 11:40 AM

I don't think you can simplify studying down to one subject -- but if anything, one should study the areas where one is the weakest.

Overall, I'd agree about light being of the highest importance -- study lighting, in nature, in great paintings, in great photography, in movies, etc.
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#4 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 09 July 2006 - 07:43 AM

Unlit imagery often looks as good or even better than lit ones, so I don't agree that lighting (as in artificial) is more 'important'. I'd say it's once again down to taste - taste in knowing when, and what works. Grading would be my personal choice.
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#5 Ram Shani

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Posted 09 July 2006 - 08:08 AM

you cant master taste!!!

but if you master light you know when and how to use it i think that working with natural light and to bring good and dramatic results is same times more hard then to light.

just using the light with no real understanding it can look like home video

we talking about using light to tell dramatic story

so like for a writer sometime the best dialog is no dialog. still you have to master screenwriting

so i still believe that light is the most important element

light is color
light is shadow
light is form

the great master storaro bio called "writhing with light"
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 July 2006 - 11:58 AM

A DP who couldn't light, even to make a scene look natural and unlit, would be fairly useless.

The trouble with available, natural light is that it often changes over time, especially if it is daylight. Fine for a still photographer taking one photo, but what about shooting a long scene that will take 12 hours to cover, or more than one day? What about working on a stage with no natural light at all? Especially day scenes on a stage?
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#7 Tim Partridge

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Posted 09 July 2006 - 12:34 PM

Unlit imagery often looks as good or even better than lit ones, so I don't agree that lighting (as in artificial) is more 'important'.


I'm with David on this- even with available light it's the DP's judgement and controlling of the elements that photographs unlit imagery. Lighting is lighting, artificial or natural.

Lighting is definitely #1 all the time. It's the heart of cinematography (understanding of narrative is the blood).
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#8 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 09 July 2006 - 03:49 PM

Well, I just took object to the immediacy with which everyone agreed that lighting was superior to anything else - I don't think it's that clear cut.

How about an ungraded piece of film in 'beauty' light vs. a graded piece of film in 'ugly' light? The graded piece of work would probably end up being the most appealing to the untrained eye 9 times out of 10 - this I'd be willing to set money on.
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#9 Michael Nash

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Posted 09 July 2006 - 04:05 PM

I understand Adam's position and I agree in principle, but when you get down to the practicality of what a DP does on a film set it's to control the image for continuity and expressive purposes. It's not the same as fine-art still photography, where images can exist individually and have more room for interpretation.

If anything, I would say that the "one" area to master would be control over the image -- which is of course a contradiction because that means mastering ALL the possible areas of motion picture photography and narrative storytelling.
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 July 2006 - 05:46 PM

How about an ungraded piece of film in 'beauty' light vs. a graded piece of film in 'ugly' light? The graded piece of work would probably end up being the most appealing to the untrained eye 9 times out of 10 - this I'd be willing to set money on.


If you really believed that the colorist was MORE responsible for the artistic integrity and beauty of an image, why didn't you become a colorist instead of a cinematographer?

I don't know... but I tend to fall into the "garbage in / garbage out" theory, that you're always better-off bringing good photography into the post phase rather than trying to improve mediocrity with clever grading.

Light is the essential element in the creation of a photographic image... and the recorded image is the basis from which you work in post. Otherwise you'd believe that your job as a cinematographer was just to bring in some flat-lit, well-exposed images into a grading session as raw material for creating art after-the-fact. Sure, sometimes that works, especially with efx work, but it's not the reason I became a cinematographer.

I'm not saying that one doesn't have to learn that aspect of cinematography, post color-correction, but it really is the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. To be good at cinematography, you have to master the ability to bring into the post phase images that are composed artistically and use light artistically, that incorporate motion for emotional effect, etc. If the chief artistry lay in the post color-correction phase, you'd probably want to become a colorist then, or at least the colorist should get equal credit in movies, commercials, and features as the DP.
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#11 Dan Goulder

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Posted 09 July 2006 - 05:59 PM

Unlit imagery often looks as good or even better than lit ones, so I don't agree that lighting (as in artificial) is more 'important'. I'd say it's once again down to taste - taste in knowing when, and what works. Grading would be my personal choice.

"Unlit" is still lit...I assume it to mean shooting without 'movie' lights. Modern stocks and lenses do offer greater potential for shooting in that style. However, regardless of your light source, especially if you have no control over the source itself, you still need to be cognizant of how the light falls on the actor or object you are filming. In a situation like this, camera placement and angle can be critical, as well as positioning the actor in such a way as making the available light useful. Bottom line: The knowledge of light, and how it interacts with motion picture film, is critical, regardless of the type of lighting you use(or don't use).
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 July 2006 - 06:54 PM

What if the "ungraded" shot were from "The Godfather" and the graded shot was from, let's say, "Porkie's"... I don't think the grading alone could tip the balance of artistic merit in favor of the second.

Anyway, I know the cliche thing is to say that lighting is the most important element, but there's probably a good reason for the cliche... I was looking at "Road to Perdition" the other night and thinking about how Conrad Hall was not particularly interested in learning too much about technology, and it didn't necessarily hurt him because of what he could deliver with very basic tools of cinematography: a camera and lens, composition and light, exposure, etc.
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#13 Bob Hayes

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Posted 09 July 2006 - 07:01 PM

If you want great pictures learn to work with people. In painting and still photography you can work alone but film making is a collaborative art.
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#14 Aaron_Farrugia

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Posted 09 July 2006 - 07:29 PM

its like who came first the chicken or the egg
hmm
lighting is very important
but what about the camera, you could light it beautifuly but if u dont know how to set the camera to see what u want it to see then what good is a beautiful lighting setup if your film comes back all black and underexposed or all blown out.

they all go hand in hand with each other

i believe anyway
you have to master the technicalities of light and camera before you can become creative and break these 'rules'
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#15 Ram Shani

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Posted 10 July 2006 - 12:30 AM

first let me say that i read a new scientific research that they discover its the egg before the chicken

there was a bird that give the first egg with genetic bug and form that came the first chicken :)

he talk a bout one thing to master we all agree that you need to master all aspects of cinematography in order brake the rules

what about the fist time you enter a dark sound stage on light cant even see the sets then you turn the first light and magic happen (if you know how to make it)
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#16 aslam khan

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Posted 10 July 2006 - 12:42 AM

hi,

iam aslam from india, now in dubai working as a graphic designer, i want to learn cinematography, now iam 26yrs, now i cant leave this job planning in after 2 years, give me ur suggessins

aslam
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#17 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 July 2006 - 12:49 AM

lighting is very important
but what about the camera, you could light it beautifuly but if u dont know how to set the camera to see what u want it to see then what good is a beautiful lighting setup if your film comes back all black and underexposed or all blown out.


Sure, knowing how to use the camera and expose properly for the effect you want is important, but some elements of that are basic and learned early on, whereas lighting is a lifelong learning experience, plus it changes according to fashion too, which is why you never stop thinking about it.

Yes, you also are always thinking of what lens to use, where to put the camera, how to move it, how to expose, etc. and you refine those skills over a lifetime as well, so don't get me wrong -- but the sheer range of lighting situations you will encounter, the problems you will have to solve, far outweigh your lens choices or film stock choices, for example. You could simplify your life by using just one film stock, 500T let's say, and sticking to three or four prime lenses, but it's a lot harder to stick to one lighting technique to cover all situations, hence why you end up expending so much mental effort on lighting. It's one area with a LOT of variables to deal with, every day on a shoot.

But you also have to understand that I'm speaking from the perspective of someone shooting narrative feature projects. A documentarian may find that lighting is not something they spend more time thinking about compared to other shooting issues, or someone shooting a series of interviews in the same lighting set-up.
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#18 Jamie Metzger

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Posted 10 July 2006 - 02:01 AM

I always try to look back on a production the next day and see what I did wrong, and then try to make sure I don't do that again the next time.

Remember, open, honest communication is the best way to create art with groups of people.
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#19 Aaron_Farrugia

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Posted 10 July 2006 - 10:32 PM

i believe its like magic
in order to create magic you need to know the sleight of hand and mechanics before you can apply these moves to make an illusion

same thing with cinematography i believe that you need to master the technicalities
in my opinion
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#20 Fredrik Backar FSF

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Posted 11 July 2006 - 03:30 AM

Yes, you also are always thinking of what lens to use, where to put the camera, how to move it, how to expose, etc. and you refine those skills over a lifetime as well, so don't get me wrong -- but the sheer range of lighting situations you will encounter, the problems you will have to solve, far outweigh your lens choices or film stock choices, for example. You could simplify your life by using just one film stock, 500T let's say, and sticking to three or four prime lenses, but it's a lot harder to stick to one lighting technique to cover all situations, hence why you end up expending so much mental effort on lighting. It's one area with a LOT of variables to deal with, every day on a shoot.


I agree completely! One day interior setup on location can change 8 times in 8 hours to keep it right and that´s the magic of it all is it not? To shape and properly form your images no matter the circumstances certainly plays with your head all the time.
Adding to this, that I stay away from DI as much as possible, the neg must present perfect right away and not merely rely on the trickeries of a digi-colorist.
As a photography teacher told me when I asked him how it felt to be an accomplished cinematographer: "cinematographer" he said, "you never become a cinematographer, it´s just something you strive for your whole life, you never finish".
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