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#1 Roberto Ditleff

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 04:10 PM

Some cinematographers prefer to keep a specific f-stop throughout the film , or sequences , making sure that the contrast, definition ... among the scenes is kept controlled.
Others state that the mood of the scenes dictate the f-stop , those are concerned much more with the depth of field so under a sequence there will be scenes shot under different f-tops.
Since we have several ways to keep the contrast under control, i think the second approach contributes much more to tell the story , I would like to know yours opinion
tks
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#2 Scott Bullock

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 10:27 PM

I think that the particular project dictates the way you shoot.

I just came off a shoot where the director specifically wanted shallow depth-of-field almost exclusively; so that, even in a conversation between two people sitting on the same bench, one person would be sharply focused and the other would be 'as soft as possible'. In order to accomplish (I hope!) this, I used a slow film stock (Fuji 64D rated at 50 ASA -- I probably should have rated it at ASA 25; we'll see what happens), the long end of the lens, and threw an ND 1.2 filter in front of the lens. As it so happens, we were shooting 'exterior day' on a real exterior location, so I also ended up using the same T-stop from about 10am to 2:30 pm, which was a T4. We were shooting Super 16 and rarely used a focal length less than 35mm.

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that the project dictates the way you shoot, in my opinion. I personally think it would be presumptuous and slightly arrogant for a DP to simply say, "I'm going to shoot this entire film at an f/8" without first paying heed to the needs of the project.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 11:13 PM

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that the project dictates the way you shoot, in my opinion. I personally think it would be presumptuous and slightly arrogant for a DP to simply say, "I'm going to shoot this entire film at an f/8" without first paying heed to the needs of the project.


I don't think that was what the point of the original question, DP's picking an f-stop without concern for the visual design of the movie. Even when you "pay heed" to the needs of the project, the question is whether you should use an appropriate f-stop consistently throughout, or vary the f-stop scene by scene or even shot by shot to create an appropriate look at that moment even if the overall effect is inconsistent visually.

I think it just depends on the project, although some DP's are naturally drawn towards shooting projects where they can justify applying a more restrained but visually consistent approach, rather than something with much wilder variations in focal length, depth of field, etc. The films shot by Gordon Willis benefitted from his visual restraint and consistency, working within a narrow range of focal lengths and f-stops. But other films deliberately work at the extremes, intercutting super wide-angle and telephoto shots, and deep-focus and shallow-focus shots.

Most DP's work somewhere in the middle, sticking to a similar f-stop range for interiors and another one for day exteriors, and doing the occasional unusual-looking shot with extreme depth of field or a very shallow-focus look for a particular effect, like sticking in a split-diopter shot in an otherwise shallow-focus movie.

Gordon Willis was an example though of a DP who felt that part of his job was to keep the director from going off daily on visual tangents away from the original visual intent agreed upon by both of them -- a "keeper of the flame" so to speak, steering the director back towards the overall visual design.

Of course, there are always practical considerations, like the difficulty of creating a deep-focus look in low-light night exteriors, or wanting to shoot on a zoom lens but also at an f/1.4 at the same time, or wanting to use telephoto lenses in a tiny interior location.
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#4 Scott Bullock

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 11:50 PM

Thanks for the nice response, David, but I don't see how my point isn't in keeping with your own: You do the best you can for the needs of the project given your budgetary constraints. Personally, I have no idea what it is like to work on a project that has a budget even approximating $1,000,000 or above. But I digress, this isn't simply about budget. My point is that the cinematography, even though it's THE fundamental aspect of filmmaking, is nevertheless subservient to the needs and desires of those whom are telling the story. If you prefer to shoot at f/5.6 for interiors but the director wants a shallower focus than that will allow given a particular focal length, it's the DP's job to accommodate him, in my opinion, preferred aperture be damned.
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#5 Scott Bullock

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Posted 23 August 2006 - 12:00 AM

I wrote: "If you prefer to shoot at f/5.6 for interiors but the director wants a shallower focus than that will allow given a particular focal length . . .?

I should add that we're assuming a lot about the particular restraints and 'limitations' of our lighting package, or light that is available, as well.
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#6 Michael Collier

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Posted 23 August 2006 - 12:25 AM

I never limit myself, but I do attempt to keep consistency unless there is a reason not too.

One good example of change from shot to shot is requium for a dream, when the girl is eating dinner with the older gentlemen (Just before her imagination places a fork in his forearm) they shot him on a longer lens and her with a wider lens. Both were medium to med-cu as i recall, but he had much less DOF. Then I think somewhere in the conversation the switch the lenses to signify the change in power possition. I liked libatechs (sp?) thinking in that vein. He does that a lot in his films, where he sets a visual cadance and then backtracks 180 at a key moment in the scene. Like when sara is talking to her son in the same film, and the camera that starts on one side of the line (putting both actors visible face close to the window, making for a frontal light look) then dollys through the axis and plays the scene on the otherside, where the actors are both in heavy backlight.

I watched the film probably 90 times before even noticing the move, just because the actress portreying sara was so amazing (you know those moments in the theater or at home where you start to well up, and you have to fight the emotion to keep from looking weak, but that only makes it harder, her performance in that scene was one of those moments for me. I was surprised to be that moved that early into the film)

Oh, but I totaly digressed. one of the top 5 movies that inspire me to cinematography (most of the others are Dekins works. The pan accross the feild and up to the speaker in Shawshank actually did bring me to tears in theaters. One of only a few times I lost that fight. My girlfriend at the time thought I was faking to get her in bed.) damn it, digressing again.

When I shoot I try and keep a consistent look where its needed. Its a matter of feel. I mean I like to play a part of a scene on sticks and suddenly move to handheld, so why not do the same with depth of feild? Contrast is a tricky one to fake however, since most people will pick on a sudden contrast shift as a matching mistake (saturation and contrast usually are the biggest cues to a layperson)

I find controlling contrast harder (I usually fill with natural light, and sort of let that natural light guide my lighting) so when its a question of depth of feild I usually just go to a longer lens, though every now and then I do iris up a bit to push depth of feild, if I want the subject focused and isolated (though I find 90 percent of the time when I need to do that, its in an insert shot and contrast matching isn't as big of a concern)


By the way: Does anyone in here know Matt? I would like to know what he is working on. That movie in particular came at a time when I thought I wanted to direct, but in truth was much more concerned with giving the film a big movie 'look' rather than paying attention to the actors needs. It really kicked my ass into paying very close attention to what light can do (I used to think that directors chose camera angles and lens selection, so in truth I was learning cinematography all the while thinking it was directing.)

It seems like he should be working on better projects than he is, just from that movie. I guess a great movie does not make a great career. (though I liked tigerland, and phonebooth looked ok given the lame premise) We even did a joke on She Hate me in my last feature.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 August 2006 - 12:43 AM

I mean I like to play a part of a scene on sticks and suddenly move to handheld, so why not do the same with depth of feild?


That's sort of my point -- some DP's wouldn't do that if the visual design of the film didn't support switching to handheld. Gordon Willis fought Coppola on this every day on "The Godfather", particularly when Coppola wanted to shoot a shot in the Sicilian wedding in handheld (which does stick out like sore thumb.) It was Willis' belief that Coppola tended to be impulsive and liked to wander away from the visual game plan just based on a hunch or sudden inspiration, hence why Willis felt he was the "keeper of the flame" trying to give "The Godfather" a visual signature DESPITE the director, because he felt that the director hired him to keep him on the straight and narrow, to keep him from going off on a tangent. Willis felt that Coppola was so bombarded by studio interference plus sheer exhaustion, that it was Willis' job to stick to the game plan.

Now someone might say that the director, being the director, is always right, but then why hire a DP if you're not going to listen to his opinions concerning the photography.

For example, let's say you are shooting in anamorphic and want to keep to an f/5.6 but the director suddenly decides that it would "look cool" to shoot the scene at f/2.8. But the scene has a lot of close-ups of moving actors, or action, and suddenly take after take is needed to keep everything in-focus and important acting moments are lost because the director didn't listen to the DP when the DP felt that a deeper stop would be more practical for shooting that particular bit of screen action. So shouldn't a DP speak up when he feels that the director is asking for something that may harm the scene because the director isn't a DP and thus doesn't consider all of the ramifications? What if the director insisted that the scene be lit to an f/2.8 but then suddenly wanted to use a lens that only opened to f/5.6, thus requiring a major relight of the scene and creating a lighting mismatch? What if what the director wanted was unsafe for the crew or actors?

I've worked with directors who were incredibly impulsive and even if you gave them everything they asked for no matter how silly, for all you know, they would impulsively change their mind later and hate what you shot, even though you were following their instructions to the letter. Director: "Why is the footage so blue???" DP: "Because you said it didn't look blue enough on the set even though I told you it would look more blue on film, but you insisted I make it twice as blue on the set... so now it's too blue on film." Sometimes you have to separate the director's daily impulses from what you know he ultimately wants from having long discussions with him.

But there are many ways of working, so I'm not saying one way is better than another. Some director's impulses are great, but some lack discipline -- or taste.
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#8 Scott Bullock

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Posted 23 August 2006 - 01:18 AM

David, I'm assuming that all things are equal here, meaning that the DP and the director both firmly grasp the concepts of cinematography and/or basic photography. I'm assuming here that the director knows the difference between a 50mm lens and a 20mm lens and that you lose depth-of-field at a wider aperture, etc. If the director is asking something that isn't within keeping of the mechanics of feasibility, then there's a good chance he doesn't fully grasp the technical aspects of filmmaking.

I'm not saying, "The DP says shoot at f/8 but the director says shoot at f/2 just because"; my scenario assumes that the DP and the director are working in perfect tandem. I understand that a lot of directors don't know the difference and will allow their ego or whatever to dictate everything, but I'm going under the assumption that a competent team has been assembled. If a director looks at me and says, 'I want to have extreme depth-of-field even though we are shooting in available light at night,' of course I'd look at him quizzically demanding an explanation. I stand by my assertion that the nature of the project determines how the project will be photographed, which is all I ever meant to imply. I understand the 50/50 proposition that Roberto is alluding too, I just don't agree that it's always, if ever, that black and white.
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 August 2006 - 09:52 AM

David, I'm assuming that all things are equal here, meaning that the DP and the director both firmly grasp the concepts of cinematography and/or basic photography.


I think out of the thirty features I've shot, maybe five directors fall under that category, although most of the rest were more than willing for me to explain the basic concepts of photography to them.

Truth is that in this day and age, assuming you are shooting 35mm, a shallow focus look is almost expected by the directors since most people light interiors to an f/2.8 to f/4 these days, so it's only deep-focus "trick" shots where the director needs to discuss with the DP how to best achieve this.

Now the reverse may be true with a DV shoot, where it takes more effort to get a shallow-focus look.

Actually, the main time I get into depth of field discussions seriously is when a movie has been storyboarded and I have to remind the director that everything you draw is "in focus" but might not be that way when you shoot it. Otherwise, depth of field discussions are often about practical problems. It's rare, for example, for a director making a 35mm feature to ask for a "Citizen Kane" style deep-focus look. Most of them just expect the same depth of field characteristics of the typical 35mm feature made these days.
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#10 Scott Bullock

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Posted 23 August 2006 - 10:17 AM

David Mullen wrote:

"I think out of the thirty features I've shot, maybe five directors fall under that category, although most of the rest were more than willing for me to explain the basic concepts of photography to them."

Yep, that doesn't surprise me at all. You have a ton more experience shooting features than me, so it's always great to read about your experiences.
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#11 Tom Bays

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Posted 23 August 2006 - 10:37 AM

I think Shallow depth of field has become a crutch to compensate for a lack of interesting shots. It is almost like they are shooting cheap commercials. I watch many old movies and for the most part they weren't obsessed with such things. Maybe, with black and white it isn't as important, but still I think with the advent of the digital filmaking people have just gone nuts.
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#12 Wendell_Greene

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Posted 23 August 2006 - 11:06 AM

IBy the way: Does anyone in here know Matt [Matty Libatique, ASC] ? I would like to know what he is working on.


Libatique was the DP for Darren Aronofsky's upcoming film, "The Fountain"

The Fountain-Watch the Trailer
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#13 Tony Brown

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Posted 28 August 2006 - 02:55 PM

I think Shallow depth of field has become a crutch to compensate for a lack of interesting shots. It is almost like they are shooting cheap commercials. I watch many old movies and for the most part they weren't obsessed with such things. Maybe, with black and white it isn't as important, but still I think with the advent of the digital filmaking people have just gone nuts.


Couldn't disagree more but its all personal taste. I consider my DoF to be my Z axis, my third dimension. I love to isolate things as much as possible, hence I shoot 99% of my stuff at T2, interior and exterior. I much prefer soft dark (preferrably black) foregrounds whenever possible. I only shoot commercials though, where the point of a shot has to be nailed in frames as opposed to seconds. Isolation by reduced depth is the best tool for me to achieve this (alongside light control and atmos).
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#14 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 06:19 AM

I fall into the same category as Tony Brown, I must say. Shallow DOF is where I tend to be. Mostly because, I've found out, that 99 times out of a 100 the environment, the setting or the background is just horrible. Overbearing colours, shapes, messy and ugly. That's the bane of having to shoot on locations, many times.

It's not easy being a semi-fascist minimalist in such an uncoherent, messy world. My goodness, the locations I've been forced to work in sometimes defy description - is it any wonder I like shallow DOF? :P

I'am intrigued by deep focus, though. I've been slighly inspired by David Mullens rantings on the subject, and his examples from old films. It'd be nice to try it on some project that was designed to the hilt, art directed to the ninth degree - where everything is worthy of being in focus. Which basically means a stage job and lots of money, i.e. not likely to happen anyday soon.
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#15 Tom Bays

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 07:24 AM

I understand what you guys are saying but now it seems to be getting out of hand. I find myself looking at the blown out...out of focus background more than the subject at times. I think we have gone beyond functionally artistic into the bizarre. Things seem motivated by personal interest instead of story.
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#16 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 01:51 PM

I fall into the same category as Tony Brown, I must say. Shallow DOF is where I tend to be. Mostly because, I've found out, that 99 times out of a 100 the environment, the setting or the background is just horrible. Overbearing colours, shapes, messy and ugly. That's the bane of having to shoot on locations, many times.


---But the foregound person is part of the same enviornment as the background.
So at the very least the background should make a comment on the foreground.

It's not supposed to be just pretty portraits.

Some quotes from Helmut Newton:

In the photographs themselves there's a definite contrast between the figures and the location - I like that kind of California backyard look; clapboard houses, staircases outdoors.

It's that I don't like white paper backgrounds. A woman does not live in front of white paper. She lives on the street, in a motor car, in a hotel room.
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#17 Tony Brown

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 02:01 PM

---But the foregound person is part of the same enviornment as the background.
So at the very least the background should make a comment on the foreground.

It's not supposed to be just pretty portraits.

Some quotes from Helmut Newton:

In the photographs themselves there's a definite contrast between the figures and the location - I like that kind of California backyard look; clapboard houses, staircases outdoors.

It's that I don't like white paper backgrounds. A woman does not live in front of white paper. She lives on the street, in a motor car, in a hotel room.


Remember not every shot is longer than an 85mm, even at T2 not every background is mush. If you're not sure if somebody is in a car, on the street or in a hotel room then DoF is the least of your problems!!

Take a look at my site (link below). almost every shot on there is T2. I dont think there is much confision as to where people are.
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#18 James Bruce

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Posted 29 December 2006 - 04:09 PM

I just came off a shoot where the director specifically wanted shallow depth-of-field almost exclusively; so that, even in a conversation between two people sitting on the same bench, one person would be sharply focused and the other would be 'as soft as possible'. In order to accomplish (I hope!) this, I used a slow film stock (Fuji 64D rated at 50 ASA -- I probably should have rated it at ASA 25; we'll see what happens), the long end of the lens, and threw an ND 1.2 filter in front of the lens.


Just out of curiosity Scott, if the director was really interested in the absolute shallowest DOF, why did u stop at only 1.2 ND when more could of allowed you to work at your zoom's fastest speed? Obviously this would of offered shallower focus than T4.
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#19 Scott Bullock

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Posted 30 December 2006 - 11:59 AM

Just out of curiosity Scott, if the director was really interested in the absolute shallowest DOF, why did u stop at only 1.2 ND when more could of allowed you to work at your zoom's fastest speed? Obviously this would of offered shallower focus than T4.


If I could do over I wouldn't have added more ND, I would have added a polarizer into the mix with the ND 1.2. This would have required me to open up the lens 6 stops instead of just 4, which would have had me shooting pretty much wide open.
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#20 Peter Anderson

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 06:18 PM

Doesn't subtext and the nature of what a director is trying to express dictate how you approach lighting a scene? It rather sounds like the majority of DOPs rarely get to work with directors that fully understand the emotive power of film language and composition? I mean David Mullen even said "It's rare, for example, for a director making a 35mm feature to ask for a "Citizen Kane" style deep-focus look. Most of them just expect the same depth of field characteristics of the typical 35mm feature made these days." And this is someone who has shot 30 features. I can't help but feel a little dissalusioned and disheartened at this.
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