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#1 Ken Cochran

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 11:34 AM

I am a junior in high school at the moment and one of my current projects is to research a profession and learn more about it. I have always been interested in making movies and editing them, and so when I typed those key words into Google, cinematography came up.

After finding this website and reading some posts, I see that some people are talking about still cameras and others are talking about videos. I'm a little confused. Which is it? Or is it both?

Also, if someone could recommend a site or a section of this website where I could learn more, I would greatly appreciate it.

Thanks a lot everyone!

-Ken Cochran
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#2 Jim Keller

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 01:28 PM

I am a junior in high school at the moment and one of my current projects is to research a profession and learn more about it. I have always been interested in making movies and editing them, and so when I typed those key words into Google, cinematography came up.

After finding this website and reading some posts, I see that some people are talking about still cameras and others are talking about videos. I'm a little confused. Which is it? Or is it both?

Also, if someone could recommend a site or a section of this website where I could learn more, I would greatly appreciate it.

Thanks a lot everyone!

-Ken Cochran


Very simply, cinematography is the art of recording motion picture images. When I was in school, we used the term only to refer to motion picture imaging on film, and referred to motion pictures on video as "videography," but those lines have blurred to the point that they're really no longer as relevant, and cinematography is now popularly used to describe both film and digital video.

Still photography is not really part of cinematography (though I have yet to be involved in a project that does not involve still photography as well, and frequently the Director of Photography -- that's the lead cinematographer on the project -- takes responsibility for that as well), however you cannot understand motion picture photography without first understanding still photography, and so there's a lot of overlap.

In terms of what the job actually entails day-to-day, the full-time cinematographers here can probably answer that better than I can. But when I hire a cinematographer I expect him or her to be able to operate the camera competently and capture a usable motion picture image that has an appropriate look and feel for the project (which, for the stuff I do, is very different from what you see in the movies). I know that's very broad sounding, but it's actually a very broad field. The same way one photographer may be very good at landscapes but terrible when photographing people, or another photographer may specialize in "glamor" shots dislike "candids," a cinematographer will have different strengths and skills, and no two cinematographers will create exactly the same image on film/video/digital. Also, the same way one photographer prefers to work with a 35mm camera and another prefers to use an 8x10 view camera and yet another swears by the latest digital camera, different cinematographers will specialize in different types of motion picture cameras. So it's important for me to get to know their work and hire the right person for the job.

Editing is generally a different field from cinematography, done by an editor, but again, there's going to be a lot of overlap (especially on smaller projects like I work on). The Director of Photography will frequently supervise portions of the editing process, making sure the finished product has the intended look and feel, but for that end of things you'll want to research motion picture editing separately.

There's tons of information available by browsing the topics on this website. Many if not most of the topics are above the level you'll need, but many general cinematography/life of a D.P./basic editing questions have been asked and answered here. I know Kodak and ASC (American Society of Cinematographers) publish articles geared at student filmmakers, so they may also have stuff online that will be helpful (though last time I looked at either website, the pickings were slim). But "cinematography" and "director of photography" will be good Google keywords for you for the areas where this site fails you.

Edited by Jim Keller, 13 May 2008 - 01:30 PM.

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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 01:59 PM

Ken,

It's nice to know that you're thinking so far ahead! There are a number of internet sites and books listed on my website that should be able to help you. Just click on Additional Resources at the top of the page.

The other thing that caught my eye about your question was your use of the words video and film. Here is an excerpt from my book which helps explain the difference and why it is so important to understand how they are used:

Film? Tape? What?s the difference?
Film and tape are distinctly different ways of capturing an image for later viewing. Without being overly technical, film, which comes in a small canister, is the stuff you put into your (non-digital) still camera at home. It?s generally a long, black, plastic-like strip that you wind every time you want to take another picture. A movie camera uses very long strips of film, usually 1,000-foot rolls, that move through the camera to capture movement instead of still action. Film undergoes a photochemical process that turns light into actual images you can see when you look at the strip itself.

Videotape uses an electronic process to store image information magnetically. Instead of converting light into an actual picture you can see, a video camera converts light into electronic information that is stored on the videotape, also a long strip of black material. If you hold a piece of shot videotape up to a light, you?ll never see any pictures.

In both cases, an image is being saved, but there?s a pretty big difference between the two. Traditional standard-definition video has a definitive sharpness and looks ?real,? like you?d see the action as if you were actually standing there. Film has a softer, almost more ethereal look. It does not capture reality per se but a more romantic and hyper-real version of what happened in front of the lens. Generally, fictional narrative and dramatic programs are shot using film stock with film cameras while nonfiction or live events are shot using video cameras.

The advent of high-definition video has allowed filmmakers to take advantage of the immediacy of electronic image acquisition while enjoying a near film-like quality.

This is all very important to you because the working protocols can be very different when choosing a type of project that uses film versus one that is shot on tape. In other words, the way that feature films, one-hour episodics, commercials, and music videos are made is very similar. Someone who works regularly in one of those could transition very easily to another. On the other hand, news programs, talk shows, sitcoms, soap operas, reality shows, and documentaries have their own distinct ways of being made, so moving from one type of show to another isn?t as easy a transition.

When you?re just starting out in the business, it?s important to learn the fundamental difference between film and video because it will have an impact on the types of work you choose to take and whether your career goes in the direction you desire.


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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 02:06 PM

Lest we not forget as well the tapeless options availible which are video in the sense the record images electronically, however, do not record out to a tape format (P2 card, the RED, the EX1 for example). Instead of recording to tape the information is directly recorded to a computer storage device, be it a hard-drive, in the case of the firestore or redRAID, or a solid state memory device, similar to the CF cards used in high end digital SLR cameras.
Also, the translation of the word cinematography, I have been told, is writing with light; and that's how I personally see it; a transcription of the written script into a light-based story, with it's own ebb and flow. Literally, you are using light to "paint," the narrative, and using the characteristics of optical recording, such as framing/DoF, and the like the direct the audience along in concert and at the service of the director and the original story. But hey, that's just my own philosophy.
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#5 Valerio Sacchetto

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 06:55 PM

actually, adrian, "photography" is writing with light (from phos (light) and graphis (to draw)). "cinematography" involves motion (from kinesis (movement) and graphis).

But as Fellini said "films ARE light" and it's not by chance that Storaro titled his book "Writing with light" :P

Aside from that particular i see cinematography the same as you. The cinematographer in my opinion is the artist in charge of recording the evolution of what happens in front of a lens on a medium in way that supports the story.
A movie is the result of the work of many many people and the cinematographer is the one who makes sure that everyone is working toward the same objective and that everything work seamlessy (image wise).
The cinematographer is a technician but at such a level that s/he can foresee the result and manipulate the elements by means of technical aids at his or her will. At this point i think the cinematographer also makes statements that reflects his or her own philosophy, his or her way of life, the way s/he SEE life.
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#6 Ken Cochran

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 11:20 AM

Thank you all very much! Cinematography at a glance looks like a great profession and I will defentially be looking at cinematography more indepth.
-Ken Cochran
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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 12:06 PM

Ahh, Valerio, you are correct. My mistake in the translation; it's been awhile since I've really looked @ greek roots. Then again, as they say it's all. . . well you know the rest :D
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#8 Walter Graff

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 12:15 PM

Thank you all very much! Cinematography at a glance looks like a great profession and I will defentially be looking at cinematography more indepth.
-Ken Cochran


Don't forget the basics too, reading, writing, and arithmetic. This is not an easy career to break into. There is far less work than all those trying to get into the business, so while I will not tell you not to look into it, or attempt it, don't forget to take business and marketing courses if you go to college as you'll have something to fall back on. I am to understand that currently about one in ten make a career in the film and television industry these days while about 100 fold are trying to get into it. It looks glamorous on TV but it is not. It is less a desk job and more like what an artist does with canvas. And that means that talent must be part of it too. If you find you just don't feel like your being a good artist while developing skills and your craft, don't force yourself just because you started down a path. A careeer is about surviving in a field for fourty years. That is not easy to do in this field unless you find what you really enjoy, find the skills to do it well and along hte way work well with people.
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