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Camera or Lighting, Road to Success?


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#1 Daniel Ainsworth

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 01:05 AM

"Camera or Lighting?" That is the question.

I am about to graduate, and would love to hear the opinion of a larger audience. I've worked my fair share in the bizz, for my age and experience, and have spoken with many people. I've gotten feedback and suggestions, about which path to take to lead to Cinematographer.

Do I juice or AC? 600 or 728? At school I established my self mostly as a DP who worked up through lighting. I AC'd plenty and honestly that established confidence, having experience in both fields. I love to light, and learn new techniques, but I am a sucker for composition, and working with camera's and lenses to make the most of a shot.

Is it worth it more to place yourself close to the camera, whenever possible, instead of being outback wrapping camlock? Or does painting with light take you further? On your way up, gaining knowledge from the DP your working with, in camera or lighting?

Just curious of feedback, and hoping a discussion involves, to see pro and con's. Throw out any relevant information, situations. (point of view of a beginner fresh out of film school, in LA)

Thank you much for taking the time to read and respond.
-Daniel

Edited by Daniel Ainsworth, 20 December 2008 - 01:06 AM.

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#2 John Brawley

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 01:58 AM

"Camera or Lighting?" That is the question.


Do I juice or AC? 600 or 728? At school I established my self mostly as a DP who worked up through lighting.


Hi dan...

You need both of course, but ultimately you're asking about operating (composition) and lighting. You haven't included coverage which is of course different again to shot composition and a much overlooked skill that we as DP's rarely talk about in a critical way the way we do with lighting.

I think going through lighting will possibly take longer but you'll be the better for it. You'll see how different cinematographers solve the common dilemmas and unlike AC'ing which requires diligence and exactness, you're in a more creative space when you're lighting. You're trying to bring to life what the DP has asked for i think this allows a lot more scope to get involved and to develop your eye. I htink in Electrics, you're also likely to work with a wider ranger of DP's. As an AC you tend to work for the same DP's more often than not.

When you're ACing, you do tend to get bogged down in the business of ac'ing and you actually don't get to see a lot of the lighting going into play because you're busy with the camera. And for that matter shot design and coverage.

jb
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 11:51 AM

There is no real well-marked path from one job towards a DP career. I've talked to many DP's over the years and I've never gotten the same story twice really as to how they became a DP. At some point, the only way to become a DP is to shoot as a DP because you're probably not going to get hired to shoot based on your resume as an AC or Gaffer, but based on your reel and resume as a DP.

So no matter what job you choose, in what department, camera or electric for example, at some point you have to make the move to shooting your own material. And at some point, you will be essentially starting from the beginning again, career-wise, as you look for work as a DP.

Maybe because I came out of low-budget independent movies (although few people don't start at the bottom), but I've always noticed that the other DP's I've admired often came out of shooting documentaries at some point. Roger Deakins is a great example of that.

But like I said, there are many DP's who have come out of every set job you can imagine, from AC and Operator, from videotape operator in a TV station (Bill Butler, I believe), from assistant to a fashion still photographer (I think Ric Waite told me that story), from Gaffer (George Spiro Dibie or Tom Stern).
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#4 Daniel Ainsworth

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 03:42 PM

Absolutely,

I try to shoot whatever I can, when I can, to build my DP reel. Its funny how, in my small experience of film school, it easy to see how far, simply saying, "I'm a DP" takes you as opposed to I wanna be a gaffer, etc. You get pigeon holed quick.

I was debating about the departments, which allows for the most experience to gain, and then take that exp. to set when you DP? Or in all of your experience, which department do you trust more to take on a DP gig? He's a DP who worked up lighting, or DP or works up camera. I ask that since I worry about the climb, and getting lost in the mix, ?

Just concerns that I have internally discussed.

Thanks again for any feedback.
-Daniel
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#5 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 04:16 PM

I think it depends a lot on the shoot as to which "DP upbringing" would be "better," whatever any of that means. Say you have a film where light plays a crucial role-- perhaps, then it would be better to go with a "gaffer" DP. Other films, where you're shooting with all natural light might elucidate an "AC," DP. However, in what little experience I've had this has been totally a non-factor.
As David mentions, one day you just have to say you are a DP and start all over again, or get very lucky. You work up and you build up. For myself, I came from lighting as my Dad was a Lighting Director for years before I was born, and I through working with him since before my teen years, slowly got gigs in that department. I found this was most helpful to me (especially as we did a lot of location shooting) to see how to get by with a little equipment and some brains.
Of course, at the same time, this left me a bit want for experience in terms of camera systems. It wasn't until I took it upon myself to read up and learn and experiment that I got the difference between a Bolex and a Filmo, an SR3 and an XTR, a Cooke and a Ziess (still working on that one by the by!) a Tiffen and a Schnider.
Either department will get you experience and more importantly, contacts! It often comes down not to what you know, but who you know. This isn't to say you can be a total ignoramus (though it happens sometimes, and I've seen it, and it's quite sad), but rather the best resume and a reel in the world often looses out to the most memorable phone number or personality. This being the case, why pigeon hold yourself to one or the other department?
With so much competition in this industry and pressures which contort us often to less than ideal circumstances, why not just see where you can get work. If a 2nd AC job comes, take it, if a Grip job comes, a gaffer job, a 1st, hell, even script PA job-- take them. You will learn by being on set and by your own willingness to learn-- to be taught when appropriate times present themselves. Moreover, sometimes it's more important to eat than it is to further your career. When starting out, often, times can be quite lean.
Best of luck!
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#6 Daniel Ainsworth

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Posted 20 December 2008 - 11:10 PM

Thanks for the advice.

I agree, I feel I have learned so much on set at school, cause I done PD, to Booming, To ACing to Gaffing.

Pigeon holing came up, just cause, I am mostly referring to working for the days, to get into either department's union. I would like to take either camera or lighting jobs, when i can get them. I realize now my posts have not focused to much on the unions, and the paths up them. So that is what I am also curious about, same debate, but in the unions.

Thanks again,
-daniel
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