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The difference between pro and amateur?


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#1 Jakub Buczynski

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Posted 24 May 2012 - 03:54 PM

Hello everyone!

About 2 years ago I purchased my Canon 7D which has introduced me to the world of film. Since then every time I was doing something as DP I was mad about one thing - getting the "professional film look". I was experimenting with many things - picture styles, color grading, lenses, lightning... Of course I have improved the quality of my footage alot, but you can still say, that it was shot by amateur. I've had few periods of time, then I was blaming alot of things why it was impossible for me. Using 7D, not Alexa, Red or 35mm, using Canon lenses, not Zeiss or Cooke... It even got to the point, where I was blaming different air density in my country, than in USA (lol, but actually it's a fact. still not a game changer...). I know that it's possible to shoot great footage with DSLR (example - Killing Joke or "A" that was shot in my country, which proves to me, that I shouldnt blame "air". And by the way it was shot on neutral picture profile, which also proves to me, that picture profiles are not the ultimate tool for "film look"). I was thinking that using some cine lenses is going to get me there. Well, quick search on youtube (Carl Zeiss CP.2) shows, that there is some difference, but it's not the ultimate cinematic tool. Now I came across some amazing footage (which I'm also going to use as example of this "professional film look" that is my ultimate goal - GH1 + Lomo) from GH1 with lomo anomorphic lens on the front. This put me into thinking - anomorphic is the ultimate tool for geting this look. Well, again just a quick search on youtube, and my idea seems to be wrong - Century anomorphic + 5D. So what I would describe as this "film look"? Definitly one of the biggest differencess between my footage and professional footage is contrast ratio. This "cinematic" kind of black. Also colors. Mine are over saturated, but when I'm trying to make them desaturated I feel like I'm loosing some details in them. Sharpness - I know that it's about good lens and focus puller. But definitly my ultimate goal is this footage from GH1 with Lomo, that also proves to me, that you can get that look without special picture profile, color grading or lights. The best I've got so far - festiwal wcześniaka by cinestyle and color grading and WKD by lightning (actually I know it would look alot better if we could afford more lights, but our budget was really tight. oh and by the way, please don't judge audio and color correction - it's just RAW files from camera cutted in right order).

The question is - what am I missing? I really want to know, becouse I've got some big projects in near future, and I don't want to waste opportunity of making documentary film about hospital for their 100'th anniversary (don't worry, I'm better documentalist than DP:) ). Thanks for any help!
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#2 Jakub Buczynski

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Posted 24 May 2012 - 04:01 PM

Oh, and I've forgotten about plasticity, which theoretically I should get by using APS-C sensor - but again I'm doing something wrong.
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#3 Tom Jensen

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Posted 24 May 2012 - 04:45 PM

It doesn't matter what you use as long as you get paid. Therein lies the difference. A camera ain't nuthin' but a box with a hole.
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#4 Jakub Buczynski

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Posted 24 May 2012 - 05:28 PM

It doesn't matter what you use as long as you get paid. Therein lies the difference. A camera ain't nuthin' but a box with a hole.


Yes, I know that. That's why I've stopped complaining about 7D. The question is: how to get the best picture from this box with a hole?
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 May 2012 - 05:40 PM

The question is: how to get the best picture from this box with a hole?


How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
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#6 Jakub Buczynski

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Posted 24 May 2012 - 05:43 PM

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

What do you mean?
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#7 Justin Hayward

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Posted 24 May 2012 - 05:56 PM

"A pedestrian on Fifty-seventh Street, Manhattan, stopped Jascha Heifetz and inquired, "Could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?" "Yes," said Heifetz. "Practice!"
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#8 Jakub Buczynski

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Posted 24 May 2012 - 06:07 PM

"A pedestrian on Fifty-seventh Street, Manhattan, stopped Jascha Heifetz and inquired, "Could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?" "Yes," said Heifetz. "Practice!"

All right, I got it. But thankfully in the 21st century we can find help in the internet, for example you can find piano lessons online. That's why I'm writing, I hope that some people can share their knowledge. As you can see I'm practicing, and I can see big diference, but right now I dont know what's the right path for better quality. Focusing on lenses? Getting anomorphic adapter? What made video with GH1 and Lomo so great?
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#9 Gregory Gesch

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Posted 24 May 2012 - 07:41 PM

Hi Jakub. I understand your frustration and trying to know where to look. My advice is to look at YOUR shots which do achieve the "Filmic" look, and skip forward and back to the shots before and after to analyse the difference. To my eye in "Festiwal" the man and woman at 1:55 and certainly the boy with the orange drink at 2:08, and the kids at 3:13 get that look, as does the girl's closeups at the end of WKD particularly the last one at 1:08. To me, in those examples, it's the balance of the light - foreground and background - with some keylight lighting the subject cleanly. In the end what you are shooting is light, if the light isn't great than the shot cannot be (and is some of the reason that all those people are in a film crew and all that equipment is around).
There is also a huge amount that can be, and is, done with colour grading and correction in post - the examples here are what I mean:
http://www.taoofcolor.com/
Please note that I know nothing of this course apart from these videos.
My other thought is experiment with making the camera look like it has more weight, less "float" more "glide".
Please also note that I may have no idea of what I'm talking about, AND good luck with your projects!
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 May 2012 - 07:45 PM

All right, I got it. But thankfully in the 21st century we can find help in the internet, for example you can find piano lessons online. That's why I'm writing, I hope that some people can share their knowledge. As you can see I'm practicing, and I can see big diference, but right now I dont know what's the right path for better quality. Focusing on lenses? Getting anomorphic adapter? What made video with GH1 and Lomo so great?


Here's the trick -- there is no trick. Everything you think you need to do, you need to do. There are a million little things to do in order to be better. But I wouldn't get too hung up over technology being the key.

I started out shooting Super-8 and every time I showed one of my short films, I'd turn to my wife and ask "does this look like a real movie?" Obviously I tried to reach whatever maximum quality I could out of Super-8, using slower film and more lights, etc. I got Super-8 to look like 16mm technically and when I moved up to 16mm, I tried to make it look like 35mm. But beyond that technical challenge, there were more subtle issues like composition, lighting, shot design, coverage, and production design -- I learned that what was in front of the camera mattered too.

Kurosawa once said that the key to directing was to make everything in front of the camera the best it could be, and then shoot it in the best manner possible. Flippant and reductive, maybe, but true.

I recently got a fortune cookie message that said "Don't spend so much time learning the tricks of the trade that you forget to learn the trade."

All of this is just a preamble to tell you that you will spend your lifetime, like I have, trying to figure it out. I don't know when I crossed that line from trying to make things look like "a real movie" to actually making things look that way, and some days I still ask myself if I am pulling it off. The only solution is practice, practice, practice -- constantly shoot and re-evaluate where you are and then take a baby step forward. But the truth is that you should be able to make cinematic images without tricks like anamorphic lenses, etc. Sure, tricks like that fool the eye into making the image feel cinematic for no other reason than ordinary photography and video work don't use anamorphic lenses. It's an easy trick, the same way that shallow-focus is an easy trick (if you have a large enough sensor). But plenty of spherical-lensed stuff looks cinematic.
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#11 Jakub Buczynski

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Posted 25 May 2012 - 01:32 PM

Thank you all for replies. It looks for me, that achieving better quality is combination of all of these technics - using better lenses, flat profiles, good lightning, color grading and most important - better camera movement. Actually to be honest I knew that before. But still this video of GH1 and Lomo can't allow me to sleep.... I mean, you've got the "box with the hole", lens on the front and nothing more. No special lightning, no crew, just some indie footage. Where's the point for more combinations (I know that mostly this point is in front of the lens, it's what you're filming. But that's just some indie footage. I know, that if I would take my 7D outside and shoot in similar lightning conditions it would look much worse)? Where does the "magic" of this footage come from?
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#12 Tom Jensen

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Posted 29 May 2012 - 04:28 AM

I'm going to butcher this story but here I go anyway. One of Kurasawa's DP's was in LA giving a talk. It might have been Azakazu Nakai but he was a Japanese master of cinematography. A guy in the audience asked how he got such brilliant images so the translator says something in Japanese and the DP says something in Japanese and, in English, the translator says, "He say he take ISO number from side of film box and put in light meter. Then he hold up to sky."
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#13 Chris Millar

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Posted 29 May 2012 - 05:16 AM

this is a good thread - just sayin Posted Image
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#14 Jakub Buczynski

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Posted 30 May 2012 - 05:54 AM

I'm going to butcher this story but here I go anyway. One of Kurasawa's DP's was in LA giving a talk. It might have been Azakazu Nakai but he was a Japanese master of cinematography. A guy in the audience asked how he got such brilliant images so the translator says something in Japanese and the DP says something in Japanese and, in English, the translator says, "He say he take ISO number from side of film box and put in light meter. Then he hold up to sky."


The simplest way is the best way as long as you know what and why are you doing, right? I'll have to get some bigger budget and just shoot it the "natural way" next time without thinking about quality , but play with lightning and shoot on sharper lenses I think. We will see where it's going to get me.... And I'll call the GH1 video good luck about conditions to stop thinking about it.
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#15 Chris Keth

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Posted 30 May 2012 - 10:16 PM

Jacob, this is probably going to piss you off, but: practice, practice, practice. Go shoot more films and quit thinking about buying your way into good work.

The simple fact is that every generation of filmmakers and photographers has equipment that is many, many times better than what was used on the iconic films we all study and enjoy. By your reasoning, 100% of photographs today should be brilliant- I'm talking Edward Weston had a baby with Dorothea Lange brilliant here!- because the cameras and printing ability today is so very advanced and so easy to acquire. Guess what? There are probably MORE crappy photographs today than any other time in human history.

Your next film is always going to be your best.
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#16 David Desio

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Posted 31 May 2012 - 12:14 PM

This thread is interesting. Here we have a student of the craft (and yeah we are all students 'till the end) trying the popular method of buying the right gear to make "cinematic magic", while we have masters saying that the best thing to do is to practice...the student seems to acknowledge this but still hold on to the idea of buying the right gear and such.

All too often I come across people that seem to throw money at the picture (thus taking money from the rates for crew, etc.) hoping that it will give it that "film look".

I love that today one can buy a camera for under a thousand dollars that technically is better than a 10 thousand dollar cam from 15 years ago (digitally speaking). But like others have said, if the gear is what made the images capture that "magic" we would all be shooting stellar images every time we went out. Instead what has happened is that very often we see extremely sharp and brilliant mediocre images.

I'm not going to pretend that I haven't been guilty of wishing for more/better gear on shoots and laying blame accordingly, but the truth is that when that happens I feel guilty for not making it work with the tools I have at the time. Recently I was an Operator for a feature that was shot all on DSLR's with canon glass, no fancy camera tools, mostly hand-held and a 1-ton grip and lighting package...guess what? Because the DP and gaffer were very competent the film looks great! Never once did I hear the DP complain or lust after better gear. He knew the limitations and adjusted his plan accordingly.

Wow long-winded.
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#17 Jakub Buczynski

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Posted 31 May 2012 - 02:26 PM

This thread is interesting. Here we have a student of the craft (and yeah we are all students 'till the end) trying the popular method of buying the right gear to make "cinematic magic", while we have masters saying that the best thing to do is to practice...the student seems to acknowledge this but still hold on to the idea of buying the right gear and such.

All too often I come across people that seem to throw money at the picture (thus taking money from the rates for crew, etc.) hoping that it will give it that "film look".

I love that today one can buy a camera for under a thousand dollars that technically is better than a 10 thousand dollar cam from 15 years ago (digitally speaking). But like others have said, if the gear is what made the images capture that "magic" we would all be shooting stellar images every time we went out. Instead what has happened is that very often we see extremely sharp and brilliant mediocre images.

I'm not going to pretend that I haven't been guilty of wishing for more/better gear on shoots and laying blame accordingly, but the truth is that when that happens I feel guilty for not making it work with the tools I have at the time. Recently I was an Operator for a feature that was shot all on DSLR's with canon glass, no fancy camera tools, mostly hand-held and a 1-ton grip and lighting package...guess what? Because the DP and gaffer were very competent the film looks great! Never once did I hear the DP complain or lust after better gear. He knew the limitations and adjusted his plan accordingly.

Wow long-winded.


Well, I think, that you've got me wrong. I'm not asking what should I buy to get "film look", as I know that my current equipment can create that kind of look. I'm asking what should I practice to make these movies better technically. All about the technical way of shooting films I know so far is from "behind the scenes" or tips of pros shooting on DSLRs. Using flat profiles, color correction, filters... And I know, that if a professional DP would take my camera he would shoot something that looks much better. And I don't mean here content of the movie, camera movement, I mean only "technical quality". Hope you understand now what I'm asking about.
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#18 Travis Gray

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Posted 31 May 2012 - 02:38 PM

Well, I think, that you've got me wrong. I'm not asking what should I buy to get "film look", as I know that my current equipment can create that kind of look. I'm asking what should I practice to make these movies better technically. All about the technical way of shooting films I know so far is from "behind the scenes" or tips of pros shooting on DSLRs. Using flat profiles, color correction, filters... And I know, that if a professional DP would take my camera he would shoot something that looks much better. And I don't mean here content of the movie, camera movement, I mean only "technical quality". Hope you understand now what I'm asking about.


Don't get too caught up in flat picture profiles being a key thing with DSLRs. I heard pros and cons. I shoot a little flatter because it does make grading a little easier, but it's just like film stock. You go with what you know will achieve the look and handle the situation you're in. I have a couple profiles set up so that I can use different ones for indoors or outdoors or trouble situations where I'm not confident in the exposure and want to have latitude in post. But if I wanted to shoot something really contrasty or saturated or something and not have to do anything in post, I could set up my profile to do that.

I don't like a lot of the stuff out there that's for "DSLR filmmaking". A DSLR is just a camera. Sure, there are certain tips that make it easier and manageable, but there's no special "DSLR filmmaking" thing that's different than "filmmaking".

I used to be naive in the early days of shooting, and getting the magic bullet plugin and applying a film look and trying to convert 29.97 to 24p. But it's a lot more than that. Sure, contrast and maybe deep blacks or something are a part of bigger budget movies, but it's proper lighting, framing, hell.. acting, writing, sound, etc.

Color correction is just that, to correct. Primarily. And then maybe applying a look a bit more than already achieved with set design.
Filters... over the footage? Lens? Lights? The latter are to correct differences in light/stock or create a look on set. Filters on captured footage? Bleach bypass (that was the big one I always wanted to do) is just a preset of other changes. I don't like the pre done ones, they never look as good as I had built them up in my head.

Mostly I just can't stand when people have workshops and other stuff relating to "DSLR filmmaking". Is it a technical workshop on a particular brand of camera or is it just a filmmaking workshop marketed to everyone who has a DSLR now and is a "filmmaker"?
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#19 Jakub Buczynski

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Posted 31 May 2012 - 02:40 PM

Jacob, this is probably going to piss you off, but: practice, practice, practice. Go shoot more films and quit thinking about buying your way into good work.

The simple fact is that every generation of filmmakers and photographers has equipment that is many, many times better than what was used on the iconic films we all study and enjoy. By your reasoning, 100% of photographs today should be brilliant- I'm talking Edward Weston had a baby with Dorothea Lange brilliant here!- because the cameras and printing ability today is so very advanced and so easy to acquire. Guess what? There are probably MORE crappy photographs today than any other time in human history.

Your next film is always going to be your best.


Thank you for your reply. And no, it's not going to piss me off :) I've asked for help with my next short a very talented potographer, so maybe I'll see some ways how pros are working :) And maybe thanks to that I'll see some points for practicing.
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#20 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 31 May 2012 - 09:45 PM

Hello everyone!

About 2 years ago I purchased my Canon 7D which has introduced me to the world of film. Since then every time I was doing something as DP I was mad about one thing - getting the "professional film look". I was experimenting with many things - picture styles, color grading, lenses, lightning... Of course I have improved the quality of my footage alot, but you can still say, that it was shot by amateur. I've had few periods of time, then I was blaming alot of things why it was impossible for me. Using 7D, not Alexa, Red or 35mm, using Canon lenses, not Zeiss or Cooke... It even got to the point, where I was blaming different air density in my country, than in USA (lol, but actually it's a fact. still not a game changer...). I know that it's possible to shoot great footage with DSLR (example - Killing Joke or "A" that was shot in my country, which proves to me, that I shouldnt blame "air". And by the way it was shot on neutral picture profile, which also proves to me, that picture profiles are not the ultimate tool for "film look"). I was thinking that using some cine lenses is going to get me there. Well, quick search on youtube (Carl Zeiss CP.2) shows, that there is some difference, but it's not the ultimate cinematic tool. Now I came across some amazing footage (which I'm also going to use as example of this "professional film look" that is my ultimate goal - GH1 + Lomo) from GH1 with lomo anomorphic lens on the front. This put me into thinking - anomorphic is the ultimate tool for geting this look. Well, again just a quick search on youtube, and my idea seems to be wrong - Century anomorphic + 5D. So what I would describe as this "film look"? Definitly one of the biggest differencess between my footage and professional footage is contrast ratio. This "cinematic" kind of black. Also colors. Mine are over saturated, but when I'm trying to make them desaturated I feel like I'm loosing some details in them. Sharpness - I know that it's about good lens and focus puller. But definitly my ultimate goal is this footage from GH1 with Lomo, that also proves to me, that you can get that look without special picture profile, color grading or lights. The best I've got so far - festiwal wcześniaka by cinestyle and color grading and WKD by lightning (actually I know it would look alot better if we could afford more lights, but our budget was really tight. oh and by the way, please don't judge audio and color correction - it's just RAW files from camera cutted in right order).

The question is - what am I missing? I really want to know, becouse I've got some big projects in near future, and I don't want to waste opportunity of making documentary film about hospital for their 100'th anniversary (don't worry, I'm better documentalist than DP:) ). Thanks for any help!



Would you or anyone discuss more what differences you find are made by air density? I've heard people mention the difference between beautiful California sunshine and often-grey London or Vancouver skies but not as much commenting on atmospheres.
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Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

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Technodolly

Aerial Filmworks

Ritter Battery

Tai Audio

Metropolis Post