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Natrualistic vs Stylistic. the natrual trend and your take on it?


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#1 Albion Hockney

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Posted 06 November 2014 - 10:31 AM

I thought it might be interesting to have a conversation on here about "the natrual look" in cinema. I think making images that apear natrual or real has been a part of cinema for a long time ....even before more natrualistic lighting became a thought, but contemporary cinematography is with out a doubt more interested in natrualism then ever before. I'm not saying I am personaly for or against this trend I think it's and pardon my pun a natrual part of the evolution of filmmaking given new camera technology and our awareness,as well as ironic attitudes, toward things that feel fake or "cheesy".

 

I think the idea of natrualism in itself can be interpreted a lot of ways and I'm curious what others opinions are toward natrualism. How do you incorporate natrualism into your work? Do you hate the trend or love it .....is it here to stay or do you think we will renounce it? ....whose work do you love/hate?


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#2 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 06 November 2014 - 05:31 PM

Sorry to be the spelling nazi, but it's "Natural", not  "Natrual".


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#3 George Ebersole

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Posted 06 November 2014 - 09:16 PM

In the intermediate classes in film school you're taught the various tones that lighting can set for your shoot.  Anything beyond that is essentially a derivative of the basic theory.

 

What I've noticed in online content, because most people are on a very tight budget with shorts, is that there is a tendency to open up the iris just a bit more than expected.  But, given today's chip technology you hardly notice it.

 

Therefore, to me anyway, I would suggest that a "natural" look is more inspired by better technology than anything stylistic.  

 

If you're talking feature films, then that's currently out of my depth because I haven't been on a feature film (a real one with lots of crew and equipment that is) for years.  The last feature I worked on was a tiny indy shot by Rob Nilsson, who uses a lot of gritty camera work to get a "natural" look to his films.  He's done it his entire film career, and does so for the purpose of accentuating the topics he shoots; usually crime oriented drama.

 

Can you give an example of what you're talking about?


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#4 Albion Hockney

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Posted 07 November 2014 - 01:31 PM

Ok, sorry for the spelling error.....

 

Just quickly George to reply to your first comment which I think is a bit of a tangent.

 

In the intermediate classes in film school you're taught the various tones that lighting can set for your shoot.  Anything beyond that is essentially a derivative of the basic theory.

 

 

I think this is absolutley not the case. That basic classical cinematography theory which is funny as it was invented in the modern age is basically pre-modern era Idea and modern thinking is not derivative of it, it has instead built on it. To make more sense of it ....The very idea that when a scene is scary you should light it dark or when a scene is happy you light it bright assumes there is such thing as "scary" lighting ....now this well get quite theoretical but, the very notion that dark is "scary" or happy is "bright" is a concept that was socially created and the very root of modern and now post modern thinking is to say that the concept of "scary" is something that can be broken down and challenged....to bring it full circle I would say the best cinematographers certainly challenge the status quo of what look fits what tone... a key example being  the Gordon Willis Woody Allen collaberation.

 

 

 

Now as far as Naturalism the last 60 years of filmmaking you have seen progressivly less hollywood style studio lighting and more and more DP's using motivated sources. This not just being in lighting.... camera work as well, in terms of handheld and documentary inspiration...I also think your right in saying some DP's have been doing this for a long time and these are not new ideas....but even guys who were "natural" guys like for example Gordon Willis, he did things in a way that I would say is actually much less "natural" then much of the work being done today (and btw I love willis I am not knocking him at all!) ....My point is this....yes you could say Casaevettes did all of this before anyone but Cassaevettes was on the fringe when he made those films ....now working in that way is almost common place.

 

So again yes these are not new ideas but overall things are trending toward naturalism. to really explain  or prove this I'd have to like chart out the last 60 years of films and the tecniques they used, but to be honest I think this conclusion is pretty common knowledge. If I'm wrong on that though be interested to here from those who don't agree for sure.

 

In terms of contemporary work that is pushing on these ideas take a look at a film like tree of life Lubezki didn't even have movie lights  ....and much of the work was done with no light agumentation at all. I think 15 years ago even people would have thought he was insane. And its not like that is the only example there is alot of new work done that uses very minimal movie lighting. I think honestly the place you see this most is with younger shooters and most of them haven't shot features yet or are just starting to. If you take a look through vimeo at the latest and greatest music videos your going to see a whole lot of 35mm film and Alexa being shot with total natural light or very minimal lighting. I'd recomend taking a look at Evan Prosofsky's work as it is really great and he barley uses lights....even doing some night exterior work natural......  I also wanted to point out your use of the word "gritty" as associated with naturalism ...I think that is also an antiquated Idea....no longer is naturalism more gritty and documentary esque the new wave of naturalism can be any style it wants....and often it is beautiful and clean (take a look at tree of life!)


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#5 John E Clark

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Posted 07 November 2014 - 02:14 PM

For me 'naturalism' is simplely (although may require complex lighting...) matching ordinary expectation of what someone walking/viewing the scene if it were 'real'.

 

Hence, most of the '3 point' lighting would be 'gon'e except in a very limited situation... I also, tend to think of 'naturalism' to be much, much softer than stylized lit scenes... even if the stylized is 'soft'... I'm thinking here of the 'night' scene were there is a light to the back of the talent, giving definition to the face, with a soft frontal light.

 

The problem of course is in order to have something other than 'murky' shots, some lighting needs to be done that is not 'natural'.

 

With the high ISO and low attendant noise cameras, one can use very low wattage lights, and with that perhaps more 'soft/natural' lighting.

 

Perhaps some people don't like this style, but I'm pretty ok, since most of my Film film stills is pretty much available light... or living with whatever lighting the event situation provided...


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#6 Carl Looper

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Posted 07 November 2014 - 10:46 PM

I thought it might be interesting to have a conversation on here about "the natrual look" in cinema. I think making images that apear natrual or real has been a part of cinema for a long time ....even before more natrualistic lighting became a thought, but contemporary cinematography is with out a doubt more interested in natrualism then ever before. I'm not saying I am personaly for or against this trend I think it's and pardon my pun a natrual part of the evolution of filmmaking given new camera technology and our awareness,as well as ironic attitudes, toward things that feel fake or "cheesy".

 

I think the idea of natrualism in itself can be interpreted a lot of ways and I'm curious what others opinions are toward natrualism. How do you incorporate natrualism into your work? Do you hate the trend or love it .....is it here to stay or do you think we will renounce it? ....whose work do you love/hate?

 

There's a movement in cinema called "realism" which Andre Bazin elaborates. There are many films throughout the history of cinema that inteconnect with realism. However the philsophy behind such a movement is not in terms of what appears real (or natural) but more controversially: in terms what is real (or natural). The outcome of such is that the appearance of a realist work need not actually appear real or natural at all. This is because reality herself doesn't always appear real.

 

Just something to consider if you are inspired by those works known as realist.

 

http://artistfilm.bl...ial-effect.html


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#7 George Ebersole

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Posted 08 November 2014 - 01:55 AM

Well, okay, but I was taught that funny requires a lot of light, and drama requires less or more directed lighting.  I don't recall scary being equated with dark, though it could be.

 

When I say grittier, I guess what I really meant to say is a shot is less staged.

 

Can you give some other examples?

 

*EDIT*

Well, I had a look at several shorts by Evan Prosofsky, and I'm not seeing anything dramatic.  His exteriors use natural lighting from what I see.  No additional fill lights, no reflectors.  His interior stage work, on the other hand, you can see key and fill lights used, and I would not say that it looks more natural.  It looks like the same thing we've seen in previous generations of film making, only possibly done with fewer lights by virtue of the technology being used.


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#8 Albion Hockney

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Posted 08 November 2014 - 11:41 AM

 

There's a movement in cinema called "realism" which Andre Bazin elaborates. There are many films throughout the history of cinema that inteconnect with realism. However the philsophy behind such a movement is not in terms of what appears real (or natural) but more controversially: in terms what is real (or natural). The outcome of such is that the appearance of a realist work need not actually appear real or natural at all. This is because reality herself doesn't always appear real.

 

Just something to consider if you are inspired by those works known as realist.

 

http://artistfilm.bl...ial-effect.html

 

 

Thanks for that, this is a very interesting point and I will read that essay for sure. I think in terms of this conversation with a focus on the topic of lighting especially the work is rooted in the "real" world the one society created with street lights and lamps and all of that so when talking about natural looking image making I think the deffinetion is more about making images that look like what our eyes see day to day. Although again that is a really interesting notion.

 

 

George, to be honest I think you are a bit out of touch! I mean this not in a malicous way at all but, like I said Gordon Willis knocked down the notion that "funny requires a lot of light" with annie hall in 1977! ... Furthermore technology has not actually led to the requirment of less lights on a set in a way I know.....maybe smaller lights ....but keep in mind Prosofsky usually shoots film probably 50-400 speeds. Less lamps on set is for sure a part of the naturalistic asthetic which has been taking down the old stage lighting theatrical methods of doing things.

 

as far as more examples, they are indeed countless ....you didn't respond to Lubzeki's work on tree of life (also shot on film).... I could name a slew of highly regarded independent films that have similar ideology behind the lighting even if they use movie lamps.


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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 November 2014 - 12:14 PM

Comedies are generally more well-lit for various reasons, some just due people following old conventions, but there are also justifiable reasons -- one reason might be mood, that the tone of the story is fairly light and upbeat and the lighting reinforces this mood by not being "heavy", another reason is that physical humor often revolves around seeing physical interactions and relationships within the frame, and seeing the "gag" so the humor might be lost if the action is not clearly scene and understood. Gordon Willis may have proved that many of these conventions are not necessary but that's not the same thing as getting rid of the conventions, they still exist.

 

And horror films still rely on low-key shadowy lighting at times -- people do find dark spaces to be scarier than well-lit spaces, in real life and in the cinema.  If you can't see what's in the shadows and you establish or hint that there is something dangerous lurking there, then that can create tension in the viewer that would be released if the space suddenly became well-lit and shadowless.  So yes, it's possible to make a scary movie in a well-lit space or under low-contrast lighting, but shadowy lighting still can be effective in creating a feeling of dread or the anticipation of something bad about to happen, etc.

 

Cliches still get used in cinema because they still work.

 

Great filmmakers have often played against cliches --Hitchcock was notorious for that, his natural impulse was to set a murder scene in a sunny field of flowers, and yet when he made "Psycho", he opted for the classic gothic horror movie convention of the dark house on the hill, and many audiences responded to that.  So sometimes it works to respect a convention and other times, it works to break with convention.


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#10 Albion Hockney

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Posted 08 November 2014 - 01:19 PM

Thanks for the response David two thoughts come to mind I have recently been thinking about.

 

1. this is something Darren Aronofsky said recently which is that all his films are cliches and that it's not about using a cliche, but about how you go about getting there. In the terms of a DP I think this means ...for example taking your cliche backlit 50/50 kiss. In older cinema a dp might go straight for it ...big studio backlight camera close up super out of focus BG ...maybe some filtration. Now I think a way to get there might be much more subtle..... trying find a more naturalistic way to get to that moment that feels more true. Maybe you shoot on a longer lens farther away with a dirty frame, maybe that backlit is a street lamp instead that they just happen to be near ....etc.

 

2. Going along with the same scene I think the other notion that is more modern might be to do that super hollywod backlight thing but doing it with a knowing nod to the fact that it is referencing an early hollywood cliche. I think in a way this is even what Hitchcock was doing. Hitchcock knew the cliches well and he would flip them on their head to create irony ...Hitchcock thought his work was hilarious .... I think that is a very modern concept in itself as many people don't think of Hitchcock as a maker of comedy ....but he was! and his films are both funny and thrilling and scary....hence they deconstruct those concepts of what makes a comedy a comedy and so on.

 

 

Of course yes....I'm a total art guy and cliches do still work for a lot of audiences in a more conventional way ...and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. But I do think the goal of any artist is to, and I think as cinematographers we for sure are all artists even if we approach it more from a craft sensibility, progress the form in some way.


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#11 George Ebersole

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Posted 08 November 2014 - 03:57 PM

Well, "The Shining", "The Omen", Disney's "The Watcher in the Woods", and a few others whose titles I can't remember, didn't use the dark lighting scheme.  The emphasis there was on story, and the possibility of what might happen regardless of light design.

 

Another good example are the pseudo science documentaries from the 70s, where they talked about the Loch Ness monster, big foot, UFOs, ghosts, and what not.  Those pieces relied more on story telling convention than cinematic technique to get teenagers adrenaline pumping.

 

Even films like "Alien" or "The Amittyville Horror", where they had dark scenes, the real scary stuff happened in well lit areas.  The dark scenes only accentuated what had happened in the previous well lit scene.

 

Just my two bits.

 

p.s. I'm not a big horror fan...I think it's kind of a silly genre, but I guess teenagers like it.


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#12 Albion Hockney

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Posted 08 November 2014 - 04:14 PM

Tottaly, the shinning is so great for that reason. I can't really take horror seriously as a genre although some stuff gets made with in it I think that is interesting. Personally I think genre in it self is a silly thing and more of a marketing game than anything else.


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#13 Carl Looper

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Posted 08 November 2014 - 04:45 PM

 

I think in terms of this conversation with a focus on the topic of lighting especially the work is rooted in the "real" world the one society created with street lights and lamps and all of that so when talking about natural looking image making I think the deffinetion is more about making images that look like what our eyes see day to day. Although again that is a really interesting notion.

 

 

Yes indeed. Reality is composed of street lights as much as sunlight, and so on. The term "natural" is equally applicable (ie. not just to scenes of nature). It's interesting though, that one might make a distinction between reality and nature. But we can otherwise consider them synonyms. 

 

Reality also consists of a "day to day" view of the world. It is that which is familiar. However realism, as elaborated in film history, is not about recreating or mimicing the familiar (the ordinary, etc). Indeed the familar is often the very thing that realism unpacks. One looks to find what is quite unfamilar about our otherwise ordinary, mundane, day to day view of the world. The bizzare angles in film noir explore this idea. Making what is otherwise familiar, appear unfamilar, without in any way compromising the familar.

 

If we light a scene to look consistent with a familar environment it is not because we necessarily have any affinity with such a view of reality. In a horror film, for example (to employ a genre category), such a familiar environment can act as a way of lulling us into a false sense of security - of course we know in the back of our heads that such is precisely what is going on but go along with it. We entertain it. The realism is not in the immediate familiarlity of the scene, but if there is any realism it's in the suspense regarding what might, at any moment, disrupt that ordinary familar environment.

 

Carl


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#14 Carl Looper

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Posted 08 November 2014 - 04:54 PM

The realism is not in the immediate familiarlity of the scene, but if there is any realism it's in the suspense regarding what might, at any moment, disrupt that ordinary familar environment.

 

Whether it happens or not. For example, that play which is done with a familiar bathroom mirror in which we are completely unsettled as to whether the knife weilding maniac, or malicious ghost, will appear in the reflection or not.


Edited by Carl Looper, 08 November 2014 - 04:56 PM.

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#15 Carl Looper

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Posted 08 November 2014 - 05:09 PM

Another example of realism is Tarrantino's Death Proof.

 

The scenario is not in any way familar at all. How many of us will find someone on the bonnet of a car, travelling at high speed, familar? The realism is not in any mimicking of what a so called "audience" might find familar, day to day ordinary, believable, and so on. It is to be found elsewhere.

 

In Death Proof, it is in the quite tangible visible sense of danger the film elaborates. It has nothing to do with finding something consistent with an idea of the audience as otherwise asleep.

 

C


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#16 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 12 November 2014 - 01:50 PM

The other day we were laughing at how just 10 years ago, adding a handheld shot, was kind of "risky". Today, adding a blocked, rehearsed shot on a tripod is the new risky. 90% of the jobs I do the directors want handheld and they get very uncomfortable when it's on sticks or dolly and too planned out. "It's got no energy", they complain. Forget trying to cut in camera and tying shots together with a pan or a move. They want "options" in the edit. Coverage.

 

Naturalism is nothing new. Cinematography has moved in that direction since the 50's. The DSLR revolution just took it to the ultimate conclusion. But I'm starting to sense a very slight move away from some of the cliches of the last 5 years - the incessant flares, the themes etc. Cinematography will probably not go back to high key or noir styles - except for effect - but it will find a new type of naturalism. Perhaps a naturalism with some flair (not flare).

I've always considered myself a naturalistic cinematographer, but it's not for me to say if I am. Last 5 years I've made a conscious effort not to use backlight as part of the standard setup - or at least be very subtle with it - because it makes things look lit and artificial and fake in my opinion. Single source is always the goal, simple, less. Light the space, not the face etc. That said, I have complained over the last year how much my job has just become like a ENG operator for the local news. They don't want to create film magic anymore, there is no time or desire for lighting setups, shot design or crafting scenes etc. They just want you to grab the Alexa and shoot, shoot, shoot handheld in available light so they can have options in the edit. This bugs me, because I didn't get into films because I wanted to shoot documentaries, I got into it because I wanted to create worlds. You can't create worlds when you're asked to be a fly on the wall, hunt for the moment and shoot realism.

 

It's a problem I have to fight in the future, and a balance I have to find. How to stay naturalistic, but with the odd heightened reality. How to show craftsmanship, how to make cinema, when the tools to make cinema are not asked for anymore.

 

This will be the challenge for all DP's for the coming years.


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#17 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 November 2014 - 02:12 PM

I've been going through the exact same feelings as you.
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#18 John Holland

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Posted 12 November 2014 - 02:14 PM

I second and third that .


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#19 George Ebersole

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Posted 12 November 2014 - 05:03 PM

 

 

Thanks for that, this is a very interesting point and I will read that essay for sure. I think in terms of this conversation with a focus on the topic of lighting especially the work is rooted in the "real" world the one society created with street lights and lamps and all of that so when talking about natural looking image making I think the deffinetion is more about making images that look like what our eyes see day to day. Although again that is a really interesting notion.

 

 

George, to be honest I think you are a bit out of touch! I mean this not in a malicous way at all but, like I said Gordon Willis knocked down the notion that "funny requires a lot of light" with annie hall in 1977! ... Furthermore technology has not actually led to the requirment of less lights on a set in a way I know.....maybe smaller lights ....but keep in mind Prosofsky usually shoots film probably 50-400 speeds. Less lamps on set is for sure a part of the naturalistic asthetic which has been taking down the old stage lighting theatrical methods of doing things.

 

as far as more examples, they are indeed countless ....you didn't respond to Lubzeki's work on tree of life (also shot on film).... I could name a slew of highly regarded independent films that have similar ideology behind the lighting even if they use movie lamps.

 

Well, I'm just a washed up grip and stage-manager who just posts here every so often, so I am out of the loop.  Annie Hall doesn't strike me as being dramatically lit.  It's still a fairly well lit flim, but also uses "natural lighting" in the exteriors (though I'm pretty sure there were reflectors for those shots).

 

Can you name some films released in the last 10 years?


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#20 Philip Kral

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Posted 12 November 2014 - 05:41 PM

As a fairly new DP struggling to network and get his name out there, I've been somewhat bothered by the same frustrations that Mr. Frisch has been experiencing. About feeling like a cameraman instead of a DP. I can't help but feel that the digital age is partly to blame, I turn my back to add or adjust a light and the director takes one glimpse of the high res image on the monitor and usually tells me "I'm OK with this, lets just shoot." On film, no one seems sure but you if there's enough light where there's supposed to be.

 

I find it interesting that other DP's that have a lifetime more knowledge, experience and reputation then I do is having similar issues.

 

I guess you can say I second and third those statements too.... or just second Mr. Holland, lol.

 

To be fair, on the opposite end of the spectrum I've also run into a few directors who do want to make "cinema magic" but are such micro managers about it that they damn near take over your job. Makes me feel like a glorified grip and rental house sometimes.


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