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The hidden genious behind cinematography


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#1 Jonathan Spear

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Posted 06 September 2005 - 04:51 AM

I've been trying to figure out if there are any "formulas" behind great cinematography and cinematographers...

The only thing I could find was that unlike some other forms of art, cinematography kind of works by one of Da Vinci's principles of Art/Science - simultaneously using both sides of your brain. Creativity seems to play a major role, but it doesn't work without the 'scientific' or technical knowledge of light itself, the mechanics of the camera, physics, perception of depth, mathematics, etc.

Maybe that's why so much amateur work doesn't have that subtle awesomeness that more of the 'pro' stuff does. Seems like us rookies tend to strive for a high level of creativity sometimes at the price of all of the crucial (and sometimes tedious) technical know-how.

Any thoughts?
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 06 September 2005 - 09:31 AM

Most people going into cinematography have some sort of natural talent, something they do well. It's just different for different people. The people who succeed tend to be the ones who work on their weak areas rather than just rely on their strengths. A writing teacher once told me "Lean in the opposite direction of your tendencies", which is something I try and keep in mind. Since my tendency is towards previsualization and design, I try and work on being more spontaneous and flexible on the set, more intuitive.
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#3 Marty Hamrick

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Posted 06 September 2005 - 08:15 PM

Since my tendency is towards previsualization and design, I try and work on being more spontaneous and flexible on the set, more intuitive.

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My field is the exact opposite.I do news/doc type stuff and it's like playing jazz or alternative music vs. playing classical.Each day,I work with a different journalist,kind of like working with a different director/actor every day(our print counterparts call TV reporters "actors" in kind of good natured way of making fun of them),the script is written after the story is shot,based on the information found,interviews and video shot.Much of my job is "mind melding" with the reporter I work with and adapting my styles to theirs and adding my visual input.When I take a freelance gig on a commercial or anything else that is previsualized and designed beforehand,I have to take a step back and rethink my methodology.

You should try docs sometime David,I bet the style would be very disciplined.
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#4 Chris Keth

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Posted 06 September 2005 - 08:56 PM

That's a very good way of putting it, really.

Cinematography and photography both tend to attract people who have strengths on both side of their brain. I won't claim to be a strong cinematographer yet, but I am certainly like that and am improving the craft very much. I was teetering between being a film production major and a physics major (!!!) when I entered college. I have strong scientific and mathematical leanings as well as artistic, as does my Grandfather who everyone likens me to.

Edited by Christopher D. Keth, 06 September 2005 - 08:56 PM.

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#5 Marty Hamrick

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Posted 07 September 2005 - 10:02 AM

That's a very good way of putting it, really.

Cinematography and photography both tend to attract people who have strengths on both side of their brain. I won't claim to be a strong cinematographer yet, but I am certainly like that and am improving the craft very much. I was teetering between being a film production major and a physics major (!!!) when I entered college. I have strong scientific and mathematical leanings as well as artistic, as does my Grandfather who everyone likens me to.

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Interesting you mention your grandfather.Creative/technical talent seems to be passed on from generation to generation and encompass all of the arts.I recently found a picture of my mom and aunts taken sometime back in the 1930's.I was told that my grandfather developed the negatives and printed them himself, a feat of some skill indeed considering that was the Depression era and my folks were very poor sharecroppers in rural South Georgia.I don't know what kind of camera he was using but I suspect it to be an old Kodak Brownie,where he opted to develop the pics himself rather than send them out.
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#6 Sam Javor

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Posted 08 September 2005 - 09:05 PM

Interesting you mention your grandfather.Creative/technical talent seems to be passed on from generation to generation and encompass all of the arts.I recently found a picture of my mom and aunts taken sometime back in the 1930's.I was told that my grandfather developed the negatives and printed them himself, a feat of some skill indeed considering that was the Depression era and my folks were very poor sharecroppers in rural South Georgia.I don't know what kind of camera he was using but I suspect it to be an old Kodak Brownie,where he opted to develop the pics himself rather than send them out.

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just as odd myself and my great great grand father (US civil war) played the drums and were in the military and even have practically the same expression on our face in our miitary photograhs. military service has also been very other generation in my family. Also, my mom wanted to get an art degree but her dad made her get an accounting degree :) My dad has a fairly successful handyman business.

I think alot of it is based on non-cosmopolitan lifestyle in that children knew exactly what it was that their parent did for a living and for fun and could step in and replace them at nearly a moment notice in case of disability...and that that practice was more accepted in the past :) ie can I fill in as an accountant when my mom is sick? no... could I fill in for my dad to do home repairs? yes.
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#7 AshG

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Posted 09 September 2005 - 11:39 AM

Wow, great post... I say this all the time. The real stars going forward, especially in the small and medium budget areas, are going to be those who can combine technology with creativity. An example I like to use is one that came up with an editor I work with a lot. He was watching some average DV stuff and wondering why the DV I shot looked so much better. He is a GREAT guitar player as well so I picked up his guitar and chowed some sour notes. I then made the point that it is the exact same guitar that sounds great when he plays it.

I also have had the discussion about what the difference between a videographer and a cinematographer. Some argue that it is merely the medium, I argue that a videographer is someone who uses a camera to CAPTURE an image while a cinematographer is someone who uses a camera to CONTROL and CREATE an image.


ash =o)
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#8 Marty Hamrick

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Posted 10 September 2005 - 09:39 AM

I also have had the discussion about what the difference between a videographer and a cinematographer. Some argue that it is merely the medium, I argue that a videographer is someone who uses a camera to CAPTURE an image while a cinematographer is someone who uses a camera to CONTROL and CREATE an image.
ash  =o)

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I dunno.You can control and create an image with a video camera as well.Not as much maneuverability,but video has come a long way with the ability to control and manipulate the image.
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