Cinematography vs Videography: Part 2

[Ah, yes. Sam’s long-awaited follow up. A great primer on the nitty gritty of cinematography, but as he says, this is just the beginning. It is so much more than “The Rule of Thirds” and “4-Point Lighting.” But walk before you run! If you don’t, you’ll fall down. A lot. …trust me… –BB]

In Part 1 of “Cinematography vs Videography”, I covered a bit of film theory. Now, I want to focus more on some best practices for cinematographers. From composition to shot blocking and lighting, cinematography is not only an art form, but a craft that requires a great deal of commitment and effort. Below, I will list some helpful techniques to get you headed on a path to excellent filmmaking.

First, composition! This is absolutely one of the most important pieces of cinematography. Iʼm going to start you off with a basic framing technique. This is called the “rule of thirds”. This is both common in still photography and cinematography. The rule of thirds approaches the framing of the subject by placing it/them in the adjoining points on a tic-tac-toe style diagram.

Rule of Thirds

Framing an object or subject in this way is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Haphazard framing will not make good cinema. Giving a human subject enough but not too much head-room is very key to framing. Also giving them look-room leads our eyes toward a direction that the character and director is leading us (the viewer) to see. Placing the eye-line along the middle-upper line of the thirds scale is best to give the viewer a sense of being in the experience and relating to the scene/film as a third party present.

Secondly, shot blocking is very key to the technique of filmmaking. This is because in film we use lenses that typically have a shallow depth of field, and we need to make focus marks to maintain a sharp image. We need to block the camera movements to maintain continuity and motivation in our camera work. It is also important to have enough people on duty watching where the camera operator is moving and making sure that cable is pulled and nothing is obstructing his/her movement or shot. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!!!! Please measure your focus. If your lenses are working properly, then you will be able to measure from the distance of the film or sensor to the subject. Adjust your focus to match that distance and youʼll be amazed out how things are actually in focus. Also use an HD monitor (if shooting digital) to verify that the shot is in focus. This is a secondary step however. Each shot is vital to the storytelling process, get the best shot you can with the budget, crew and gear you have at your disposal. Good filmmaking is only partly about the equipment. Smart and quick thinking will get you a long way!

Lastly, lighting is one of the primary visual devices used to to tell the story. This part of the mise-en-scene is vital to delivering an effective message. Below is a basic four-point lighting set up. This will help you get the ball rolling on lighting your scenes.

4-Point Lighting. The camera would be at the bottom of this diagram, aimed at the subject

There many variations of this, but this is just a good starter. First, you have the key light, this is what illuminates your subject (typically in the foreground). It is also usually the strongest light you have. Secondly, a fill light is angled similarly to the key, but on the flip side of the camera. This serves to “fill” in any harsh shadows created by the fill. Then you have a back light or “hair” light pointing toward the back of the subjectʼs head and/or shoulders to visually separate them from the background. Finally, the background light is what illuminates just that… the background. The concept of CREATING DEPTH with lighting is what weʼre aiming for here. The masters of film are masters of manipulating light.

This hopefully gives you all some good pointers to go out and SHOOT your films. The best way to learn is to DO it!

–SS

This weeks lesson:
Cinematography is an intentional craft,
not a haphazard activity.

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5 Responses to Cinematography vs Videography: Part 2

  1. Mari says:

    Lighting, lighting, lighting…. I should say it again… lighting! That’s such a big part of being a good Cinematographer. It tells the story in ways the writing would have never thought about. If you partner with a lighting expert you trust, it’s magic.

    • Lighting is a huge part of cinematography, yes. But it is absolutely NO replacement for good writing. The lighting cannot tell the story. It can help the story. But it cannot tell it. How many hollywood movies have we all seen that look beautiful but are total crap because the writing was bad? Plenty.

      At the same time, I’ve seen great films that looked like crap, but were still infinitely better than most of the “well lit” movies around today. Heck, at the dawn of film, “good lighting” meant you were able to see the picture on the screen. Watch “The Great Train Robbery” or “Trip To The Moon” and tell me that the lighting is more important than the writing.

      To quote the geniuses at Pixar yet again, “Story is King.” (Incidentally, the lighting for “Toy Story” is not very good at all. But what a great story!) –BB

  2. Dave Dyer says:

    A pretty easy read, with enough technical info to actually be helpful without being so dull it glazes you over. A good selection of charts and graphs regarding everything from POV, to lighting, and editing. For the first time cinematographer, this is a great starting reference.

  3. Pingback: Liz’s Cinematography 101: So Many Facets!!! | nuatexperiment

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