Liz’s Cinematography 101: So Many Facets!!!

[All right. Something exciting. Our Director of Photography, Elizabeth Nelsen, is going to begin a weekly series JUST on Cinematography to delve deeper into the subject introduced by Sam Sullivant here and here. Stay tuned for awesomeness.]

Elizabeth Nelsen, Director of Photography

In this post, I am going to lay out a few topics that I will be covering in greater detail in upcoming posts. Cinematography is a far-reaching and exhaustive subject. It may seem confusing to know where to begin.

While it is important to keep up to date with new technologies and gear, it can become daunting and also distracting. Especially in the age of the “Video DSLR”, there are countless gadgets out there! It is easy to get sidetracked with these things and forget the importance of utilizing only the tools that best service the story.

Believe me, I also get tired of hearing, “It’s all about the story.” It’s as if there is a never-ending battle between the writer types and the tech heads. I believe in the importance of a good image and all it entails, but at the end of the day, if it was accomplished for a mediocre story, it definitely feels less fulfilling. The goal, then, is to have a great story that is made stronger by the stunning visuals.

Cinematography in its most basic definition means “to record movement”, and in addition, photography means “to write with light”.

The more we understand about how to control light and manipulate it to serve our means, the better cinematographers we can become. Don’t be fooled – this involves more than knowing where to set your lights, though that is critically important!

Below are just a few topics that we will touch on in the forthcoming posts:

Light must be planned.

As with all of these points, you must know the story and the director’s visual interpretation of it in order to go forward.

Does it call for high-key or low-key lighting?
Do you light with soft light, hard light, or both?
How can you use color to enhance the story?

Light must be measured.

Some cinematographers light by eye, some depend on a waveform monitor, and others swear by their light meter. No matter what method works best for you, it is essential to have an understanding of measuring light.

An understanding of how light meters work will prove itself to be a great tool no matter the method of measurement you find yourself using.

Beyond measuring light, it is also important to know how a film stock or a video sensor responds to the light – the dynamic range or latitude.

Light must be focused.

The lens. The lovely and pricey piece of equipment that is responsible for gathering all the light and focusing it into the image we want to see.

There are so many choices to make when it comes to choosing a lens:

What focal lengths are needed?
How fast does the lens need to be?
How do you want the lens to respond to flare?
Do you want a lens that gives crisp and contrasty colors or do you want a more muted, dreamy, vintage look?

Oh yes, and let’s not forget about actually keeping the image in focus!

Light can be filtered.

Some people prefer to apply all of their filtration effects in post production. While post production possibilities are constantly improving, there is still great benefit in knowing which filters can be used in certain situations. It may even give you more latitude in post!

There are also some essential filters that you will not want to be without.

Plus, I tend to believe the good folks at Schneider and Tiffen know a thing or two about the character of light and how to manipulate it!

….and these topics are just a selection of things on the subject!

Remember, the first thing to consider as you approach cinematography is to know the needs presented for the story you are telling. This is paramount, because it gives us a starting point in knowing how to get there!


Liz’s Lesson:
Cinematography is the broad sweeping discipline
of enhancing the story with beautiful visuals.

Please: Leave us comments! Let us know what you think about the blog and the project, and tell us what you want to see or hear more about! Like we said in our first blog post, this blog is “about you almost as much as it is about us.” ;)

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2 Responses to Liz’s Cinematography 101: So Many Facets!!!

  1. Kelli says:

    One of the most interesting things about being a “writer type” is seeing how it turns out visually. When I see things in my head they’re usually pretty basic. But when someone creates it on film and does a fabulous job with the lights, the depth of field, the framing, the colors, the camera movements — it makes it come to life in a way I never even thought of. It’s one of my favorite things ever.

    • I feel the same way. I wish I was able to create those images myself, because I do have them in my head. But I will ALWAYS rely on someone like Liz to create the visuals, because they will always be better than what I can do. –BB

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