30 tips about cinematographers!

This article summarizes the 30 most important things that cinematographers need to pay attention to. Perhaps there is one that can help you break through the bottleneck that has always been inevitable.

Remember, the cinematography is an enduring practice.

Behind the scenes of the movie "The Last Emperor" Director of Photography: Vittorio Storaro

Behind the scenes of the movie “The Last Emperor” Director of Photography: Vittorio Storaro

1. Creative thinking

Stanley Kubrick and his cinematographer John Alcott designed to shoot a scene with candlelight. As a result, this method is like painting, free from all kinds of constraints. Designing a creative solution for the visual effects you want to present is an excellent way to improve shooting techniques.


2. Let the picture move

Maintaining the visual activity and attractiveness of the audience is vital to the lens design.

Although the director determines the film’s overall style, designing some cost-effective motion schedules for the shots will make the film more vivid and realistic in front of the audience.


3. Try different focal lengths

Try using a wide-angle lens to take close-up shots, or use a telephoto lens to take fixed-field shots. When time permits, any narrative experiment that fits the film is worth trying. Maybe you will find a more unique perspective to enhance the expressiveness of the story.


4. Choose the right equipment

Be as familiar with all types of cameras and lenses as possible. If the director needs something different, you need to be prepared, not only to make suggestions but also to have the necessary knowledge to perform the filming. Mastering a variety of solutions to achieve the desired effect will also make you a favorite of the producers, which means more job opportunities.


5. Learn to analyze scripts

The members of the photography team are even the director of photography, and sometimes they don’t even know where the current shooting is in the script. However, for cinematographers, technology and awareness are indispensable. You need to figure out what you want to shoot and what you want to express before shooting. Remember, you are also creating for the narrative and expression of the film, not just a photographer.


6. Make time planning ahead of time

Use the shot schedule management software, it is best to complete all the shooting arrangements with the production team. This means that using schedule planning software for schedule management can better understand the overall project arrangement. Your team members are looking forward to moving forward under your leadership, remember not to let them down.


7. Don’t let the color be too single

As long as the shooting method is proper, putting color and its contrasting color into the picture together can make the visual hierarchy richer. Although most of them come from the design of the art department, it also requires the cooperation of other departments such as lighting and clothing to present the best visual effects.


8. Put narrative first

Please take the actors into consideration of your overall creation, because when the lights illuminate the actor’s surroundings, you are also using the lights to shape the overall atmosphere. Although it is necessary to light the actors according to the defined light marks, in some cases you can also adjust the lighting according to the schedule, and sometimes even the on-the-spot changes will bring surprises to the shooting.


9. Keep collecting inspiration

Which film do you think the best cinematography ever produced? Who is your favorite photographer? Perhaps everyone has different aesthetic tastes, but it is not shameful to draw inspiration from other works. Orson Wells never denies that he drew inspiration from photography in John Ford’s “Flying Guanshan”, and it was the re-innovation of the inspiration that made “Citizen Kane” in film history. Leave a name.


10. Become an artist

Try to be proficient in the expression and design language of visual art, and spend more time understanding those great works of art. The tools for creating great images may change, but this basic principle has not changed over the past century. You have to treat every shot and every frame as a work of art carefully crafted after repeated scrutiny.

Behind the scenes of the movie "The Hateful Eight" Director of Photography: Robert Richardson

Behind the scenes of the movie “The Hateful Eight” Director of Photography: Robert Richardson

11. Observe through the viewfinder

If you don’t have a camera monitor, whether it’s a traditional director’s viewfinder, camera, your fingers, or even a framed thing, it’s all right to observe the screen! Because the audience can only see what is inside the box, you also have to use this box to conceive the picture. In the long run, any device that can train your eyes to observe the world from the perspective of a picture frame will help you become a better photographer.

12. Perform hard/soft light test

Hard light and soft light can create a completely different feeling. Hard light is easier to control than soft light. Hard light can be softened, but soft light cannot be hardened. If you want to control the shadows and don’t want the light to fly everywhere, the Fresnel lens is much easier than KINO.

13. Please bring a camera when looking at the scene

If you forget to bring your camera, you can use your mobile phone to take pictures and record. But ideally, you need an SLR camera or mirrorless camera of the same size as the camera’s photosensitive element. In addition, you should also bring a zoom lens that includes the focal length of the lens you have conceived, so that you can test different focal lengths when looking at the scene and find a suitable camera position.

14. Make a table of shots

After the technical scene is completed, you should start to make a sub-lens table, listing the lenses and focal lengths you need in the scene. When shooting, a well-arranged table of shots will become one of your most useful tools on the scene.

15. Choose a suitable location

Understand the changes in the light of your chosen location during the year or day, and record it as much as possible. The better the location and location you choose for location shooting, the better the view and scenery you will get, which will also reduce the work pressure of your team to a certain extent.

16. Master a variety of methods to increase the sense of depth

As you may already know, the sense of depth we feel in the movie is essentially just an illusion. Your brain is deceiving itself into believing that the plane image you see has a three-dimensional sense of space. Although there are many ways to create “depth” for the picture, if you want to raise the level of photography to a higher level, you must get rid of some tricks and really open your mind to create.

17. Never say “Let me fix it later”

Don’t rely too much on the later stage! The most representative and best film photography usually depends on the setting and lighting effects. If the required content is not captured correctly at the scene, more time and money will be spent on re-creation in the later stage.

Give yourself time to create, and remember that you were hired because of your professional photography skills and abilities! Your producer will be grateful that you saved him so much money, knowing that compared to letting the art team fix some small flaws, the cost of post-fixing is several times more expensive!

18. Don’t be too conceited

remember! You may not be the most experienced person on the scene! Even those who have many years of filmmaking technology and experience may be working for you! Especially your lighting engineer and mechanical team leader, they may be well-trained and creative people. Try to assign your problem to them to solve it, and you won’t be disappointed!

19. Learn to manage your photography team

In fact, the most important advice on filmmaking is not the shooting skills, but the skills of using people. The members of the crew are accustomed to respecting clear and clear decision-making arrangements. They may be happy to do these tasks, but if you always toss them because of one thing, they will definitely be very unhappy. So keep your mind clear and respect them, take responsibility for your mistakes, and become a responsible leader.

20. Make a comprehensive solution

Sometimes you may have to carry equipment, arrange lights, set up tracks, or even set up art scenes yourself. You should understand the work content of each position of the crew, so that you can also understand and respect the work of others more. There will be various problems in the shooting scene, which also means that you must know which position should be responsible for the problem in order to solve the problem more efficiently.

Movies "American Beauty", "Road to Destruction" Director of Photography: Conrad Hall

Movies “American Beauty”, “Road to Destruction” Director of Photography: Conrad Hall

21. Use works to show your skills

Things will be damaged and equipment will be outdated. Sometimes spending hundreds of thousands of high-end cameras and equipment will not bring you work. The job of photography is to learn to evaluate the limitations and advantages of your own equipment and combine your shooting skills to achieve the best picture effect according to the existing conditions.


22. Never borrow money to save equipment

Investing must be cautious, knowing that understanding your own advantages and maintaining a good cooperative relationship is far more important than how much equipment you have. Once the producers know that you have these “high-end” equipment, they will hire you, but they may just want to use the equipment for free, or at least at a lot of discounts. If this goes on, your equipment investment may never be able to recover.


23. Understand drone technology

If you want to maintain good communication with your drone operator, you must understand what the drone can and cannot do. Although this kind of technical knowledge is about drones, drone shooting has become more and more important, and you must pay attention to it. Do your best to study them, at least to know when and how you can use drones.


24. A good photographer should know that enough is enough

please remember! The duration of the audience’s attention is very short! Keep it as simple as possible, and most directors and producers can only stick to the first 30 seconds. Don’t make your portfolio too complicated, short time, and high quality, delete those shots that even you think are ordinary!


25. Don’t quarrel with other people in front of your group members

In the filming and production, it is normal for opinions to have differences. But you should listen to the strengths of the other person instead of staring at the weaknesses. Questioning the director or other department heads in front of everyone makes them more resistant to suggestions because it looks like they have lost control. Trying to communicate in private can also eliminate this embarrassment. After all, everyone is trying to make the film better.


26. Develop and follow work procedures

As the photographer, Art Adams said: “Scheduling, lighting, rehearsal, fine-tuning, shooting. Repeat, repeat each step before to adjust, to complete the shooting.” This is really important! If the actors cannot be present, they need to use light substitutes and make sure that they are at least similar in height, body shape, and skin color. You know, all the shooting techniques in the world cannot illuminate an absent person!


27. Develop the habit of viewing announcements

The production department will send you announcements every day, and you must also want to know which content is the most important. In the notice, the production department will list the important details of the next day’s shooting in detail, and you must carefully check the daily notice. Because, as a photographer, there may be many people who will consult you.


28. Test the camera before shooting

Learn how to use resolution boards, color cards, and mannequins to perform traditional camera tests, and perform these tests the first time you get the camera. Cultivate yourself to develop a fixed test habit, so that you can clearly understand the situation of the camera before shooting, and you can adjust the lighting and shooting methods in advance.


29. Choose a suitable aperture gear

Changing the aperture gear for each lens will make the depth of field change too obvious, and it will also cause the sharpness of the picture to change. For each scene, you should determine a basic exposure parameter, and in the same scene, use this exposure parameter for shooting at every angle. Keep in mind that opening the aperture to the maximum often means the loss of sharpness of the picture. Please determine whether you must need such a shallow depth of field.


30. Try to innovate

Please always urge yourself to innovate! Although I mentioned it before, what I want to emphasize here is that “you can’t bear to let your children get caught up with wolves”. Only if you dare to take risks can you gain. Don’t be afraid to break the rules set by these predecessors, after all, rules are used to break. However, you must be safe before you develop a good shooting habit. Not just you, but also your equipment!