• Cinematography - Starting out

    Q: I am looking at branching into cinematography but I don't really have any experience behind the camera.

    A: I recommend self education. You can do some courses but bear in mind they can cost quite a bit of money and I am always a bit skeptical when I am parting with hard earned cash. (If anyone has done or know of any good courses perhaps they'd mention them in the comments?). Personally I'd save some money and buy some equipment and books.

    I did film school at Uni but I wouldn't say anyone has to do it. The benefits with film school is if its a good one you make industry connections. To be honest I have met many professionals in film over the years and hardly any of them did film school.

    I'd start off with getting into photography too, many useful skills can be passed across to cinematography. Film is a visual medium so anything that helps you communicate the story visually will help.

    If you want to develop into a cinematographer ask yourself what is a cinematographer? With the internet you can learn a lot about lighting, colour temperatures, filtration, lensing, composition, etc...

    Perhaps buy a camera (say a DSLR, perhaps do some photography too).
    I'd also recommend reading up on Cinematography and camera books. These were standard when I was a trainee: Camera Assistants handbook (David E Elkins), 5C's of Cinematography (Joseph Mascelli), Painting with light (John Alton) and other books like Cinematic Motion (Steven D Katz) were also very useful. The Visual Story by Bruce Block is also recommended. A Cinematographer has to express the emotions and feelings through the script and onto the screen. So the more you understand about the visual communication side the better.

    Once you have the basics and understand how to tell stories visually, then you can start learning about important tools like different cameras, lights, flags, clamps, grip equipment etc. I suggest the Blain Brown books to start out but there are quite a few out there. When I graduated I got a job teaching Video Techniques at a summer school in America. So I have experience in educating people in film.

    If you did a course you would hopefully learn these too: Basics of lensing (the different types of lens, wide to long lens), aperture settings (for adjusting depth of field etc) frame composition, blocking actors for the frame, lighting (high key, low key, three point lighting, etc) Filtration (ND Filters, Graduated Filters, effect filters etc) colour temperature (3200k Tungsten to 5600k Daylight balance) and how different light temperatures cast a different range of colours in the visual spectrum) and how this can have an effect.

    Its all digital now so get up to speed about the tech. Get up to speed on Canons, Black Magic Cameras, Arri Alexa, Red Epic/Dragon, codecs, formats etc. Once you have grasped these concepts you will be above and beyond what a course will teach you and this info is on the web.

    You do also need to gain practical experience using cameras and lenses but I would suggest helping out on shoots and trying to learn as much as you can from professionals. If you hear anyone saying 'We'll fix it in post' stay well away. Likely you will not be learning the craft properly in that situation. However making mistakes is beneficial as you then understand the pitfalls next time you encounter that problem. Just don't drop or damage any equipment or that can be very costly.

    Hope this sheds some light on the wonders that is cinematography and filmmaking.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Recommended Courses started by DeanoB View original post
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. ccolreavy's Avatar
      ccolreavy -
      This is very sound advice. Take note. I'm a stills photographer transitioning into cinematography and filmmaking. I have taken courses at Filmbase in Templebar. They were expensive, but well worth it. Although my training in still photography was helpful and a good base to start from, cinematography has some techniques particular to its medium. I recommend you get in touch with Filmbase and ask to speak with Tristin. He will offer good advice.
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