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Thread: Recommended Courses

  1. #1

    Default Recommended Courses

    Hi Guys, i am looking at branching into cinematography and i don't really have any experience behind the camera. I know you learn a lot just "DOING IT" But i really want to start learning from the best from the start, can anyone recommend any courses that aren't a fortune or even if someone on here is a seasoned DOP cinematographer i dont mind paying for some private instructions. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  2. #2
    Dublin City

    Join Date
    Nov 2012


    I recommend a bit of self education Dean. You can do some courses at filmbase etc but bear in mind theycan charge quite a bit of money and I am always a bit skeptical when I am parting with hard earned cash. (If anyone has done any of these causes perhaps you'd like to comment?). 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 power of the internet you can learn a lot about such. lighting, colour temperatures, filtration, lensing, composition. can all be found on the internet. Perhaps buy a camera (DSLR perhaps do some photography too :-) and a decent lens instead of paying a fortune for a course. 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 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 becoming digital now too so get up to speed about the tech. Get up to speed on Canons, Black Magic Cameras, Arri Alexa, Red Epic/Dragon etc. Think 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.

    Any questions Dean I will be happy to answer them for you. Hope this sheds some light on the wonders that is cinematography and filmmaking.

  3. #3


    Holy shit that was a great response.

  4. #4


    That was possibly the greatest answer to any question i have asked on any internet forum. Thank you. If you where to recommend one camera and one book to start me off what would it be. I was thinking of doing the weekend intro to camera and lighting in Filmbase but its 300 euro and you use the Sony EX1.

  5. #5
    Dublin City

    Join Date
    Nov 2012


    I haven't done any of the Filmbase courses so I can't comment on how good or bad their courses are. My first camera was a Sony Z1 and it was really the predecessor to the EX1. I also know a guy who shot a feature in Germany on an EX1 and the final results looked very good. The EX1 is more of a documentary or designed for ENG (Electronic News Gathering) type shoots in my opinion. Still I believe that far too many people get caught up on the type of Camera. You could make a reasonable looking short on an iphone as long as whoever is operating it knows how to compose shots with it and be able to set it up correctly. Basically I wouldn't worry too much about the camera type at this stage. An EX1 would be a good camera to start learning on though, and will provide you with decent looking images albeit might be a little advanced for a total beginner.

    Remember for not very much money you could get a DSLR camera. Nikon and Canon are the cameras that most people choose to shoot on. There are alternatives companies producing DSLRs too but I personally use a Canon both for photography and for low budget video shoots. I have used all types of Canons from the 550D to the 5D MKIII. In my opinion people fall into the trap of wanting the best camera, or "your not using a proper camera unless its a 6D or a 5D MK III" or whatever crap they come out with. There are reasons for using higher end cameras, like fulfilling Client expectations (a paying client wants what they think is a reasonable camera) etc. But for starting out i'd my opinion a Canon 550D is a good start or a 7D if you want to spend a little more. The 7D was good enough to use on the subway scenes on Black Swan, so that also means the Canon 550D could have been used too (they both share the same video sensor). Owning your own camera is good because you can spend quality time learning it over a longer period of time and you can work at your own pace.

    I think its important to get a decent lens to go with the camera. When your starting out you'll probably go for a zoom, as it gives you more range/versatility (if you only have one lens). You could get a 17-50mm Tamron f2.8 to start (I own one of these and its not bad for the price). I tend to use prime lenses though. A prime lens doesn't 'zoom' instead it has a fixed focal length but they are faster (allow more light to hit the focal plane) and they are sharper. You need to position the camera more though or swap out lenses to cover the focal length difference.

    You can find out the speed of a lens by its f-stop. A cheaper zoom might have an f stop of say f4-f5.6. This basically means less light travels through the lens due to the aperture diameter and optical quality. A Cine 'Hollywood' lens with say T1.3 would be using better optics (than our f2.8 or f4-f5.6). The 'T' by the way means 'Transmission' and is used specifically on Cinema lenses. Still camera lenses normally use 'F' stops. They are similar except the 'T' Stop factors in the amount of light thats lost as it travels through the lens so a 'T' stop is far more accurate and precise.

    It's up to you if you want to pay for the Filmbase course. If I had enough people interested I might run a hands on workshop myself. If the Filmbase course is all talk and listen then I would say what they teach you could learn online. If you actually get to learn how to set up the camera and get hands on one on one time with the camera and the lights then it might be worth the money.

    As for lighting learn you can begin right now. Learn some 3 and 4 point lighting techniques. There are different genres that use different types of light. I really like Chiaroscuro (lots of dominant shadows) this is low key lighting and would be used in old film noire (like 'Double Indemnity') and more recent films like (Barry Lyndon, Blade Runner and Black Rain). Do yourself a favour and head down to the National Gallery. Check out the Caravaggio's - 'The Taking of Christ', its a perfect example this contained within its light, shadows and reflections. Look at it and think about where the lighting is coming from and how you would create this if it was a scene in your film. Also Check out resources like youtube for more information on lighting. Here's a good start

    As for books I would recommend heading down the library first and grabbing some photography books. Get your head around the composition (not the technical) side of things first. Learn depth of field, subject positioning/composing a shot and the rule of thirds etc. One that I remember looking at was the Michael Freeman books Books like 'The Photographers Eye' was one such book. You should get inspired by such books. Then once your comfortable with this perhaps try Cinematography: Theory and Practice (Blain Brown), this covers a decent amount of information. There is no one book to cover it all. Read the books, lots of books like the ones I mentioned in the previous message. Don't rush though. Study it. It all takes time (even a seasoned cinematographer is always learning new things). Make sure you absorb the info by making lots of written notes and keep them so you can refer back to them whenever you need to. Refresh yourself regularly as its easy to forget certain topics, especially at the start. Test yourself often. And now possibly the best part...

    Watch lots of quality films, heres a few to check out.

    Blade Runner, Godfather, Night of the Hunter (The IFI are showing this old classic next week :-), Apocalypse Now to start with. Don't be scared to make notes about why you think the specific lighting and compositions were chosen and try to work out how it was achieved.

  6. #6


    I did an Introduction to Cinematography course of 3 weeks at the Met Film School based at Ealing Studios in London last Jan/Feb 2013. It cost 1500 but compared to the 3 day courses in Dublin it was marvelous value. It was very intensive and focused on Camera, lights , audio and history of cinema. There were only 8 of us in total and the attention to detail was fantastic. As a TOTAL novice it was fantastic for me. I had just retired after 35 years teaching and this has pushed my boundaries way beyond what I had expected. They will ask you for a showreel of some work and will select the entrants. In my group there were 2 post production guys from Oman, 1 war reporter from Palestine, 1 guy from Mumbai who works in Bollywood, a scriptwriter, an Aerial photographer and a student just finished her masters in photography.
    This might not be an option for some , unless you have accommodation in London.
    The tutors were working in the industry. Mark Barrs (Camera) Phil Sindall (Lighting) and were so helpful in every aspect.
    We each had to pitch an idea for a short commercial and each of us directed the others for our own shoot. Roles were varied for each shot and professional actors were hired in as part of the course. The hours were long from 8am to to about 6pm but could run longer. The Saturdays gave us the opportunity to shoot footage using techniques learned that week.
    All equipment was supplied but you were encouraged to bring your own gear in if you had any. After the course I managed to purchase a Sony EX1 which was as close as I could get to the main camera that we used the EX3. We did however get a "go " with an Arri Alexa and a Red. ( limited). The end of course was presentation of each of our "movies" followed by a liquid session in "Studio 6".
    I cannot recommend this course higher but perhaps there is similar to be had here but I could not find anything for my level. I hope someone might find this useful.


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