Introduction to Cinematography
eBook - ePub

Introduction to Cinematography

Learning Through Practice

Tania Hoser

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  1. 396 pages
  2. English
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  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Introduction to Cinematography

Learning Through Practice

Tania Hoser

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About This Book

Introduction to Cinematography offers a practical, stage-by-stage guide to the creative and technical foundations of cinematography. Building from a skills-based approach focused on professional practice, cinematographer and author Tania Hoser provides a step-by-step introduction for both cinematographers and camera assistants to the techniques, processes, and procedures of working with cameras, lenses, and light. She provides hands-on insight into negotiating with production constraints and understanding the essentials of the image workflow from shot to distribution, on projects of any scope and budget.

Richly illustrated, the book incorporates exercises and sample scripts throughout, exploring light, color, movement, 'blocking', and pacing scenes. The principles and techniques of shaping and controlling light are applied to working with natural light, film lamps, and, as with all areas of cinematography, to low budget alternatives. This makes Introduction to Cinematography the perfect newcomer's guide to learning the skills of cinematography that enables seamless progression from exercises through to full feature shoots. Assessment rubrics provide a framework to measure progress as the reader's ability to visually interpret scripts and enhance the director's vision develops.

The book also teaches readers:

  • To understand and develop the combination of skills and creativity involved in cinematography;
  • Photographic principles and how they are applied to control focus exposure, motion blur, and image sharpness;
  • To identify the roles and skills of each member of the camera department, and how and when each are required during a shoot;
  • The order and process of lighting on all scales of productions and the use and application of the four main types of lamps;
  • How to use waveforms, false color, and zebras for monitoring light levels, and meters for guiding exposure choices;
  • The principles of the color wheel, color palettes, and the psychological effects of color choices;
  • How to shoot for different types of fiction and nonfiction/documentary films and how to apply these skills to other genres of TV and film production;
  • Strategies for both starting and progressing your career within cinematography and the camera department.

**Winner of 'Best new Textbook in Humanities and Media Arts' in the Taylor and Francis Editorial Awards 2018**

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Section B
Essential Working Knowledge for Cinematographers and Camera Assistants

Working on Set: Professional Practice

The aim of learning good professional practice is to enable you to work in the most efficient way possible, adapt effectively to different filming situations and be recognized as a professional. Knowing the procedure of a shoot and the scope and boundaries of your job will help you gain confidence, prioritize your tasks and know what you should be doing at any given time.
There are only minor differences in working practice internationally, which makes it easy to adapt to working with new crews in your home country and overseas. This chapter guides you through professional working practice in pre-production and on a shoot and details the roles of each member of the camera department. It goes on to show how to protect yourself and your equipment, to survive the many and varied filming situations you will find yourself in.
Learning Outcomes
This chapter will help you:
  1. Use pre-production effectively to streamline both the creative and practical work on a shoot
  2. Identify and understand the roles and skills required by each member of the camera department
  3. Know what you should be doing at each stage of a shoot
  4. Take steps to prevent harming yourself or others on a shoot
  5. Protect the camera equipment in a wide variety of weather and shooting conditions
The filmmaking process starts long before the shoot and usually continues long after it. Pre-production is when all the practical plans for the shoot are made but this is not the first stage of a film project. Whatever the genre, most films go through prolonged and often painful development and financing stages. When a film is eventually green-lit, the crew is entrusted to realize the full potential of the project and it is this responsibility that should always underlie your professional practice.

The Role of the Production Department

The production department co-ordinates all aspects of the filmmaking from casting to location finding, production design and catering. Production controls the budget, schedule and hiring of personnel. Understanding the purpose of the three key documents produced by the production department before the shoot will help you work together effectively.
The Budget: Includes all costs for every department. Being sensible with equipment requests is the key to working with production on the budget. Make sure you have enough to do what you need and some backup kit but don’t, for example, order equipment needed for a few specific days for the whole shoot. Production would prefer that they coordinate deliveries and collections so you have what you need when you need it.
The Schedule: Specifies which scenes are going to be shot each day. It is very carefully calculated so that all the personnel, cast and equipment are in the required locations for the right length of time to get the shots needed. The schedule is like a house of cards. If one scene isn’t shot or completed on the given day, it can cause a great deal of time-consuming and expensive re-arranging of the rest of the shoot days. To help the production department produce a viable schedule, flag up and discuss any scenes you envisage being complex or time-consuming to set up or light.
The Call Sheet: Based on the schedule, a Call Sheet is produced for each shoot day and usually issued at some point (often the evening) before the shoot. The call sheet gives the address and directions for the shoot. It lists which scenes are being shot, where, when, with what equipment and personnel and what is happening to the rushes (footage that has been shot) at the end of the day. It also provides information about hospitals and emergency contacts and the weather.
Everyone on set has the same call sheet and is expected to read and follow any instructions on it. If the call sheet has been shared with you online, at least one paper copy is very handy so that you have it to hand at all times.
Call sheet example.

The Role of the Camera Assistant in Pre-Production

In pre-production the objective of the camera assistant is to reduce the risk of delays or equipment failure on the shoot by:
  • Ensuring you have everything the camera department needs; and as little as possible that you won’t need.
  • Checking that all the equipment you have works as it should and can be assembled and reconfigured quickly (see C4a and 4b).
Accurately anticipating the kit to bring comes with experience and requires knowing which accessories are needed when, the preferences of the DP and understanding the needs of each shoot.

The Role of the Cinematographer in Pre-Production

In pre-production the cinematographer’s objectives are:
  • To research and discuss with the director to decide on the look or looks that will be shot.
  • To check, by testing, that the looks can be achieved with the combination of equipment, lighting and post production facilities you have.
  • Make as many decisions about shots, locations, equipment, facilities and people needed as you can, prior to the shoot to reduce set-up and discussion time once shooting.
This process starts, as per C1, by discussing concepts and approaches with the director and looking at references together. The steps involved in pre-production vary primarily based on the time available but, where time allows, will is more important than the budget. It is both possible and useful to go through all the steps below, whatever your budget.


  1. Read the script or brief before you meet with the director.
  2. Make ideas a priority at the first meeting, don’t just talk about how you would shoot the film. Find out the director’s thoughts on visualizing the story before discussing yours. Engage with the story rather than try to second-guess what the director wants to hear.
    Have conviction and get your fingers into the story. Your visual concepts are what you are being hired for. At the first meeting, I only talk about concepts and broad ideas for the visuals.
    David Wright1
  3. Based on what you have discussed or found out during the meeting, do lots of visual research, (like watching films, scenes of films, looking at photos, art, or going to places or spaces, or reading further about the concepts in the film) to help you develop ideas.
  4. Use your references at a second meeting to narrow down ideas about the look (lights, locations, etc.) and language (shot choices, shot durations, movement) you think would work. Don’t lock these off until you have the location scouted and tested, but do have these discussions as early as you can on a project. This is because on a big shoot, the director may well become very busy with other departments in the run-up to a shoot. Or on a low budget project, you may all be busy scrambling around in the time-consuming process of getting the equipment, facilities and personnel in place for as little money as possible.
    When I read the script, I really just try to be moved by the story in a multi-sensory way. Images and music come to mind, not just ideas from other films … I also bring what I have been experiencing in life, like an art exhibition or an image of something I’ve seen that’s stayed with me.
    Roberto Schaefer
  5. Go with the director and the designer (if there is one) to look at enough potential locations until you find places that work for your scenes in terms of both the look of the place and the shots you can get there. Pay particular attention to the position of the sun and if and when direct sunlight will shine into the location and when it will be obscured. Look at how the light falls naturally and is reflected back by the colors and textures of the environment and what, if any lighting is already available there. (See C11 and C12.)
  6. Start working on a storyboard of what will be in frame for either the key shots in each scene or every shot in the film (these can be done with apps or drawn very simply; stick figures are fine).
  7. Go on a scout with the other heads of department, production design, sound, gaffer and, if possible, camera assistant and grip, to look at the practicalities of shooting in the locations. Assess access to the location, interference of extraneous sound, availability of electricity, and safety of equipment and personnel, etc.
    You never know if having the same ideas as the director or having something new to add is more likely to get you hired.
    Roberto Schaefer2
  8. Produce a shot list and photo/video or storyboard, ideally shot at the location with people standing in for your cast. These should be at the same or a similar aspect ratio/shape that you are planning to shoot, because your shots will look very different depending on the shape of the frame. This is a good time to test out aspect ratios (see C6) if you aren’t sure. The lower the budget the more important this is because you will have less equipment and fewer people with enough experience to make optimal decisions on the spot while you are shooting. This shot list will get refined later but it is important to produce it early to help you prepare your equipment list, and for production to work out how long each scene will take to shoot. Use a director’s viewfinder app on your Smartphone (from around $10) that allows you to p...

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