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Achieving a certain look (70s American New Wave + indie/hipster aesthetics)

Andrew Yi

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I'm a relatively new student of photography and cinematography, and time and time again I find myself drawn to a certain look that I want to master. I'm not even sure if this whole look constitutes its own classification or categorization, but I can't help noticing this certain trend that seems to permeate throughout the movies and photos that I see.


So I'll go ahead and try to describe and cite sources of this look first of all, and hopefully someone can help me identify it and help me achieve it.


This aesthetic to me basically comes from late 60s -70s American movies, and it kind of died in the 80s and early 90s to make a comeback with 90s indie movements. I'm not even sure how to technically describe it, but it just seems to me to use a lot of lens flares, extreme exposures (both under and over), desaturated, use of filters...etc.


In case nobody has idea what look I'm talking about, I'll just go ahead and list films that sort of demonstrate this. I think it mostly comes from the Mardi Gras/acid trip montage at the end of Easy Rider. Or at least that's the earliest I've seen it in such prominent ways. Lots of film grain and lens flares obviously, but there's seems to be a certain look in tone and color that sets it apart from the clarity and cleanness that we usually see in films. And then we kind of see it here and there to a lesser extent in films like Harold and Maude, Last Tango in Paris, Taxi Driver, or even Annie Hall, and a lot of other 70s films although the elements are significantly downplayed.


And then we see the slickness attributed to Hollywood blockbusters and the John Hughes look in the 80s until we see a comeback with the 90s indie films like Buffalo 66. And if anyone has seen the recent British film Submarine, the super 8 footage is basically an epitome of what I'm talking about. And with everyone taking pictures, photoshopping and uploading them these days, you can see this in the hipster scene if you spend 5 minutes on facebook, flickr, or tumblr. The iphone app instagram is also a good example of what I'm talking about. Some are really obvious whereas these days I see more people using this look in subtler ways. This guy is a bit more subtle, but I think it's a good example of what I'm talking about.




and a little less subtle





So I don't think I'm completely off in seeing a resemblance in this style of photography with 70s cinema. It's obviously different, but the way it is used we're still playing with colors and the tones to present reality differently from the way our eyes see it. So I guess my point is, am I just ignorant in seeing patterns within photographs like this? And if not, what are the factors that make an image look this way? I know with these days a lot of this look is achieved in photoshop, after effects, or other color grading, digital post stuff, but what are the fundamental ways to achieve this look? So I'm talking conceptually, in big pictures. Obviously Lazlo Kovacs got those shots right out of the camera, so it's not some new photoshop effect right?


Sorry for the long first post, but I'd really like some insight on this matter, cuz it's been eating at me for some time now. And if you have examples of films that utilize this look, I'd much appreciate it. Thanks!

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I think for the most part, what you are describing were not necessarily intentional, but the results of lower budget films.

Some of those you list were shot on 16mm, for instance, and therefore would have more grain. Lens flares are what you will get if you either aren't using a Mattebox and/or shade setup, or you are sloppy and forget not to shoot into the sun or lights. Same with large amounts of over or underexposure.

Some were a touch of 'run & gun' situations, like Easy Rider for instance, because of low budget and a bit of 'get the shot while you can' situations.


Some will argue these points with me, but I'd say that most intentional applications of these things, started out as accidents & someone liked the look, so they duplicated it for a certain aesthetic.



Matt Pacini

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