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How to start out in cinematography?


Clifford Gibson
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  • 4 weeks later...

I would suggest to shoot as many projects you can at the start of your career, because every project will be educative in it's own way. I'm sure you'll learn more doing it, than reading about it, although one doesn't exclude the other. Find people in your surroundings who are also into filmmaking and work together. Or you can write little scenario's yourself that you can shoot. Get as much practice as you can and try to experiment a lot, especially in the beginning.

 

As for gear: I wouldn't go for high-end gear when you're just starting out. I think learning with simpler tools will force you to think more creatively. And step by step you can take it to higher level.

 

Good luck.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I began my quest to be a cinematographer about 18 months ago. It was hard at first to get any experience. Even student films don't want to hire an unproven cinematographer usually. So I just taught myself making my first movie. I shot it 15 times until it was good. I learned lighting. That short got me some volunteer work. I took the best of that work and created a reel and a website. That got me better volunteer work as a Director of Photography. I was just hired as DP for two low budget feature films this week as a result of my reel.

 

I think the most important thing is always try to improve your skill and build a reputation of professionalism. For me having references that clients could call has been as important as my reel. Being known as reliable, on time, problem solving, and never complaining is as important as your reel. I am still shooting on the hacked T3i that I started with. It has forced me to become a better cinematographer.

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I would get a good SD camera over a DSLR if I were you. Regardless of so called "quality" you at least learn about shooting an actual moving pictures camera instead of an ad hoc stills camera. DVX100 and Canon XL2 can be had for dirt nowdays and they have practically full manual override on everything. XL2 even takes interchangable lenses!

 

Because I cant help myself, I would also suggest getting a Super 8 camera. They can be had as cheap as cameras can be had and you can buy cartridges for them so you dont even have to learn to load film but just pop in the tape. The limited length of the cartridge forces you to think carefully about your shots, you can learn a ton about exposure shutter iso focal length, and this forum has a wealth of information on the subject. I know you wont go this route but I had to throw it in there for good measure. Most of the legends of our time started out on Super 8 when they were young.

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Having been a non-Hollywood DP now for over 5 yrs, and working in commercial production for over 10.I would suggest buying any still or video camera that you can afford, then just start shooting....shoot anything, people, landscapes, action/moving shots, different lighting setups (indoors, flourescent, outdoors, etc)....study composition, lighting, depth of field, compositions, exposure....

 

Watch films that are well shot, from award winning DP's:

Roger Deakins: Shawshank Redemption

Jack Green: Unforgiven

Dean Semler: Dances with Wolves

Wally Pfister: Inception

Claurio Miranda: Benjamin Button

older school DP's:

Geoffrey Unsworth: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Greg Toland: Citizen Kane

 

study how these brilliant artists photograph their films............

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I'm just starting to get into cinematography. I really don't have money for a perfessional camera. I just been watching movies and stuff. Any ideas on this? Thank you

 

when i was pulling cable on a pilot for HBO, i asked the DP this same question, and he told me that you should really get your feet wet on as many sets you can as a camera assistant (i guess a focus puller or an operator), but he also said that there is no real "chart" to follow.

 

a lot of DPs start off at the bottom, but a lot of them work on indie projects and get noticed that way; if you meet a producer with enough pull, he can get you a union card without all that fuss (minimum hours, the catch-22 of working on union projects versus being in the union, or not being in the union and having a mentor that will pay you so that you can reach your goals--then join the union)

 

i can't say for sure, i've only been a lowly runner and cable puller, i just finished my MFA and i'm taking any cabling / camera assistant / clapper job that comes my way.

 

my father said that's important to develop a body of work, know what good looks like, know what poop looks like, and have the wisdom to understand how a certain project under your belt might damage your reputation in this business. *shrug* i'm just a kid, so i'm taking it day by day, but looking at the careers of top DPs working on big budget projects, it looks like a best bet to keep your nose on the grind stone 16 hours a day, and learn everything you can about it, and then start getting involved with talented people that will push the limits of your knowledge and hopefully help you evolve artistically.

Edited by Ira Goldman
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I would get a good SD camera over a DSLR if I were you. Regardless of so called "quality" you at least learn about shooting an actual moving pictures camera instead of an ad hoc stills camera. DVX100 and Canon XL2 can be had for dirt nowdays and they have practically full manual override on everything. XL2 even takes interchangable lenses!

 

Because I cant help myself, I would also suggest getting a Super 8 camera. They can be had as cheap as cameras can be had and you can buy cartridges for them so you dont even have to learn to load film but just pop in the tape. The limited length of the cartridge forces you to think carefully about your shots, you can learn a ton about exposure shutter iso focal length, and this forum has a wealth of information on the subject. I know you wont go this route but I had to throw it in there for good measure. Most of the legends of our time started out on Super 8 when they were young.

 

off topic, but i loved that movie, super 8, the scene where those kids are filming a home-movie at the train stop.

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  • 2 months later...

I'm am Not starting out on a basic cheap movie camera and feel I will benefit with a camera like the Sony fs 100. That camera is like a good paint brush to me and belive me I will be creative with. I would start out buy learning the camera and see how far I can stretch it working out it's advantages and limitations. I'm ready to go and start making movies and have a good stills photography background. I am going to have to invest in a set of neutral density filters as this camera don't come with any like the fs700. I shot on super 8mm cine film from as early as 1971. The camera I eventually used was the canon 514xls. I want to be a movie maker and am happy to have found this sight. Of to thailand next year for 8 months and will be making films there so I need lot's of practice before I go. There is one area a videophotograher must never forget.....and that's the editing side

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  • 3 months later...

I'm just starting to get into cinematography. I really don't have money for a perfessional camera. I just been watching movies and stuff. Any ideas on this? Thank you

Hi Clifford,

 

So how it is progressing. Me too on same path - but started off with SONY A200 DSLR .. (b/w) to start off. I keep off myself from adobes and others as of now.

Learning is tough but interesting .. Dabling a bit on masters painting to understand intricacies of image building.

 

Please do share your exploration too.

 

Thanks

 

Abhilash

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  • 1 month later...

First i went to Filmschool because i wanted to know everything and learn as much as possible before buying a Camera. For me it makes no sense to own Equipment and know nothing.

It's a waste of time because i want to be able to use my Camera propperly. After School i worked my A** off to buy a Camera. I had the Option between Digital and Analog and my choice was easy. Analog. I had a CP 16mm but did not do much with it. A few Weeks ago i got a Moviecam Compact with lots of Stuff that came with it (Magazines, Battery Pack, Cases etc...)

I admit it was a very good deal (US$ 3500.00)

 

I prefer Ananlog over Digital because after 2 years a Digital Camera is obsolete. Digital is very expensive and Film is still the Medium that captures the most Information.

 

(I dont like this debate but within the last 5 years the digital storage memory cards have chanced so often i am completely lost, but film is still the same)

 

I bought my Camera because i am thinking in a long term. Lenses and Tripods etc. i can rent for a fair price. Camera Rental still is very expensive for a private Individual like me.

 

I just recently started to look for super8 on Ebay because i think it's fun and you can learn a lot.

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I recently saw an interesting movie of a filmmaker in making. Camera Buff (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1979). Here is an amateurish movie maker turning a hobby to real passion and having cascading impact on owns life.

 

The main character, starts off hobby by shooting with 8mm camera, almost everything near and dear by his sight and evolves slowly ..Recommended.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camera_Buff

 

Abhilash

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  • 4 weeks later...

I would get a good SD camera over a DSLR if I were you. Regardless of so called "quality" you at least learn about shooting an actual moving pictures camera instead of an ad hoc stills camera. DVX100 and Canon XL2 can be had for dirt nowdays and they have practically full manual override on everything. XL2 even takes interchangable lenses!

 

 

I couldn't disagree more. What can you learn on an old video camera besides how to work on an old video camera?

 

With a cheap SLR you are setting yourself up with a knowledge of 35mm focal lengths and working in a (nearly) super35 frame. I can't fathom the benefit to a DVX100 for image making over a T2i or similar. While this may be coming off as a hostile response, it isn't... I'm just curious what benefit a miniDV cam will actually bring and how you arrived at that?

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I couldn't disagree more. What can you learn on an old video camera besides how to work on an old video camera?

 

With a cheap SLR you are setting yourself up with a knowledge of 35mm focal lengths and working in a (nearly) super35 frame. I can't fathom the benefit to a DVX100 for image making over a T2i or similar. While this may be coming off as a hostile response, it isn't... I'm just curious what benefit a miniDV cam will actually bring and how you arrived at that?

 

I'll agree whole-heartedly with Matthew.

 

When I've had short projects recently, I still grab for my XL2 over my 60D. It can function all day long, instead of overheating after 8-10 minutes. The lens in the front is (usually) a 14x manual lens, and is WAY easier to operate than a still camera lens. I can throw XLR mics with phantom power right on it. It doesn't have the artifacting problems the T2i does. When I go to edit, I can keep more footage handy on the hard drive than I could with HD footage. I don't go for shallow depth of field as much as some, so the extra sensor size doesn't mean as much to me. It's a professional piece of equipment (well, semi-professional) and doesn't need a kludged together kit to get decent results. The XL2 has about the same latitude as the 60d. And I'll be a lot less upset to damage it than the 60d, meaning I'm more likely to take chances with it (for example, going into a REALLY bad neighborhood to get shots). I've shown the results in front of ~200-300 people in the past few months, and not been embarrassed by it in the slightest.

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While the XL2 is easier to work with to do a job, is it the best way to learn cinematography? To me learning cinematography is the "I want an ASC after my name" not a future in shooting weddings. I feel that the "easier" camera isn't the point in learning a craft. While the arguement for XLR audio is a good one, that is usually covered by sound.

 

So I guess what I am also asking is what is it that makes the XL2 or DVX100 better to learn cinematography than an SLR?

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Honestly, I don't thing cinematography lies in the camera. It lies in looking at the world of light, shadow, and motion. Light shadow and motion can be learned on any image device-- even an iphone. And while you may not know the lens FoVs right away, how hard is it, really, to learn? It's the most basic of math, for the most part, and after a day or two with a lens kit you'll start to err towards your favorite focal lenghts. This is assuming the director themself doesn't have their own ideas what lens to use, which happens quite a lot-- though thankfully they are generally pretty pragmatic about it.

 

Now, that said, I see the vDSLRs as a better investment if you want to turn profit off of them (same with the pocket camera from black magic or the new 4K) as people will pay you some money to use them on little side projects-- web series ect because they have a "brand recognition," which sadly can help you get onto jobs to which you are really not qualified/ready. Of course trial by fire is one perfectly valid way to learn.

 

In truth, if you're going to be a cinematographer, I think you need to divorce yourself from the mechanics to a certain extent, and get into the thinking-- not just how to light or frame, but why you're lighting and framing because truthfully, while we all like to pretend we're the tops in visual importance, our gaffers, acs, ops, and the other department heads which we work with are all there to support us, and often have ideas and methods we'd never of thought of.

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This might be an unpopular view, but I see a lot of people here who think that buying a dslr or any other kind of camera and shooting a few short films makes you a cinematographer. It doesn't.

 

I understand the desire to leapfrog the line and instantly become a DP, but the reality is that you are shortchanging yourselves and ignoring the huge benefits of working your way up. There are very good reasons why, for nearly 100 years, aspiring cameramen have started as loaders, progressed as assistants, before becoming operators and then finally DPs. As an assistant, you learn the technical aspects of every camera you work with. As a 1st AC you continue this journey, whilst learning the the subtleties of focus, how it can be used as a creative tool. As an operator, you learn composition, blocking, working with actors, as well as a host of technical skills. Throughout all of these phases, you are learning professional skills beyond the confines of your job. You learn what every other department does, and how yours interacts with them. You learn about managing people - your department. You learn all this, and you learn from the people you are working for, so that when you finally take the plunge and step up you know exactly what all of the people in your department do, and you know exactly what is required of you.

 

Being a DP is not just about creating pretty pictures. If all you've ever shot are short films or film school projects, it's easy to assume that that is what the real world is like, a place where like minded individuals pursue their passion for as many hours a day as necessary. It's not. As a DP, you are hired to work 12 hours a day. If you're slow, or indecisive, or overly fussy, it will be noticed. And if that means you don't make your day, you can be fired. You will be working with people who regard their job as just that, a job. They don't want to stay an extra hour just so you can finesse the lighting on a close up, they want to go home and see their wife and kids. Being able to produce results within a given time frame is a skill that all aspiring DPs should possess.

 

Being a DP is also a managerial position. It's about man management, it's about how you deal with the other department heads, who have differing agendas to you, it's about how you deal with your camera crew, your G&E crew. There may be personality conflicts, there may be personal issues affecting individuals, there maybe times when you have to fire someone. These are your responsibility to deal with calmly and professionally.

 

In short, there are many, many aspects to the DPs job, and only some of them relate to making images. Try to resist the temptation to be a 'DP' straight away. You are limiting your knowledge and experience, and without those two things, you are also limiting your ability.

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There's a theory that says you don't become an expert at something until you've practiced it for 10,000 hours. That's a lot of time. At the end of the day, the camera is just a tool. If you have a DSLR, use it. If you have an XL-2, use that. They're both just video cameras. I prefer using my XL-2 to my DSLR. I like not having down time while the camera cools off. I like that XL2 has never quit on me in the middle of a take (the 60D has done that due to overheating). I like that the XL2 was built to shoot video; It's not a tacked on feature. I think the final results look better off the XL2, if a little grainier. The latitude is roughly the same. If I want to, I can mount PL-mount cine lenses on the XL2. I can't do that with the 60d (without doing major surgery to the front of it).

 

It mainly comes down to fighting the herd instinct. Every wannabe filmmaker bought a expensive MiniDV camera, then chucked them as soon as HD, the 2k, then 4k came out. They're still perfectly good, and can be had for a song. Take advantage of that. Buy one, but cheap. Watch Rodriguez's 10 minute film school.

 

If you want to figure out what to buy, to practice on, save your money on the camera and spend it where it makes the most sense. My lightmeter cost almost as much as the 60D, and I think it's worth 100 times as much. I only expect the DSLR to last 2-3 years. I expect to have that lightmeter for 10-20. If you need to buy something fancy and new to shoot on, get a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. It has better latitude. It can take cine lenses with adapters.

 

Honestly though, it's just a tool. The are people who still shoot on Fisher Price PXL-2000(s). They like the way the image looks, and more power to them. It's just a tool. Given a choice, I tell everyone to get a cheap video camera, practice a LOT, and graduate to film, where you plan on spending a minimum of $20/minute. I'd much rather spend less on a video camera (and that is what a DSLR is at the end of the day) and more on a 16mm film camera (Arri SR2 or SR3) and film. Or a lighting kit. Or lenses.

 

And, there's nothing wrong with spending a few years shooting weddings. It's good experience, it can be a bit humbling, and it pays you while you learn your craft (instead of the other way around). If you can handle a bride's temper tantrums, wildly mixed lighting, remain inconspicuous and deliver a good video; you can handle almost anything.

 

Keep in mind, Andrew Lazlo learned cinematography in the Army. They paid for his film, while he learned. It wasn't glamorous, and he didn't start at the top. But he ended up there.

 

While the XL2 is easier to work with to do a job, is it the best way to learn cinematography? To me learning cinematography is the "I want an ASC after my name" not a future in shooting weddings. I feel that the "easier" camera isn't the point in learning a craft. While the arguement for XLR audio is a good one, that is usually covered by sound.

 

So I guess what I am also asking is what is it that makes the XL2 or DVX100 better to learn cinematography than an SLR?

Edited by Zac Fettig
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Well, Stuart, I didn't work my way up the crew ladder... just the budget ladder! Of course there would have been advantages to that in terms of learning how a set works, how a crew works, what sort of equipment is used, but at some point you still have to go out and shoot to become a DP, and you still need to learn the fundamentals of cinematography and lighting, and you have to study the art side of things, and learn moviemaking in general, including editing.

 

Any camera can help you to learn if it gives you manual controls over things like exposure, color temperature, etc.

 

I learned by shooting Super-8 film, which wasn't color negative at the time, just reversal stocks, and it certainly did not have the depth of field of 35mm, but it doesn't take a genius to learn how larger formats change your depth of field characteristics and your focal length choices. What was great about shooting reversal stocks was that the exposure was so unforgiving and I had to get everything right in-camera, including color. I suppose the limitations of Rec.709 video in most prosumer cameras and DSLR's is similar in terms of making you get close to the final quality in-camera. Then when you finally get to record raw or log, it will just make things easier with all that extra dynamic range, just as when I graduated from Super-8 reversal to 16mm negative.

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