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Aaron Kumpel

Can one advance through the lighting department to become a director of photograph or should you advance through the camera department?

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Hi there,

 

I'm a second year student at the Manchester Film School and I'm specializing in set lighting, particularly as a lighting technician. However, my ultimate goal is to be a director of photography/cinematographer and I'm writing a report to answer the question I have stated in the 'Topic Title'. I know in the United States it's commonplace to advance through the camera department but I'm certain there are cinematographer's out there that advanced through the lighting department instead. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

 

Kind Regards,

 

Aaron

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You can come up either way, although in the UK it's more common to come through the Camera Dept. If you do, you'll have a more thorough knowledge of cameras and lenses, blocking and composition, but you may lack in Lighting experience. The reverse is also true; coming up through G&E will give you a solid grounding in lights and rigging, but not in camera.

 

There's no right or wrong way, just whatever works for you.

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That's what I thought. I'd prefer to advance through the lighting department and teach myself everything there is to know about cameras, lenses etc as I go along. There are plenty of books and video tutorials to help as well. Thanks for your answer Stuart. Perhaps someone else has something they want to add? It would be great to have as many perspectives as possible.

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I'd also add that it's extremely common for producers to want a DP/Operator, so some experience in operating is essential, whereas a lack of experience in lighting can sometimes be mitigated by hiring a experienced gaffer.

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There are many gaffers who advanced from that to directors of photography, the latest I can think of is Claudio Miranda (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0592073/) or even Robby Baumgartner (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0062373/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cr266)

 

I do think that even though it is important to have a knowledge of lighting and framing, I consider that as a cinematographer you have to really understand how light works in many different setups and a very good way to know that is by working with it.

 

At the end of the day there are so many good camera operators out there that you can hire for them to help you framing but there are not too many good gaffers who have an understanding of light AND arts, which I consider essential if you have to describe a mood to your gaffer and you are unsure as to how to light it.

 

For example:

 

If you become a cinematographer through the camera ranks your path will follow something like:

- camera intern

- 2nd AC

- 1st AC

- Camera operator (if you are lucky) / DIT

- Cinematographer

 

Through all that way you will only decide on something when you are a camera operator and if you are a camera operator you will need to know how to block a scene, etc.

 

Nowadays it is a little bit easier to understand scenes in the camera department because there are monitors everywhere so if you are a camera intern, 2nd AC or 1st AC you will have the fantastic opportunity to see how the blocking is done, how it works for the scene, almost the finished product lit and etc.

 

If you go through the electrician way:

 

- Electrician

- Best Boy

- Gaffer

(assuming you do rigging and etc when you are an electrician and a best boy)

 

So, now you want to become a cinematographer and the cinematographer is telling you what light he wants to create an effect, you place the light, you turn it on, you direct it and then you can go to the monitor to see how that light is actually affecting the scene, ain't that amazing?

 

And you get to discuss with the cinematographer why he / she decided to choose that light for that particular scene.

 

Again, what Stuart said is true, the path that you have to choose is the one that works for you.

 

Have a good day.

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I came up through G/E, and in truth I think it was much more helpful than coming through camera. In truth; to a certain extent, the director and your own personal preferences will inform the framing, and lenses (which can also now EASILY be learned on a DSLR with an APS-C sensor to get a feel for what focal lengths will do. ) It ain't so easy, on your own dime, to know what that 18K is going to do going into that 20x20, or why to use a scrim on a lamp -v- a dimmer and the like-- and there are substantially more g/e jobs on the way up. A shoot may only have a handful of ACs, but you may have scores of electrics on a given set.

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the director and your own personal preferences will inform the framing, and lenses (which can also now EASILY be learned on a DSLR with an APS-C sensor to get a feel for what focal lengths will do. )

 

I have to disagree. Many directors offer little or no guidance regarding framing, and if you have no operating experience you will have no idea how to properly block and cover a scene. Owning a DSLR is no substitute for real experience.

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No it most certainly is not, however, it is a good way to learn what differing lens focal lengths will do-- which was my point-- apologies if those two ideas ran together. Of course some directors won't know a thing about blocking-- or not be interested in doing it, but I think that's a bit of a minority. I have personally found most directors have at least a good starting point from which, if they are a bit weak you can work from. It all takes experience, honestly, and obviously, but since we're talking about how to come up through the ranks, one would hope they've if through G/E been giving a look at how it's blocked and framed from the monitor area.

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Having worked in both camera and G&E, I'd say that it's really only the Camera Operator who has enough time on his hands to be able to sit back and watch the whole process; everyone else is too busy. Watching monitor during a take only shows you the results, not the intricacies.

 

Miguel said "there are so many good camera operators out there that you can hire for them to help you framing". This may be true, but the reality is that as a DP you have to know how to operate at a professional level. I have never once shot a movie where I didn't have to operate as well as light, and at least one of them required very little lighting, and some complicated operating.

 

As I said before, you can make it to DP in any number of ways, but my feeling is that camera ops are best placed to make that leap.

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I really (really honestly) hate to be the accustomed voice of doom here, but the likelihood of any of this being possible in the UK is so close to zero as to make no difference.

 

The total number of job openings for directors of photography in the UK is probably something like one every eighteen months, at best. Perhaps it's half that many. I am not joking or exaggerating.

 

If you think you're good enough to get a position for which there are three to six openings every decade, you go for it. In the meantime, be prepared for some very lean years.

 

I would point out that we have no members of this board who are really full-time directors of photography in the UK. We have at various times had people, including Mr Brereton, who have left the UK in order to become directors of photography. This should tell you something.

 

P

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If you rose through the ranks of G&E and became DoP, the major benefit to the G&E department would be someone who had an idea how long setups really take, how difficult some rigging jobs are, etc., etc.

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I really (really honestly) hate to be the accustomed voice of doom here, but the likelihood of any of this being possible in the UK is so close to zero as to make no difference.

 

The total number of job openings for directors of photography in the UK is probably something like one every eighteen months, at best. Perhaps it's half that many. I am not joking or exaggerating.

 

If you think you're good enough to get a position for which there are three to six openings every decade, you go for it. In the meantime, be prepared for some very lean years.

 

I would point out that we have no members of this board who are really full-time directors of photography in the UK. We have at various times had people, including Mr Brereton, who have left the UK in order to become directors of photography. This should tell you something.

 

P

Stephen Murphy, perhaps?

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