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Mark Allen
Director , Screenwriter , Composer
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Cinematography Made Easy

So many people shooting their own productions lately, but so few understanding exactly the technical aspects.  Even if you're not the director of photography (cinematographer), if you're a filmmaker, you really must understand how certain technical aspects work because they are part of your storytelling toolset.  Even if you're not the director, but the producer, you really should understand these concepts because you'll better understand why "that light" had to be rented or why it's so important to plan your day around the light available. So, I decided to write up a little bit of information about Cinematography starting with what seems to be mysterious to people regarding the camera.  All my definitions in this blog (and  series if I continue it) will be aimed at being easy to understand.CINEMATOGRAPHY  INTRO:In general, people think about cinematography as where the camera gets set up.  I am a huge camera placement fanatic.  In fact, I have been hired to come to sets not to be the director or cinematographer or even camera operator, but to just help the director place the camera.   Despite all that and how important I think that  is... I also feel that that is a very specific and important storytelling tool which is not the majority of what cinematography itself is about.The majority of cinematography is dealing with issues of light.  A cinematographer's job is to paint a scene with light.   Historically it has been very hard to capture scenes because cameras were not as sensitive to light as our eyes.  However, this is changing with today's technology and the cinematographer's job is changing as a result.  With more sensitivity to light, you have more options and are less reliant on large lights which also helps indies out a LOT.  You might wonder why people didn't make as many indie productions 40 years ago.  Basically if you didn't have money, you need to use that big light source in the sky (the sun) 'cause you probably couldn't afford to light your movie.  Today the focus can be more delicate on how to use light sources.CAMERA TERMSASA / ISO - This is how sensitive your camera is to light.   Originally, with film you would have to choose your ASA / ISO by choosing a film stock which matched what you were looking for.   The lower the number the less sensitive to light.  The higher the number the more sensitive.   So, since we already said that more sensitive is better... why not just set it to being more sensitive?   There is a trade off.  More sensitive = More grainy.   f-stop - this is an intimidating one for people, but it shouldn't be.  It's very simple.  The f-stop is like the iris on your eye and is determining how much light is let into your camera.  The smaller the number the more light it can let in.  this is a good thing and is why lenses will list their fstop often (example:  "Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L...")   the f/2.8 means that the most it can open up is a 2.8.  (remember that the LOWER number means it opens up MORE.  I will save you the math, but just know that the number is INVERTED.)   Once you set your ASA, generally the f-stop is how you're setting your exposure while shooting the scene.   There is one important thing to know about f-stop beyond this.   The  lower the f-stop, the more shallow the depth of field.   DEPTH OF FIELD - so let's explain this.  This is probably the most important story telling related term in this whole blog.  Depth of field is how much of your scene is in focus.    Filmmakers use depth of field to help their audience focus only on where the story is happening.  If you are shooting a sports event, you might want a big depth of field because you don't know where you're focusing next - but for planned story telling, generally you want to guide your viewer's attention to something in the frame and having a moderately shallow depth of field helps that a lot.  Also it looks sexy.   There are a couple factors which affect the depth of field.... we know f-stop is one (the more light sensitive, the shallower the depth of field), sensor size is another.Sensor Size -  In the last 2 years you may have noticed people's amateur videos have started to take on a new character... one of the reasons is that people are using DSLR's (photo-looking cameras) as their cinematography tools and those have a larger sensor.  Also there is the RED which was an affordable solution which had a larger sensor.  These cameras have a similar sensor size to 35mm movie film, so they actually looked more cinematic.  A larger sensor MIGHT more pixel resolution too but the actual sensor size is what determine the depth of field.Next blog if people are interested will cover:Lenses:  Zooms & PrimesFrame RatesShutter SpeedAfter that I could talk a little about camera placement and grip equipment and lighting equipment as well if people find this useful. 

over 11 years ago 0 likes  3 comments  0 shares
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we should get you to a guest speaker at our next 1 Minute Film Festival workshop...
over 11 years ago

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April 13, 2007