Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Good storytelling is the driving force and the ultimate goal of any excellent videographer/cinematographer.
Framing and lighting can make or break the mood of the scene; this can be true for films, tv commercials, music videos, or social media videos.
Let’s dive into the traits and abilities that make for a great videographer and why choosing the right one can be the deciding factor in the success of your video project.
What is videography? What does a videographer provide?
Videography is simply the process of capturing images at a high rate. When these images play continuously, we get the effect of motion. In the cinema world, the frame rate usually employed is 24 frames per second; television has traditionally used 30 fps, and for slow-motion, at least 60 fps. The idea behind 60 fps is that you record at 60 fps but interpret or play at 24 fps resulting in a much slower clip. You are capturing more frames per second than what the eye can see, so when played at an average speed (24 fps), we get the desired cinematic slow-motion effect.
The name videographer is somewhat interchangeable within the industry. There’s a couple of names bounced around, such as cinematographer, director of photography (DP), camera operator, and cameraman.
Fundamental camera operator skills include choreographing and framing shots, knowledge of and the ability to select appropriate camera lenses, and other equipment (dollies, camera cranes, etc.) to portray dramatic scenes. The principles of dramatic storytelling and film editing fundamentals are essential skills as well. The camera operator is required to communicate clearly and concisely on sets where time and film budget constraints are ever-present.
Why is the person behind the camera so important?
An experienced videographer can, in many cases, make something out of nothing. Any cameraman working in the video industry knows you will face the task of shooting low-budget projects at some point; this is where the experience factor kicks in. A videographer that’s adept at using what’s available is worth his weight in gold. Low budget shoots generally have bland locations and little or no lighting crew. Missing these critical elements put you behind the eight ball as these two things are vital elements to set the mood. A creative videographer can find ways to choreograph a scene using the available resources such as natural light, and dressing the set with the available props/furniture.
Tips to make a lousy scene look better:
Find depth in the room, great for separating your subject and background
In small spaces, consider creating the illusion of depth by using a foreground element. This gives the viewer a sense of space and distance.
Avoid flat 2D looking framing (use depth, foreground elements when appropriate)
Consider using a back-light, also known as a rim light. A rim light separates the subject from the background by creating a halo of light around the talent.
Use the available light; windows provide a source of soft natural lighting.
Avoid bland, boring walls if possible dress them with frames or plants
Color is your friend - use in moderation.
Behind every shot, there’s a thought process, or at least there should be. Our brains naturally crave whatever is most comfortable, so we default to the traditionally overused shots. A videographer that takes the time to assess the narrative, mood of the scene and the location will usually produce a better shot.
The psychology behind the shot
How we frame the subject can create a response within the spectator. For example, a wide shot that gives our subject plenty of lead room can imply freedom and opportunity, while a tight edge of the frame shot can provoke claustrophobia and constriction.
Ok, so by now, we know that framing enhances the narrative and provokes specific responses in the viewer, so let’s move onto shot and framing options. A good camera operator must understand that all these individual shots will ultimately conform as the pieces of one cohesive film/video. Therefore understanding the needs of the film editor is essential. A film editor needs the clips to complement each other, meaning he needs coverage or an assortment of shots such as establishing shots, medium shots, close-ups, and over the shoulders. It is also helpful to understand continuity and the 180-degree rule, but we will get into that further down.
It is the job of the camera operator to get all the coverage needed to edit the video properly; this is true for everything from a film to a music video. In the perfect world, there has been ample pre-production, and a shot-list is in place to guide the videographer, but who’s ever heard of a perfect world? So a videographer’s experience comes in handy. A good videographer has a solid base of video editing knowledge and covers his backside by getting enough b-roll coverage, and cut-aways. It can be nearly impossible to edit a fluid video without b-roll and cut-aways. If you don’t know what b-roll and cut-aways are don’t sweat it, we will get into these a bit later.
A scene is a series of action shots.
It’s imperative to have a significant change in camera angles or camera-to-subject distance between two shots – Camera angles should move at least 45 degrees, or the camera-to-subject change should be significant.
Why change the camera-to-subject distance?
to depict an action omitted in the previous shot
to provide a closer look at an object
to emphasize an object
drawback and establish the setting
Using Cut-ins and Cutaways
Cut-in’s depict actions that appear within the master frame.
Cutaways are Secondary shots that depict action outside the master shot, but are part of the scene – These can be used at any time to help bridge mismatched action, or acting continuity, or to add detail/depth to a scene. Cutaways also help “stretch” the time of a scene.
In lamens terms, a camera operator should film fascinating shots that engage viewers. To do so, knowing the tried and true Hollywood shots is a must. In many cases, it can mean breaking film rules for the sake of a superior final product. It’s ok to break cinematography rules but you need to know them first.
Which shots to use? When and why?
Draws attention to the subject
Can increase dramatic emphasis If overused, dramatic impact significantly reduces
Wide shot (WS)
Orients the viewer to the subject
Used to “establish” the scene
Opening scenes often start with a long shot or establishing shot.
Point of view: Shows scene from a subject’s point of view
Reverse-Angle shot: shows what the actor sees, i.e., point of view shot, but used after showing the actor (i.e., we see the actor, then their POV.
Eye-Level: Most common
Low-Angle Shot: Emphasizes that the object is powerful, larger
High-Angle Shot: Can be used to indicate smallness, but also can just add variety into the sequence
Overhead Shot: Creates a unique perspective for the viewer
Hollywood Directors of Photography (Articles)
It was dirty, repugnant and in your face but baby it was it good...
Fight Club was Jeff Cronenweth’s first feature film as cinematographer. After working almost two decades as an assistant for notable cinematographers such as John Toll (The Thin Red Line, Cloud Atlas), Sven Nykvist (Fanny and Alexander, Crimes and Misdemeanors), and his father, Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner, Peggy Sue Got Married). The experienced Cronenweth was a natural choice for director David Fincher, who Cronenweth had also worked for as a second-unit cameraman for Fincher’s Se7en and The Game. The two set out to design the film’s memorable gritty, desaturated look that has come to categorize the movie while bringing to life the dystopian universe of Chuck Palahniuk’s seminal novel.
For the camera department, pre-production on Fight Club lasted more than two months. Previs and storyboarding were key as Fincher wanted to combine computer-generated imagery with live-action to produce “impossible” shots.
Taxi Driver (1976) was shot on 35mm Eastman Color Negative 100T 5254/7254 Film using ARRIFLEX 35 BL Camera and Zeiss Super Speed Lenses. The distributed aspect ratio of the film is 1.85:1 although some portions were filmed on 16mm.
Cinematography, like all other departments of filmmaking, is all about making choices. Such as framing, composition, lighting, and camera movement – all of these choices ultimately shape and give life to a scene. Through these shots and scenes, you construct the foundation of the film.
The Director of Photography for Taxi Driver (1976), Michael Chapman, said in an interview that people should look at Taxi Driver as a kind of folktale, an urban legend. He further explained his point, saying that Taxi Driver has deeply profound implications and layers, which are left for the audience to decipher. There’s more to the film than what’s apparent on the surface such undertones not disclosed through silly exposition.
Chapman stated in an interview, “the movie portrays itself as a documentary, but it’s not. It is lit, although very minimally, but still is. It is not realistic at all. In many ways, it’s not meant to be realistic.”
The film’s lighting was deliberate and, in small amounts, only what he considered necessary. Sometimes just enough to guide the audience’s eyes, masterfully directing the attention of the spectator. As to do nothing more but enhance the mood or showcase the emotional states of the characters. Michael Chapman took a cautious approach to shoot a film that felt authentic, therefore bypassing the glitz of the Hollywood counterparts.
Tim Maurice-Jones' work, in this particular case, is highly characterized by its unique presentation of scene and photography. Each scene offers a flavorful spectrum of grit and texture brought to life by a variety of camera techniques. The picture was produced by SKA, a humble British film company, and distributed by Columbia.
The film presents obvious noir overtones due to its central theme concentrated around gangs and organized international crime. The settings, characters, and dialogue largely underline these elements. The camera work plays an inaugural role in mystifying these characters while creating a chaotic pace and edge of your seat delivery to every on-screen situation. The diversity in settings evokes a significant sense of transnationalism as if encouraging audiences to pick sides and align themselves with a particular group of mafiosos. Almost as if making you an accomplice of sorts to an antagonistic character you can't help but empathize with.
How to become a Hollywood Cinematographer
Deakins’ name, at this point, is almost synonymous with cinematography itself—due to his prolific output, countless awards, and notable collaborations. Although it’s relatively difficult to pinpoint his stylistic signatures, his ability to mold his talents to numerous genres and visual styles is irrefutable. Even he, himself, has said, “I don’t think I have a style, I have just discovered some methods that work for me…I get onto a new movie, and I feel like I’ve never done it before like I’m learning”. Perhaps this very feeling, of seeking knowledge, is what keeps him at the pinnacle of cinematography, despite his 40-year career.
Dou Ho-Fung, as he’s known in Hong Kong, stands in almost complete contrast to Deakins. Doyle has a relatively distinct style—hectic, experimental, and completely wrapped in the imperfect beauty of the everyday. He didn’t go to film school, and, believe it or not, he had received no training and only completed one short film before diving into feature films.