The image is now, in the digital age, the most prolific it has ever been.
With the advancement in digital cameras, more and more video and photography production can be seen throughout various media, whether broadcast or the web, which is especially important now. With social media now being at the forefront of advertising, a cinematographer that understands how to proficiently acquire, produce, and manipulate the image is in a highly regarded position and helps provide a certain look or style to a brand or company. They are able to elevate the production value in any project considerably with their experience and efficiency in the use of their photography arsenal.
What makes a good cinematographer stand out is their versatility and ingenuity in the shooting process. When you’re looking for a strong individual, the first thing you should notice is how they light. It can be anything from their lighting techniques and how they are able to control the light, which might determine their grasp of the craft. A seasoned DP will be able to be proficient whether they are lighting for exteriors and using the light of the sun to their advantage, or how well they utilize the simplicity of a small interview lighting kit in an interior set up.
A versatile cinematographer will know their limitations and use them to his/her advantage. Sometimes budgets aren't quite up to caliber, and one has to be able to make decisions by using what he/she knows to make the shot work. How well a DP lights an interior with little to no lighting will determine how good they are in all types of situations, from large budget to no budget.
I believe that while we are all taught how to use lights to expose a subject or a scene, lighting and controlling the sun has been a much more arduous craft.
Exterior lighting is determined by both sun position and using apps such as SunSeeker and Helios to help track the sun as it travels across the sky. It is important to position your subject in backlight. This allows for a bounce to return the light softly back into the subject, which is a technique widely used by many DPs to both use a frontal key source and a back-edge rim, dramatically killing two birds with one stone.
Lensing a subject is another aspect that can get pretty bogged down, especially now with so many lens manufacturers and different types of lenses. Lenses are an integral part of the shooting process. A lens will always make an image, regardless of camera choice. Primarily there are two general types, zooms and primes, all ranging from wide angle lenses, such as anything wider than 18mm, to long telephoto lenses that go upwards of 1000mm. Choice in lens is determined by what is desired in the viewfinder.
Wide lenses tend to distort light and might make a small space seem larger, whereas long lenses can actually skinny up a face since they compress the image. Make your choice appropriately to achieve the desired effect. Also understand that almost every lens is different, from how warm or cool they perceive light, to how sharp and soft they capture a subject. It is all determined by the manufacturer, the era the lens was made, and how well the lens has been maintained through the years.
A director of photography can be the keystone to any production. They are integral members who help move the production in the right direction and determine the pulse of any set. They must also be good communicators who can adhere to the needs of the director or producer and convey these needs to the cast and crew. In the end, the whole process is collaborative. It can bring people together for a common goal, and the DP is one of those positions where it all starts. Their attitude on set has the potential to get crews through a tough 12 hour day, and are more often than not the cornerstone of how the whole production runs. In addition, they must demonstrate knowledge about the technical aspects of the production; for instance, knowing what lighting packages are needed to properly move the camera via different mediums, such as dolly, steadi-cam or Movi. Well-versed DPs are huge assets to any production and bring the production value to new heights.
Within the reel, anyone hiring a director of photography can see the expanse of what kind of experience that particular DP may have. Maybe they have expertise with certain techniques like crane work, steadi-cam, working with high end talent, music production, underwater photography, or aerial, just to name a few. Overall, you may find someone specialized who's able to bring that expertise to your project.
People always wonder what they need on their reel. First of all, with the internet and social media, you must not only have a reel, but a well-designed website to better market yourself to other companies, producers, and directors. Building a site gives viewers your contact info, resume, and of course the reel, which is integral to getting more work for the future. With sites like Wordpress, Vimeo, or Squarespace, it's easier then ever to build and control your site. When it comes to your reel, limit it to only your BEST work. Show what you are capable of within a limited running time, preferably 2-5 minutes. If it’s not your best work, don’t put it up there, and make sure it portrays your style and your best assets.
About the Writer
Alejandro Lalinde | alejandrolalinde.net
Originally from Costa Rica, I am currently living in Los Angeles and work as a cinematographer and camera operator on features+TV, commercials, and music videos. I am represented by Dattner Dispoto & Associates. I attended the Academy of Art in San Francisco for film school and moved to Los Angeles soon after graduation. I started my career in music videos and was at the cusp when the industry transitioned from film to digital and have seen the advancement of RED and Arri Alexa cameras and how they have revolutionized the industry. I began early on with photography and have always had a fascination with cameras and lenses, which is probably why I also am enamored by Stanley Kubrick and his approach to cinema and photography.