Just like seasoned screenwriters constantly perfect their craft, experienced cinematographers can discover new ways to see and expose the beauty and storytelling elements in a scene. From shooting music videos to feature films, here are seven simple but effective ways to improve your skills and become a more compelling storyteller.
Improve your storyboarding skills
Directors of Photography have always used storyboards to collaborate and help them see the director’s vision, but there are ways to make them a more useful weapon in your work. This video where director Sam Mendes and -cinematographer Conrad L. Hall do a side-by-side comparison of American Beauty’s film stills and storyboards is still one of the most helpful in understanding film composition.
Use Pre-visualization tools
Learn how to use software tools Cine Designer and Set Designer by previz guru Matt Workman. Workman’s software products are incredibly useful tools that can be a major game changer for contemporary DPs. Pick and place your lights and see how they influence a scene prior to ever rolling. Similarly, work out camera movement, blocking and basic set design to impress your director and client. Warning: The learning curve is relatively high for this software.
Remove humans from the shot
People are easier to position and frame. That means their surroundings, which could be a crucial part of the story, get overlooked or literally pushed to the background. Try taking humans out of the shot and then use your cinematographer’s eye to determine why the location for the shot is so important. Figure out how to show it in the best light and carefully tease out its relevance to the scene. You’ll be surprised at the depth it adds when the actors are reintroduced.
Try out different cameras and lenses
Sure, you have your favorites and they never let you down. But it’s only when you go outside your creative comfort zone that you grow as an artist. Good DPs must have a broad understanding of the artistic principles of cinematography, but also need an astute knowledge of camera technology. Rent or borrow unfamiliar cameras and lenses to expand your visionary repertoire. Likewise, pay attention to each piece of equipment’s strengths and weaknesses and decide if adding them to your kit will help improve your work.
Ya gotta have style
Being technically savvy is great, but having a singular vision is what’s important. Long-time Spielberg collaborator, Janusz Kaminski, believes you’ll never improve your tech skills if you don’t take risks. DPs are hired for the way they see the world around them. Know your tools, but understand that without a meaningful vision, your projects will not rise to their greatest level.
Yes, I just told you not to focus on the technology, but that advice comes with a caveat. In the end, you are a craftsman and a technician. If you don’t know the latest and greatest gear, you risk getting left behind and/or a slave to habit and mediocrity. Learn as much as you can about all new things technical so that they become second nature. On set is not the place (or time) to do your schooling.
Turn down the volume
Sometimes the simplest experiments are the greatest educators. Study silent films or watch more contemporary film works with the volume off. Concentrating on the visuals helps you focus on how to get the most out of your cinematography. From Charlie Chaplin to Fritz Lang and G.W. Pabst, learning how to convey a plot without the words will increase your visual skills tenfold.
Want something a little more contemporary? Use Instagram to try new perspectives and discover what makes certain images pop. The platform’s in-depth editing options include adjusting the contrast, pulling out colors, manipulating highlights and shadows, and more. It’s a great way to try out new things from the comfort of your couch.
Onward and upward
As Winston Churchill once said, “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” All the cinematography tips in the world don’t mean a thing if you don’t go out and try them. Luckily, we have all the gear you need to start experimenting.
Moving Picture Rental is Miami’s most collaborative filmmaking rental house. We understand what it takes to perfect your craft because we’re all filmmakers ourselves. Our goal is to help you become the best cinematographer you can be.
To learn more about the extensive and up-to-date camera rentals we offer Miami filmmakers, call us today at 305.522.1361, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org