Phew! We’ve come a long way together, and I’ve got some final best practices to keep in mind.
1. A good camera won’t save you from bad lighting
Cinematography literally means “capturing movement and light.” Ultra high-end cameras cannot do the heavy lifting with poor or inappropriate lighting. Understanding ISO and knowing how to manage your sources of light means the difference between a meh shot and a gorgeous shot, no matter what you’re shooting on. (Luckily, we’ve got lessons like this one on lighting to help you!)
2. Filters, filters, filters
Once you’ve got your camera and a few lenses, you can ~**accessorize**~. Digital images are, by their nature, ultra clear and crisp. In some situations, this level of detail is necessary, but in others, you’ll want to find ways to smooth out the image.
Here’s a real-world example from the heart: for my newest short Sisters, my DP Ava Benjamin utilized diffusion filters, particularly Tiffen’s Soft/FX and Ultra Con series,and Schneider’s Hollywood Blackmagic, to bloom out our lights in a manner befitting of the supernatural story. Taking time to test and choose the right lenses and filtration will give your video a look of its own.
3. You can’t fix everything in post, but...
Few images you see these days exist as they were captured by the camera; color correction has become a necessary step of post-production, not just to correct and unify visuals, but also to create tone and atmosphere that is often too costly (or time consuming) to build entirely on set. So, think about dynamic range and bit depth, as this will help determine how smooth your post process will be. A camera that can shoot RAW or Log C will also give you more latitude when creating the aesthetic of your film in post.
Most editing software offers a simple correction tool, but Blackmagic Design’s line of Cinema Cameras currently come bundled with a copy of DaVinci Resolve, a color correction/finishing software used by many post-production houses. Sweet deal!
4. Read and watch and repeat
The best DPs I’ve worked with are voracious readers and watchers. They’re constantly doing research on their craft, logging away key info, and taking notes. Even in their downtime, everything they study informs their next gig.
Train your eye by watching films and videos you admire, maybe with the sound off so you can see how the story is told visually. Read up on how the creators pulled it off: publications like American Cinematographer and websites like Cinephilia and Beyond are fantastic resources for learning how the greats do it, as well as our Now Playing section on this very blog, which is packed with interviews, inspiring videos, and our all-new podcast. Plus, our Cameras & Gear category is filled with tests and tutorials that may inspire your creative choices.
And as you watch cool Vimeo videos, feel free to comment (succinctly and respectfully!) to ask the creators for more details of their production. Chances are they’ll respond!
As I mentioned at the very beginning of this series, no amount of gear can replace a good eye, marvelous taste, and a clear creative vision. While your budget for purchasing and renting equipment may be limited, your access to information is but a click away.