March 2, 2014

'House of Cards' DP Reveals the Camera & Lighting Techniques of the Popular Netflix Series

Igor MartinovicTelevision cinematography has come quite a ways in the past 10 years. In the arena of episodic television, where multi-camera shoots with high-key lighting were once the norm, incredibly cinematic single-camera cinematography has now taken hold. Although many of HBO's and AMC's offerings started the ball rolling with this delightful trend, the Netflix original drama House of Cards is the absolute epitome of dramatic cinematography in an episodic show. Igor Martinovic, the cinematographer from the second season of House of Cards, recently sat down with our friends at the GoCreative Podcast and he shared quite a bit about the cinematography of this world-class show.

First and foremost, Igor Martinovic is a world-renowned cinematographer known for his fantastic work on the Oscar-winning documentary Man On WireCheck out his reel below:

And here's the trailer for the second season of House of Cards, which was released in its entirety on Netflix two weeks ago. This gives you just a basic sense of the show's intricately dramatic cinematic stylings:

In his interview with GoCreative's Ben Consoli, Martinovic covered a plethora of cinematography-related topics.

  • The inspiration behind the look of 'House of Cards'
  • Working with David Fincher and Kevin Spacey
  • Lighting for different environments and characters
  • Working with Netflix
  • The Academy Award winning “Man on Wire”
  • Commercial vs. Film vs. Documentary
  • Igor’s big break

Here's the interview in its entirety. Jump to the 11-minute mark to get right to the good stuff:

Towards the 16-minute mark, Martinovic starts talking about the show's philosophy behind camera movement and camera placement. He mentions the 1979 Hal Ashby masterpiece, Being There, with its static and objective (and oftentimes symmetrical) framings as one of the primary influences. One look at the final scene from the film, and the similarities in cinematic style between the two are glaring.

Through keeping the camera at a distance from the characters and allowing the actions to take place within a wider frame (with the exception of a few key scenes), Martinovic is able to emphasize the fact that the world in which these characters exist is extremely cold and inhumane (much like the characters themselves).

Martinovic also talks about how he creates extremely naturalistic (but still incredibly dramatic) lighting for the interior scenes in House of Cards. In almost all of the interior scenes in the second season, the windows of the sets (and locations) were used as the motivation for a strong naturalistic key light, usually from large tungsten lamps. In order to sell the key light as natural window light, however, the lighting team would use small Kino Flo units as a kicker from the same side as the key.

There is a TON of information in this podcast, more than I can possibly write about here, so be sure to listen to it in its entirety, because there is quite a bit to learn from Martinovic's approach to the modern masterpiece that is House of Cards.

What do you guys think of the second season of House of Cards, especially in terms of its cinematography? Let us know down in the comments!

Links:

Your Comment

51 Comments

That's quite a sensationalist title. I learned no "lighting secrets" from that interview. Pretty standard, actually.

March 2, 2014

2
Reply
Harry Pray IV

It doesn't say "secrets"...?

March 2, 2014

0
Reply
Pat H

Title was changed.

March 2, 2014

1
Reply
Travis

Can confirm. It was changed. Thanks for changing it, Robert. As you probably realize, this is hardly an in-depth article about his lighting techniques. All he really said is something along the lines of, "we didn't do as much top light and we lit from outside the window often and added diffusion when we went in for coverage"

I'd like to see someone NFS post some original content in the form of lighting tutorials. All I ever see is lighting tips like "We used soft light." or other VERY general "tips".

While, I am glad not many people share their secrets with lighting (since it's my bread and butter), I think it's strange how few tutorials exist online about it.

I assume it's because gaffers are afraid of their skills becoming less valuable (which is valid). They act like it's some sort of secret along the lines of the magician's code of secrecy.

Honestly though, the best way to improve your narrative film lighting is by observing the world around you everywhere you, figuring out how you'd imitate/augment that for exposure (sort of irrelevant with the new cameras) and, more importantly, to maximize modeling and mood.

March 2, 2014

-2
Reply
Harry Pray IV

That sentence after the "Being There" video reads like a college film analysis essay.

March 2, 2014

-1
Reply
Bryce

Very true. However, those are the kinds of things that cinematographers try to convey through their lighting and camera choices.

March 2, 2014

3
Reply
avatar
Robert Hardy
Writer
Cinematographer / Editor

House of cards is a prime example of the importance of story! The script writing shines through the acting and cinematography. There is no wasted dialogue or over use of metaphors that scream UNREAL! Well done show! Kudos to the script writers

March 2, 2014

0
Reply
t. cal

You should check out the original 90's bbc version. It is way more intense for story in my opinion. Cinemetography and lighting not so much but the characters are much more developed and threatening.

March 2, 2014

2
Reply
Dan

What camera was used, to save me from falling for the click bait twice?

March 2, 2014

-1
Reply
Fresno Bob

Red Epic shot @ 5k framed at 4K for stabilizing bumped shots

March 2, 2014

-2
Reply
alan

If you care more about which camera was used than the techniques behind this show's stunning cinematography, then your priorities probably need a little bit of adjusting. I purposefully left the camera information out of this article, because frankly, that's the real click-bait, not the techniques.

March 2, 2014

-1
Reply
avatar
Robert Hardy
Writer
Cinematographer / Editor

Why can't he ask? Calm down.

March 2, 2014

1
Reply
VinceGortho

You've put it in the title as click bait, then have a go at me about wanting to know what it is?
Priceless.

March 2, 2014

-1
Reply
Fresno Bob

I think Camera in the title was referring to placement and movement not what camera was used

March 2, 2014

0
Reply
rds

rds is correct. Also, by actually listening to the podcast, you would have gotten all of the technical information that you could have possibly wanted, plus a whole lot of useful insights from an esteemed cinematographer. Instead, you went to the comments to deride the article as click-bait.

March 2, 2014

-1
Reply
avatar
Robert Hardy
Writer
Cinematographer / Editor

I suggest you rethink the title, as I doubt I'm not the only one reading it 'wrong'.

March 2, 2014

0
Reply
Fresno Bob

Does changing "Secrets" to "Techniques" help to clarify things? I feel that's more reflective of the content of the article anyhow. Also, sorry about being so defensive. I just feel that there's a ton of fantastic information here that goes beyond camera choice.

March 2, 2014

2
Reply
avatar
Robert Hardy
Writer
Cinematographer / Editor

Perhaps "...Shot & Lighting Techniques..." would be less misleading. If you're intentionally going to leave out information on the equipment using the name for that equipment instead name of the technique could be a source of confusion. Just my two cents though.

March 3, 2014

2
Reply
Andrew

"yo man it doesnt matter what camera we shot the series on, its the story that counts"...Yea tell that to a producer that wants his/her show to look a certain way and they'll kick you off the set. Especially a Network, they want it to look good, even though 75% of them wouldn't know the difference between a GH2 or an Alexa. But trust me I worked with award winning DP's that are like a kid in a candy shop if a new piece of gear showed up on set. The camera matters. As much as we don't want to think it does, it does. Of course lighting, an experienced Director, crew etc etc etc count. Maybe even more so than the camera they use, but really the whole "camera don't matter" is a bit ridicules.

March 2, 2014

-1
Reply
Anthony Marino

I definitely wasn't trying to go with the "cameras don't matter" argument. I'm well aware that cameras are an incredibly important aspect of cinematography, but they're just that, an aspect. This post is about everything else: the movement, the framing, the lighting, and more importantly, why all these cinematographic choices were made. As a cinematographer, I find information of that nature far more enlightening than a simple "what was it shot on" kind of post.

March 3, 2014

-2
Reply
avatar
Robert Hardy
Writer
Cinematographer / Editor

I agree. I enjoy your post Robert, sorry if I sounded one sided but I guess we're use to knowing right off the bat what cam was used. Not to split hairs here but when I first read the heading I read it wrong also. But as always I find your writings informative as well as entertaining. Thanks

March 3, 2014

-2
Reply
Anthony Marino

The face of Cinematography for television changed quite a bit earlier then ten years. On the vanguard of that theatrical look for TV was 1'st the X-File Pilot and then The West Wing series, both were considered by the Television Academy as the most influential show's in changing the look of Series and TV Movie's going forward. I just looked it up on IMDB Thomas Del Ruth ASC ( 2 Emmys, and 4 ASC awards plus 16 additional nominations in those categories) was the cinematographer on both.

March 2, 2014

1
Reply
Rick Macklin

Thomas Del Ruth did some amazing work on The West Wing (and on setting the look of the X-Files, for that matter). I still think that some of the newer shows have taken the dramatic television aesthetic well past where Del Ruth did, though, and subsequently the more cinematic approach has become the standard one for episodic drama.

March 2, 2014

1
Reply
avatar
Robert Hardy
Writer
Cinematographer / Editor

I'd definitely agree with that Rick. Even as a eleven/twelve -year-old I realized X-Files had crossed some sort of visual line, particularly from STTNG and cop shows of the era.

March 3, 2014

-2
Reply

Haven't read it yet, but this is the most exciting title I have seen on here in a while.

March 2, 2014

0
Reply
Logan

Shhhhhh ... don't tell anyone ... those are secrets ....

March 2, 2014

-1
Reply
DLD

Thanks for posting. Interesting interview. As always I wished there was more specific information on techniques but I guess that would only be interesting to us shooters.

March 2, 2014

0
Reply
Stu Mannion

I found the look between House of Cards seasons 1 and 2 completely different. I prefer the look of season 1. Has anyone else noticed this? Or know what the changes are?

March 2, 2014

-1
Reply
Joy

I actually noticed a significant difference between the two seasons as well. One of the things that is mentioned in the podcast is that most of the lighting is no longer from an overhead grid, but instead blasted in through windows. However, one of the biggest differences that I noticed was in composition. The second season is replete with a ton of centered and symmetrical framings, many of which are beautiful, but kind of uncomfortable and full of visual tension (which I imagine is the point). I'm also convinced that there are differences in the way the camera is moved, but I can't quite put my finger on what those differences are.

I'm curious what everyone else picked up in terms of visual differences between the two seasons?

March 3, 2014

0
Reply
avatar
Robert Hardy
Writer
Cinematographer / Editor

Well.... Since the first season was DPed by a Danish cinematographer who happened to win an award for his work on HoC then that pretty much explains it doesnt it.

I havent seen the 2nd season but I loved the cinematography in the first... Of course I am a bit biased since Im Danish myself ;-)

March 3, 2014

-2
Reply

The problem with the "House of Cards" is that it mostly comes off as pretentious twaddle. A great soap like "Dallas" should, at least, have a sense of humor about itself. HoC, on the other hand, doesn't know if it wants to be a serious examination of the political sausage making like "The West Wing" - which was twaddle as well but it appealed to its target audience with its earnest pontifications - or a black political comedy like "Dr. Strangelove". But, to give it credit, the pretentious cinematography matches the pretentious writing, the pretentious acting and the pretentious directing. Kudos all the way 'round.

March 3, 2014

-2
Reply
DLD

I may not have said it so bluntly, but my thoughts exactly.

March 3, 2014

0
Reply
Ken

One hundred percent disagree. This comes off as knee-jerk analysis. House of Cards is both over the top dark comedy in addition to being a serious examination of the political machine. It is nothing like the West Wing.

The beauty of serialized storytelling is that you get to play with tone. One episode can be a dark comedy while the next a somber post moern take on Sun Tzu (how's that for pretentious).

Believing that uniformity of tone is necessary demonstrates a serious lack of understanding of the television medium (which has now surpassed pure cinema as the dominant visual storytelling genre).

I've obviously drunk the KoolAid, but I couldnt resist replying to such a lazy, contrarian pop-critique.

March 3, 2014

-3
Reply

That's OK, kidfob. Different strokes and all that. (btw, I didn't say it was like "The West Wing" but basically the opposite, that it hasn't decided what it wants to be as a show whereas TWW pretty much nailed its target tone and target audience)
.
As a side story, I was once a huge fan of Robin Wright's, going back to her "Santa Barbara" days in the mid-80's. I even "met" her once, back in 1989 ... but the show still does nothing for me.

March 4, 2014

-2
Reply
DLD

What are the benefits of Rural Development Direct Home Loans.
A lot of times something could be kept as guarantee with the loan company whenever enormous amounts will be handed.

Very Low Income Housing Repair Program - The Home Repair Loan
Program or the Very Low Income Housing Repair Program
is a grant provided to senior citizens who are 62 years older and above.

March 5, 2014

1
Reply

Wait...so you want others to share their lighting techniques, but don't wish others to b/c it's your "bread and butter"?

You're not working with patentable intellectual property here. Any lighting technique you use, someone did before you and someone will do after you. It's just like a good cocktail. Some bartender invented it, maybe gets to name it, but you're gonna get other bartenders with the same ingredients more or less everywhere else who can make it just as well or better. (Maybe that's actually a bad example, b/c there are patented drinks, but they're all lame, like the "Hand Grenade®")

Every DP and almost every gaffer I've ever worked for or with has been incredibly and completely selfless in what knowledge they disseminate. You're on a site that's dedicated to the same thing (sharing knowledge for free). It's incredibly self centered to want to learn, but not want others to know this. And you start out by berating the writer for a title that didn't deliver on it's promise to tell you lighting secrets (or something)?

Get over yourself.

I think it's more or less every production person's duty to share and pass on what they know. At just about every level, we're all continually learning, and we should all also be teaching. This is the spirit of the ASC, and I have to say, I've seen it from almost every DP I've worked for.

March 11, 2014

-1
Reply
Daniel Mimura

I think lighting is not just a matter of accumulating techniques but in the end, truly a matter of personal taste. You have to learn the basics, but then, there aren't that many techniques or secrets to be honest. Some of them are quite efficient, but you get bored if you use them all the time, and you'll quickly want to try something else. Learning lighting one secret trick at a time, you will miss out on the most important thing which is discovery, taking risks, and doing what your taste and aesthetic inclinations drive you to do. Like Deakins says: "lighting is something that has to be discovered".

August 21, 2014

1
Reply

Don't be a snot.

March 19, 2014

-2
Reply
Vern

I'm not sure exactly whhy but this website is loading very slow for me.
Is anyone else having this issue or is it a issue on my
end? I'll check bacfk later and see if thhe problem still exists.

May 11, 2014

0
Reply

If they rhythmically open and close to admit light,
the phenomenon is called hippus. But with early education and special software designed to help a parent
teach babies how to read, a parent can have their Babies talk
and forming a complex vocabulary sooner than they had ever
thought possible. You need to be aware of the temperature around the baby.

May 16, 2014

Hurrah! After alll I got a website from where I bee able to really
get helpful facts concerning my study and knowledge.

May 21, 2014

-2
Reply

You cannot just be expecting to keep home with the infant all day lengthy, remaining docile,
when you would fairly be out gaining some exercising. The baggage allowance given by
Indigo airline is different from Air India. * 4-position fully-reclining
seat, and ergonomically shaped, 3-position adjustable molded handles;.

May 24, 2014

Sweet blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News.
Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News?

I've been trying for a while but I never seem to
get there! Cheers

May 28, 2014

-1
Reply

I take pleasure in, cause I found exactly what I was
looking for. You have ended my four day lengthy hunt!
God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

June 14, 2014

1
Reply

Greetings! I know this is kinda off topic however I'd figured I'd ask.
Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest writing a blog
article or vice-versa? My blog discusses a lot of the same topics as yours and I think we could greatly benefit from each other.
If you are interested feel free to send me an email.
I look forward to hearing from you! Great blog by
the way!

June 18, 2014

2
Reply

Undeniably imayine hat which you said. Your favourite reason seemed
to be on the net the easiest factor to keep in mind of.
I say to you, I certainly get irked even as folks consier
issues thuat they plainpy don't understand about. You managed to hit the nail upon the highest as smartly as
outlined out the entire thing with nno need side-effects , othe foilks can ttake
a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

June 25, 2014

-1
Reply

Hi, of course this piece of writing is actually good and I have learned lot of things
from it on the topic of blogging. thanks.

June 27, 2014

-1
Reply

Excellent article. Keep writing such kind of information on your site.

Im really impressed by your site.
Hey there, You've performed an incredible job.
I'll certainly digg it and individually suggest
to my friends. I am sure they'll be benefited from this site.

July 4, 2014

If your city does not have free fitness centers available, consider writing a
letter to the mayor or city board. Its news to many
online haiku aficianados that haiku magazines and anthologies even exist.
I can almost guarantee that you'll either love them (because it's a great exercise) or hate
them (because you're out of shape and nearly
died trying to do them).

July 25, 2014

Hi there to all, the contents present at this website are truly awesome
for people knowledge, well, keep up the nice work fellows.

August 9, 2014

0
Reply

Pages