Top 10 Cinematography Tips from Renowned DP Roger Deakins
Roger Deakins is one of the most highly regarded cinematographers living today (which is probably why we like to talk about him here at NFS). He has photographed aesthetically breathtaking films such as The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, and No Country for Old Men (he has been nominated for 11 Oscars, but he has yet to win a single one), and has always been very open and willing to share the wisdom he has picked up throughout his almost 40-year career. In a very helpful, very inspiring BBC News article, Deakins shares his top 10 tips for young cinematographers, and we've chosen a few gems to share with you.
Get some life experience
Deakins states something later in the article that directly ties into this. He says, "I think it's important to develop as a person. You have to develop your way of being," which in reference to not copying other cinematographers. Going out there, getting some mileage under your feet will help you to (hopefully) learn more about yourself as a person and as an artist. In other words, personal experience, according to Deakins, is a better teacher than film school, a tutorial, or even a film (even his own).
I think it is more important to experience the world, really. You can't learn cinematography and you can't copy it. The job is just your way of looking at the world. Maybe that sounds a bit pretentious, but I think life experience is always more important than technical knowledge.
Understand the importance of lighting
Cinematographers are the painters of light, and the most skillful of them know where, when, and how to apply it in order to tell the story. There is, of course, the obvious task of making sure your subjects are lit and visible, but the challenge lies in making the light speak in ways that your characters cannot.
So, on the one hand, you need to light a space so you can see the actors - but, more than that, you are creating a mood, you are creating a world for those actors to inhabit and for the audience to get submersed in. Lighting is one of the most important aspects of any great film.
In this video from NPR, Deakins breaks down one of his favorite scenes in his film No Country for Old Men:
Keep up with new technology but remember the storytelling
This might be ironic (or a good reminder) since we're coming off of NAB, but it's true -- the core of filmmaking is storytelling. It's easy to fall in love with new cameras and gadgets, because they're exciting, they produce beautiful images, and make our lives a little bit easier, but we have to always remember that these things are just tools to be used to tell stories.
Technology is changing all the time, but for me nothing has changed in the sense that you are still telling stories by the use of light, the use of a frame, the way you move a camera. I'm still hoping to be part of telling stories about people and the way we are. So, to me, technology is important, but it's only in the background, it's a means to an end, it's like the paintbrush.
I think a lot of us understand that initial fear when you first get your hands on a camera and have to push record during a project. There's so much riding on your ability to not only capture a technically sound image (correctly focused, exposed, and framed), but to capture one that is emotionally engaging and original. Definitely learn from films, classes, tutorials, and experienced cinematographers, but don't forget just how important it is to your art and career for you to get out there and get to work.
For the full list of Roger Deakins' tips, be sure to check out the original BBC News post.
What do you think of Deakins' advice? Do any tips hit home for you? Do you have any wisdom to share with your fellow cinematographers? Let us know in the comments below.