Cinematographer Lol Crawley, who has shot such films as Ballast, which won for Best Cinematography at Sundance in 2008, and last year's Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, has a true knack for capturing painfully personal and intimate images. He took some time to share some cinematography advice back in 2012 for his BAFTA Cinematography Masterclass in Bristol, and Anna Hoghton highlights and paraphrases the key ideas he shared, including how to light and finding your voice as a DP. (And we've taken a few of our favorites to share with you!)
Anna Hoghton communicates in her own words what Crawley shared during his masterclass, and we've chosen three ideas that stuck out specifically to us.
This is true for every artist regardless of their medium; it's important to have a creative vision, technical abilities, talent, inspiration, money, and connections. However, having something to say is the most important thing. The reason why this stuck out to me, is because it's the second time I've heard it today -- the first being from yet another BAFTA event, this time with Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass (a write-up of that is coming soon, by the way).
For a cinematographer, or filmmaker in general, there are two main things needed for success. The first is your artistic voice and having something to say.
Use natural resources available to you
Independent filmmakers understand what it's like using what is readily available to them. We often don't have the budget to splurge on extensive light kits or beautiful sets. In fact, many times we have to build stories around the places and things we can make movies in and out of. Crawley is a big fan of "less is more"-- using what you have creatively to capture something interesting.
On a par with the ‘do less’ approach, Crawley is a big fan of using real locations, as he did on Better Things. As long as the location looks good, is well-lit and has consistency, it’s better than any studio shoot. For one shot in The Crimson Petal and the White, the location had a metal ceiling which Crawley used to light the actors. This distinctive top lighting gave the shot a burn-out effect that Crawley then pushed further in DI, so suddenly the location felt less like a room and more like the bow of a ship.
Still from Ballast
Respond to your environment and film intelligently
Hoghton explains how a film student in the audience shared with Crawley that he doesn't spend as much time considering lighting for his scenes as he thinks he should. Crawley then offers this interesting lighting advice:
When lighting any location, the biggest thing is just to know your location. Sit in the space for half a day, during the time of day you are planning to shoot in. See what it does. Just being there will throw up ideas you won’t have come up with sat on a sofa, storyboarding. Respond to the space and allow that to come through in your work. If you want natural keep lighting and operating as natural as possible, if you want something a bit more stylised you will manipulate that naturalness in different ways depending on what you’re trying to impose.
Be sure to check out the rest of Lol Crawley's tips on BAFTA's post.
Which of Crawley's tips stuck out to you the most? What advice would you give to beginning cinematographers? Let us know in the comments below.