September 4, 2016

Watch: What Does It Take to Be a "Good" Cinematographer?

Pictured: Jeffrey T. Brown; photo credit: D.A. Bullock
There's a lot more to being a good DP than capturing beautiful images.

For most people at the beginning of their career as a DP, the main focus is almost entirely on shooting great pictures. That's natural, of course, since the whole reason they got into the cinematography branch of the film business is most likely because they fell in love with shaping light, composing frames, and cradling sexy cameras. But being a good DP means more than having artistic talent. Here to share a few thoughts on what it takes for a DP to be "good" is Matthew Workman of Cinematography Database:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADgHL_pWbOo

When you look at your favorite DPs—Lubezki, Deakins, Morano—you see the beautiful images they create, but there is also a relational and financial savvy that they possess that make them the desirable cinematographers that they are.

Create quality photography

This is obvious—good DPs are able to create quality images. Workman says that because cinematography is both a technological and creative art form, you should understand everything from camera/lighting technology, color spaces, composition, camera movement, and so forth. I would like to add that one of the major indicators of a good DP is that their work not only looks good, but it's also able to tell stories. Being well-versed in the language of cinema, how different framing, angles, camera movements, etc. convey different ideas and emotions to the audience, is of the utmost importance.

Be aware and have empathy for your team

Though you as a DP are an important factor in the filmmaking process, it takes a lot of people to get a film made, and having empathy for those people is definitely a mark of a good DP. Why? Because teamwork. The DP a client wants to hire is the one who gets along and works together with a team, not one who complains about the supposed shortsightedness of a producer who doesn't give them the equipment they want or how other departments are getting in their way. Don't be that DP. Play nicely and make good films. (It's more fun that way.)

A good understanding of how the business works

Business. It's not the sexiest thing about filmmaking, but it is important to understand how the money works in this industry if you want to be a good DP. Workman explains that learning how to allocate funds is crucial, because this will help keep costs down, revenue up, and in the end help keep those companies that hire you in business. If you don't know how to allocate funds, you'll end up receiving an excessive budget and blowing all of that money on stuff you don't really need. You could save your client a lot of money by understanding how the business works.

These are just three things that make a "good" DP—clearly there are a ton of others. Let us know in the comments what kinds of things you think make a cinematographer "good".      

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