Pre-production: it's for cinematographers, too.
Cinematography is one of the most challenging aspects of filmmaking because it requires people to be essentially two people in one: incredibly tech-savvy and incredibly creative, a thorough planner and a loosey-goosey punch roller, a creator metaphysically and physically. But perhaps the most difficult duality in cinematography is having to be on your game through pre-production with all the documents and storyboards, as well as through production with all the cameras and lights.
In this video from StudioBinder, DP Brent Barbano goes over seven cinematography tips that will help you approach your next project with more confidence as a newcomer in both key phases of production. Check it out below:
There are so many things to learn about being a cinematographer. Admittedly, seven tips don't even scratch the surface of this topic—they barely even separate the tiniest cluster of particles gathered on the outermost edge of the surface. However, Barbano's advice will certainly help you at least become a better planner in pre-production, which is an area of filmmaking that I think a lot of novice cinematographers tend to overlook.
So, let's talk about the seven tips from the video.
Don't wait until you have your dream camera or better lighting. Just go out and film some stuff no matter what it is. This is especially important to know as you head into pre-production, because if you're thinking of spending a bunch of money renting that sweet ARRI Alexa when your DSLR would serve you just fine, then you might want to take a second to really weigh your options.
Create a plan of action
Filmmaking requires a ton of collaboration, so make sure that you're communicating clearly and often with your production team. Why? Because all of this "behind-the-scenes" stuff will increase your production value more than a top-of-the-line camera ever could. Talk with your director, set designer, costume designer, and anyone else whose work will directly affect yours and vice versa.
Use visual references
Visualizing your project before your shoot can really help you prepare for it, so create mood boards, storyboards, and anything else that will help you "see" your project beforehand. Take a look at these articles to learn more about how to not only use a storyboard but also how to make it a more useful weapon in your filmmaking arsenal.
Finding the right locations for your film is so important, which means location scouting is so important. Go out knowing not only what you're looking for in terms of style and look but also in terms of what you need on a practical level: power options, weather, parking, noise pollution, etc. There are a ton of different things to think about when you're location scouting, many of which we've covered in articles in the past. I highly suggest that you give them a lil' peek.
Follow the sun
The sun is free, so if you're on a budget, take advantage of that ol' gal. Get an app that tracks where the sun is going to be at different locations and times so you can plan your shoot accordingly.
Bring your camera when you scout
Another little tip for location scouting: bring your camera. Take as many photos of you can of the location so you can show the rest of your team what to expect. Also, it wouldn't hurt to also bring along a DSLR with some lenses so you can get an idea of which focal lengths and compositions work well at the location.
Trust your gut but be flexible
At the end of the day, stuff happens. All of your plans can go up in flames, which is why you've got to be flexible and able to roll with the punches. Furthermore, you've also got to be able to trust your gut when you feel like something just isn't working the way you thought it would. Be open to change because almost everything changes during the course of a film shoot.
Check out StudioBinder's full blog post about cinematography here. This thing is a massive compendium of insight, tips, and techniques that will help you become a better DP.
What are some other aspects of pre-production you think cinematographers should focus on more? Share your thoughts down in the comments.