Learning how to be a better cinematographer takes time, but these tips will give you a little head start.
People make mistakes; it's a part of life. However, mistakes on set can not only be crazy frustrating but they can often lead to you losing important shots, clients, and even your solid reputation as an up-and-comer. If you'd rather avoid making these kinds of mistakes rather than learn the hard way, you should check out this video from Peter McKinnon. In it, the filmmaker/photographer goes over four mistakes he has made throughout the course of his 15-year career and how he has learned from them to become better at capturing images. Check it out below:
Even though McKinnon's tips are geared toward photography, any cinematographer regardless of experience level can use them to up their game. Let's take a quick look at each mistake McKinnon goes over in the video:
Not using your histogram
Many new filmmakers use their camera's LCD monitor or their own eyes to achieve correct exposure, but this can end up being a big mistake. Screens and monitors are notorious for not representing an image's true exposure or color and often are uncalibrated. This is why it's so important to learn how to read a histogram, as well as other useful scopes, so you can get a better idea of what your image actually looks like.
Whether it's inexperience or just plain laziness, filmmakers, both new and experienced, fail to remove unwanted objects and obstacles out of the frame before they hit record. Sometimes this means simply taking unattractive elements out of your shot, sometimes this means re-composing your shot altogether in a more visually-appealing area—either way, that small added effort can result in more beautiful, meaningful, and dynamic images that aren't ruined by distracting and unappealing objects showing up in the frame.
Not using camera stabilizers
McKinnon specifically talks about tripods in the video, and while tripods are absolutely a great asset to have on set, cinematographers would be wise to learn how to utilize a wide range of different camera stabilizers to achieve the look they want. Sliders, jibs, dollies, drones, and gimbals will all help you capture different kinds of camera movement, which, of course, will help you tell more dynamic and engaging stories that are not only kinetic and exciting to watch but also emotional and meaningful to experience.
Not being thorough
This is one of those mistakes that you'll most likely make throughout your entire career (at least every once in a while). Being thorough, from checking your camera settings to rehearsing camera movement with your crew to ensure it works for the shot, is absolutely essential not only to have a successful shoot but also for proving yourself to be a professional. There's nothing worse than an important shot getting ruined due to your own error, so be sure to double/tripod/quadruple check your camera settings, shot list, battery life, and "record" light before you begin.
What are some significant mistakes you've made in your early days of cinematography? What are some mistakes you still find yourself making? Let us know down in the comments.