Janusz Kaminski Says Cinematographers Are Losing Control of Images They Shoot

Credit: Columbia
With the rise of digital effects, are cinematographers in control of the image anymore? 

Perhaps we should have known when Avatar won the Best Cinematography Academy Award that things were shifting.

No longer is this role just a person with a camera, but a lot of times it's a team dropping in digital effects and messing with the lighting in post. When more and more effects are brought in, like inserting backgrounds, performers wearing mo-cap, and other things, cinematography begins to lose shape. 

Two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski is worried about where the job is going—and how little cinematographers are in control. On Monday at the NAB Show in Vegas, Kaminski said, “Cinematography is the art of light and shadows, visual metaphors and nuance. That is disappearing. It will evolve and come back. But right now [there are not enough young DPs] using cinematography to express themselves.”

So where did these comments come from?

Kaminski admits that it's from his own experience he's come to these conclusions. His work on Ready Player One involved heavy collaboration with an effects team, mo-cap team, and more. 

“There are too many cooks in the kitchen,” said Kaminski. So far the results are good, if you have a good chef, like Steven [Spielberg]. But the moment the director is not involved, [the cinematographer loses] control of the image.”

That control is crucial to artistic expression and one he sees disappearing from the landscape. While lauding Ready Player One, Kaminski said although he is proud of the movie, “My contribution was 40 percent.”

The rest of the stuff that happens inside the Oasis video game was mostly done by ILM and another team of artists

This is a landscape that's changing, and cinematographers need to learn how to adapt, but also continue to have ownership over the images. Some of that might mean learning new techniques or just finding a role as a supervisor in the CGI scenes. Directors need to pay close attention to this, as well. Everyone should be finding new ways to collaborate and work together.  

What do you think about the modern-day role of the DP? Tell us in the comments.      

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4 Comments

Honestly ... when was the DP ever REALLY in control of the final image? Unless you are wearing the Director / Producer / DP hat and in some cases Editor hat as well ... you have always had this "issue" ... in todays world, with technology as it is, it's just more complicated and the nature of the beast. Evolve or die off ...... where the hell did I put my VHS library ..... :-)

April 20, 2022 at 2:10PM

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Worst is the non-standard inclusion of DPs in the color grading process.

April 20, 2022 at 2:17PM

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Dean
371

Given how extensive color grading can be, a savvy DP who really wants to see it through to the finished result should either find an ally and collaborator in the booth, or brush up their skills and have another hat to wear, on the post side. In-camera LUTs and custom LOG can ensure the DPs work makes it through much more intact, and what's seen on set is closer to the finished, graded product.

April 20, 2022 at 10:20PM

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Film is a hands-on, collaborative process in all other aspects of production. DPs trained in the “alchemy” of film need to adapt to that. They are still in charge of image and use their vast talents to produce them. But they need to give up ownership, as other departments do.

April 20, 2022 at 3:27PM

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Anthony Wood
Writer/Producer
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