The Cinematographer: Crash Course Film Production #8

The Cinematographer: Crash Course Film Production #8

Movies are made up of series of images. Some are beautiful, some are harsh, and some
stick in our minds forever. Like the gently rolling spaceships in 2001
A Space Odyssey. Or Peter O’Toole riding out of the desert
in Lawrence of Arabia. Or Darth Vader emerging from the smoke in
Star Wars. But who actually takes these pictures? If the director is the one who sets the vision
for the film, whose job is it to bring that vision to life? That’s the person who puts the pictures
in motion pictures. The cinematographer. [Intro Music Plays] Cinematographers must be artists, engineers,
photographers, and storytellers, all at once. Sometimes you’ll hear the cinematographer
referred to as the director of photography or “DP.” But don’t be confused, it’s the same job. In some parts of the world, they prefer one
title to the other, but generally speaking, the two titles are interchangeable. And no matter what they call themselves, their
basic job is to translate the director’s vision into things like framing, lighting,
and camera movement, so that the film’s story, emotions, and themes are conveyed visually. A cinematographer must not only possess great
technical skills, but also understand the fundamental narrative beats of the film, the
arc of the characters, and how the shots might cut together in the editing room. And the job begins long before the cameras
start to roll. During pre-production, the cinematographer
assembles the camera department, plans shots with the director, and determines any special
equipment that might be necessary for the shoot – from cranes and dollies to steadicams
and special lenses. They also help the director decide what kind
of film stock or digital cameras to use and what the overall look of the film will be. During production itself, the cinematographer
oversees the lighting and shooting of the film, shot by shot. This includes supervising the camera department
and working very closely with the lighting department — the head of which, you’ll
recall, is the gaffer. Since pictures are technically just a record
of light bouncing off objects, the gaffer is fundamental to achieving the images that
make up the film. And when it comes to the lights themselves,
the cinematographer has a lot to choose from. For example, there are Fresnel lights, which
use special lenses called … Fresnel lenses … to produce a wide, hard light that softens
at the edges. Commonly used for stage lighting, these lights
can get very hot very quickly. Fluorescent lights are much cooler and softer,
but they’re quite fragile, which matters on a film set when the lights are being moved
around so frequently. LED lights create very little heat and are
favored by a lot of independent and DIY cinematographers because they’re cheap and use less power. However, the colors and shadows they cast
can be unreliable and difficult to match, bulb to bulb. Incandescent lights, meanwhile, generate a
lot of heat, but they generally give a warm, yellow light that can be very appealing. And then we have HMIs, or… this… These are massive lights that give off an
enormous amount of heat. They’re so bright that they’re often used
to simulate daylight. As in, the sun. So, that’s the hardware, but in addition
to choosing which of these lights should be used, the cinematographer also has a say in
how they’re arranged. The most basic style of lighting, used in
everything from formal interviews to fiction films, is 3-point lighting. You start with a key light, which is the brightest
light, often positioned so that it shines most directly on the subject of the shot. Then you add some fill light, which is a dimmer
and more diffuse light used to fill in the shadows created by the key light. Finally, back light, which is usually brighter
than the fill light, shines from behind the subject of the shot. This creates a “halo” or “edge” of
light that outlines the subject and separates it from the background. One of the questions the cinematographer grapples
with is figuring out where the light is coming from in the world of the film. This will determine the direction, color,
intensity, and quality of light that illuminates the shot. Sometimes cinematographers will use practical
lights, which are light sources you can actually see in the shot, like desk lamps or windows. Other times they’ll deliberately use artificial
lights, or even turn to a more radical strategy to light their films. Cinematographers Néstor Almendros and Haskell
Wexler famously shot Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven using natural sunlight, mostly that
brief period of the day immediately before sunset, often called magic hour. While working on Catch-22, David Watkin said,
“I’m going to do something rather daring. I’m going to light the actors with only
explosions.” And he did! Cinematographer Ellen Kuras relied on a unique
combination of practical and artificial lights to create the unusual transitions and effects
of Jim Carrey’s memory loss in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Malik Hassan Sayeed is a master of style,
shooting everything from Spike Lee’s He Got Game to Beyoncé’s Lemonade. When Gordon Willis decided to light The Godfather
in such a way that Marlon Brando’s eyes would often be in shadow, it was seen as a
risky and daring strategy. Cinematographers were supposed to light
a character’s eyes. That’s just how it was done! Instead, Willis chose to use this lighting
“mistake” to illustrate the dark and unknowable soul of Don Corleone. Now, the cinematographer also works closely
with the production designer, who’s the head of the art department. The production designer is in charge of carrying
out the whole look of the film, particularly the physical elements like sets, costumes,
props, hair and makeup, but also non-physical elements like computer-generated images and
how they interact with the physical objects on camera. The cinematographer and production designer
work closely on everything from the color scheme of a set to how reflective its walls
should be. And for sure, in addition to the lighting,
cinematographers have to consider all kinds of factors when setting up their shots. Not only do the shots need to cut together
to tell the story, but they’re often constructed to have a beginning, middle, and end all their
own. The director and cinematographer must decide
how much of the frame should be in focus, using lens choice, film
stock, and aperture. Related to that, the cinematographer has to
think about what’s featured in the foreground, middle ground, and background of the shot. The arrangement of these features within the
frame can have a profound impact on the audience. Color and contrast also fall within the cinematographer’s
aesthetic toolkit. Color can be used to draw our eye to or away
from one part of the frame, make narrative or thematic links, or – as in The Wizard
of Oz – transport us to an entirely new place! Contrast, which refers to the ratio of the
darkest parts of the image to the lightest parts, can perform many of the same functions. Before there was color in film, contrast was
a particularly powerful tool for cinematographers. Noir classics like Carol Reed’s The Third
Man use deep, dark shadows cut by bright shafts of light to convey a sense of mystery and
menace . Cinematographers might also decide to move the camera to evoke a particular feeling or psychological effect. This movement might be as simple as a pan
or a tilt to follow the action, or as involved as Citizen Kane’s dramatic crane shot in
through the top of a nightclub. Moving the camera in toward a character can
convey a variety of emotions, from fear closing in on them, to some kind of internal revelation. There are some pretty entertaining supercuts
of push-in shots on YouTube. It makes you realize this technique is used
everywhere. Now, what happens after the film is in the
can? The job’s over, right? Of course not. The cinematographer is heavily involved in
a film’s post-production, too, because the editing process offers a lots of opportunities
to manipulate the images that have been captured. If a movie’s been shot on film, there are
all kinds of options to change color or exposure by altering chemicals and timing, as the exposed
negative is developed and processed. But whether the film was shot using traditional
film stock or a digital process, most feature films are digitized at some point, to make
the editing easier. And once the images have been converted into
digital information, even more options open up for manipulating the footage. Filters on photo apps like Instagram give
you some idea of how drastically you can change a digital image after it’s been shot. In order to maintain the look of the film,
the cinematographer is almost always deeply engaged in this process, working hand in hand
with the director, the editor, the post-production supervisor who’s overseeing this phase of
the process, and the special effects department. So, yeah, it’s kind of a big job! There’s a fantastic documentary called Visions
of Light that traces this history and art of cinematography. It’s out of print, but if you can find a
copy of it, you can hear some of the original masters of the medium share their stories
and see examples of their work. As with much of film production, there are
guidelines and customs when it comes to cinematography, but no actual rules. The right style of lighting or camera movement
for one film will be completely wrong for another. It’s up to the cinematographer to work with
the director to realize their vision for the film, translating int into images that will
cut together to tell the story. Today we learned about the multi-faceted job
of the cinematographer. We covered the various roles of the camera
and lighting departments and how they work together to realize a director’s vision. And we considered some of the tools and strategies
available to the cinematographer. Next time we’ll look at the fascinating
on-set work of set designers, costume designers, and special effects make-up! Crash Course Film Production is produced in
association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel to check
out a playlist of their latest amazing shows, like It’s Okay to be Smart, Physics Girl,
and The Art Assignment. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in
the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these nice people and our
amazing graphics team is Thought Cafe.


100 thoughts on “The Cinematographer: Crash Course Film Production #8”

  • Tiaan Engelbrecht says:

    Can we all just agree that the movie with the best cinematography is Barry Lyndon, and the series with the best is Breaking Bad? Okay? Okay.

  • Any chance we could get a diagram of how this set's lighting is set up? Would be interesting to take this info and apply it practically. Or is there a resource that shows lighting diagrams with corresponding images somewhere?

  • Loving this series a lot, this is just the sort of thing I'm super interested in!! fyi for anyone else interested, MK Wiles (Lydia from Lizzie Bennet Diaries!) does this series interviewing her friends in different roles from the industry (incl cinematographer, which is really cool:

  • At the end of this series could you put out a list of all the films you referenced! I'd love to watch them all with this new knowledge!

  • Eric Odenheimer says:

    If we imagine a film's entire crew as a group of friends, would it be accurate to say the two people that have to be "best friends" (if you had to name one) would be director and cinematographer?

  • There's something deeply unfamiliar in this presenter's affect. I made it 8 lessons before my making mention, and I just hope that it isn't considered impertinent; both definitions.

  • Lily is a fantastic host. Engaging and charismatic, with a speaking voice that is well-paced and even, but never boring. Great work.

  • So it seems that the director is actually a little less important to a film than the cinematographer. The director is the shipbuilder, but the cinematographer is the captain. A good ship with a bad captain is bound to end in disaster. But a good captain can still pilot a bad ship.

  • Honestly – this gives far too much credit to the role. A director would probably shoot it if he/she could but they already have a lot to take on. A cinematographer is another type of director's assistant.

  • Human Geography was released and the retracted for given reasons. Is there going to be a geography course in the future?

  • I really wanna work on movies but this series is the only opportunity I have to learn the techniques- I can't get physical experience anywhere!!

  • Edgar Seeing Things says:

    I love your videos guys. But this was sloppy, tbh. From confusing the TYPE OF THE LENS in the lights (Fresnel, open face) with the TYPE OF BULB in it (HMI, LED) – Fresnel can be LED, for example. To crediting wrong people: Malik Sayeed did not shoot Lemonade (4 different DPs shot it, and the particular moment you showed from it was shot by Pär Ekberg)… Also when talking about manipulating the colour of the film in post-production you forgot to mention the person who actually does it – the colourist (grader). #factchecking

  • Having worked on TV sets a lot I earned huge respect for the DP, they are definitely the most important person after the director in my opinion, the director might make the decisions but the DP really makes things happen.

  • Honestly, IT wasn't a good story in my eyes. Yet. Being that it was only the first chapter and everything took time to build up, but I can let that go. However, I do enjoy the film regardless. The panning and zooming was mesmerizing, especially the tilting while zooming effect was something I like the most about it – really adds to the already eerie sense and ominous feelings.

    I wouldn't watch again for the story, but I would do it again for the cinematography. Very beautiful angles and lighting – show casing highlighted things that demands viewer's attention.

  • MakeMeThinkAgain says:

    You're doing SUCH a great job… but I want so much more. More clips of particularly striking scenes emphasizing lighting, color tone, etc. And it would be wonderful to contrast Japanese, Indian, and other national conventions in this regard.

    And since you brought up "The Godfather," how do you even talk about the spacial organization of a scene like the pivotal scene in the office where family dominance shifts from Sonny to Michael? Watch it with the sound off and just SEE how the dynamic shifts from Sonny, in change behind his dad's desk, to Michael, sprawled out in that chair. I have no idea who was driving that. Coppola I guess.

  • Zigalko don Verven says:

    5:43 Only now on the laptop screen did I notice The Wizard Of OZ change to color mid-shot. Gues the still-browned interior hid the change behind the door. Not so seamless.

  • Okay, it's late and I'm not asleep yet so I'm going to do this with my time.

    A few corrections…

    1: There are actually 3 separate but equal departments that operate under the DP. The camera dept. (Camera Operator / 1st AC), the electric dept. (Gaffer) and the always overlooked Grip dept. (Key Grip). In most of the Green Nether Regions of Non-America the electric dept. takes care of all of the lighting responsibilities whereas the grip dept. is exclusively in charge of the camera platforms and rigs (I.E. dollies, cranes/jibs, rigging the cameras on cars, etc.). In the US however, the electric dept. is only in charge of the lights themselves and the means to power them (I.E. lights, ballasts and power supplies, the light stands, the power cords and power distribution, and generators) while closely working with the grip dept. who, in addition to all the camera platforms and rigs, is also in charge of shaping and bouncing the light as well as light rigging (I.E. diffusion, flags, nets, reflectors and bounces, condors etc.). The Key Grip works as an equal alongside the gaffer under the DP.

    2: There was also a lot of misinformation when you were talking about the different kinds of lights. I will go through all the different kinds of lights that are commonly used and explain the misconceptions.
    A. INCANDESCENT lights 3200k (I.E. tungsten, quartz, etc.) use a filament that is super heated by electricity until it glows a bright warm color. They are generally the less efficient light source and are somewhat being fazed out by modern more efficient technologies. They are not necessarily "smaller" lights as they can range in wattage from small 100 watt inkies to huge 20,000 watt 220 volt beasts.
    B. HMI lights 5600k pass an electrical arc through a special gas to create a bluer light that more closely matches sunlight than incandescents. They are not necessarily "massive" lights but are more efficient (brighter per watt) and they typically range in wattage from 200 watts to 24,000 watts (which are massive). HMI's are not used to "simulate daylight" because of their brightness but because of their color temperature which more closely resembles daylight. They also typically do not give off as much heat as incandescents as they are more efficient.
    C. Fluorescent lights 2800k-5600k put out very "soft" light using florescent tubes (magic cylinders) or CFL's which can come in many different colors to match both tungsten and daylight, as well as green and blue screens. They are not necessarily "more fragile" as the tubes typically come with a protective plastic cover. Fluorescents are much more efficient putting out a lot of light for relatively little power and even the biggest fluorescent light can still be plugged into a 15 amp circuit. Due to the size of the individual tubes however they comparatively don't put out as much light as the biggest tungsten or HMI lights as they would get too large and cumbersome.
    D. LED lights 2800k-10,000k use light emitting diodes (tiny magic boxes) to emit (typically) an adjustable, wide range of color. They are by far the most efficient light source used today, are fully dimmable and are on the cutting edge of lighting technology therefore they are very expensive. The newer Arri LED's are starting to take over on all kinds of film sets and they have resolved most of the color issues. Due to weight and overheating issues however, they are still not as bright as the largest HMI's.
    E. "Fresnel lights???" are not a type of light but one of many types of lens which can be put in front of any of the aforementioned lights (except for Fluorescents). Along with fresnel lenses there are: spot, flood, and stipple lenses and some lights called "open face lights" don't use lenses at all.

    Anyway, I doubt anyone read all the way down this far but it was therapeutic for me soooo… yeah.

  • I wonder why nowadays films in black and white doesn't look even closer to the old ones? I mean, it's not just shades and contrast, it's kind of something wrong in the gadation of those contrast.
    Also, this video made me remember the french film "La Nuit Américaine", by Truffaut, that gives some details about cinematographer's job. The title itself refers to a filming procedure to make scenes look like were shot at night (before digital editing was even an illusion). Also it's interesting a scene where we see a shooting with a lightbulb hidden in a lit candle, in its oposite side to the viewer.

  • JoeJacobyforHallofFame says:

    Jan 23, 2018: Congrats to Rachel Morrison (Mudbound) for being the first woman ever nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

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