Being Deliberate in Cinematography

Every decision you make on set has to be deliberate. Why are you using heavy backlight? Why are you filming this scene on sticks opposed to handheld? And the most important question: are these choices enhancing the story? Start asking yourself these question when you tackle your next project.

A big issue I had when I started as a cinematographer was that I didn’t realize how my choices were affecting the audience. If I’m filming a fight scene, why use a long lens opposed to a 35mm prime? Why film handheld instead of on a slider? I first needed to learn how the audience would react to each of these choices, and then how to utilize this knowledge on set. Sound intimidating? Well, the good news is that we have access to the worlds best directors and cinematographers through their work. We can dissect a scene shot by shot to determine what they used to achieve each shot and why they chose to do it that way.

In this post we will take a look at composition and blocking actors. Let’s take a look at the popular show “House of Cards.” In this scene, we see Frank Underwood negotiating with a representative from the republican side. Both sides want something from the other, but neither truly want to budge. We can see this by how the conversation is filmed. Let’s do a quick run through of the scene.

If you’ve never seen this show, then all you need to know is that in this scene a representative from both the republican and the democratic parties are negotiating, but neither truly want to budge. The guy to the side is on neutral ground, and is acting as the mediator between them. First, let’s look at the composition. Both shots are composed so that the subject is looking off screen with little space in front of their face. This gives us a feeling that they aren’t connecting with each other, almost like there is a wall between them.

Also, notice that a little bit of shoulder is in each shot to make us feel even more disconnected.The guy on the side who is on neutral ground is comfortably composed with plenty of looking space in front of him in every shot. We feel as though he connects with both parties.

As they start to come to an agreement we switch over to these two shots of both parties. This is a very bold composition showing them both going head to head.

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And in conclusion, we end with this shot, showing the agreement coming to a close as we bring everyone in shot again. We see the third man again, right in the middle of the agreement.

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As you can see, composition is a very strong tool that can help your storytelling immensely. Think about your audience next time you are setting up your shots.”How will they feel if you place the camera here or use this foreground element in this scene?” The frame is your playground, have fun and don’t be afraid to be bold with your choices.

Cinematography is taught in the video production program at Center for Creative Media.

Josh Layton

Josh Layton is a 21-year-old cinematography student  from Pennsylvania. He attends school at Center for Creative Media, a Christian film and video production school in Tyler, TX. He draws much of his inspiration from adventure and being in nature. He sites bacon as one of his greatest creative muses.

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