Cinematography

Building a Palette: The Cinematography of 12 Years a Slave

What does it take to be a cinematographer for an Oscar winning film? Director of photography Sean Bobbitt talks about his work in 12 Years a Slave; “We were really looking for a painterly quality as a counterpoint to the horrors of slavery,” Bobbitt states. “We tried not to do it in a heavy-handed way though, and to find those moments as opposed to planning them. The thing we kept saying to ourselves was, ‘Keep it simple.'”

There is a time to take risks and a time to keep it simple. The story should be the main focus in a film, and if your stylistic choices are distracting the audience.

Despite “keeping it simple,” Bobbitt did a fantastic job making this movie look gorgeous. Babbitt and Director Steve McQueen decided on a color palette that complements the natural pallet found in Louisiana, and the outcome was absolutely beautiful. The story should be your top priority but choosing the right color palette will draw your audience into the story that much more.

On the other hand, you can easily distract the audience by overdoing it. Color correction, wardrobe and makeup should all create an atmosphere and a stage for the story to play out on. Next time you sit down and plan your next shoot, ask yourself, “Am I making conscious decisions about my use of color that will help to advance the story, or are my colors unmotivated and treated as an after thought?


Josh Layton

Josh Layton is a 21 year old cinematography from Pennsylvania. 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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