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Camera Work

The best training for a filmmaker is to shoot still images well. Understanding how a lens works and how to compose shots is much easier to do with a still camera than with movies. A moving image can distract us from how the composition is really working. Learn composition first and then add motion to it. No, its not exactly the same thing--were composing over time. Its all dynamic, and unfolding more like dance.

With motion you need to learn how to control that triangle of talent, talent, and camera. How do you keep repositioning the camera as two people talk and walk? How does the space that were making have to change from moment to moment both to allow fluid camera movement and also to heighten and maintain interest in the viewer? Its not just one of those, its both. Are we inside the action or outside of it? Where is the action? How do you control it and how do you move through it?

Often in the beginning working with a hand-held camera is actually easier than trying to use dollies and jib-arms. They just get in the way and demand a lot of think-time to figure out where to place them. The time it takes to set all of that up often isnt justified by the results. Later, with more experience, when youre trying to smooth out your camera moves, you can try to add motion support to the camera. First, just get it done.

Exposure problems can creep up on us and we can find ourselves later in the edit room asking what were we thinking of when we opened up the iris to get that shallow depth of field look and blew out all of the background tones. Now none of the shots match up and were in trouble. Same with the color balance. That great idea of adding another light just before we start to tape ends up not being a good idea at all, because its all yellow now.

Same with shooting in 24p. Was it advanced pull-down that we wanted or is it that we didnt want it? Are we going back to standard definition tape or only on to a 24p DVD? Who knows? Wait a minute, I think I left the flash card on the counter at lunch or is it still in the camera? Oh, the agony--and it's just the first day of shooting.


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