Practicing Your Craft Off Set
I am always trying to better myself and my craft as a cinematographer. I believe it is an important aspect of being a great cinematographer. I never settle for the status quote or where I am at; I feel like I am always thirsty for new insight and knowledge. Obviously, going out, shooting films, and gaining experience are some of the best ways to grow, but what about when you're off set? What do you do when you are in that limbo between jobs? Here are some ways that have found valuable in pursuing my craft when not currently on a project.
Take and edit pictures
Have your camera with you at all time, this includes your phone. Frame up shots. Get your observing eye working. Always be on the lookout for that intriguing composition or lighting. This has helped with my confidence behind the camera as well as a hunt to find that most interesting angle. When you begin to think like this and start analyzing your surroundings, you practice that cinematographer's eye. Use anything that can take pictures. Keep it with you at all times.
The second step is editing the photos you took. This is crucial because you need to have a review session with yourself. Editing your photos allows you to really analyse. What in your pictures works, what doesn't, what are the things you are drawn to in your photos? Why this particular shot over that shot? Be picky with yourself. When you start to analyse your work like this you develop your visual style. It's one thing to point and shoot, but entirely different when you start to really dive into your work. Through the scrutiny with yourself you become better and better and learn from the things that worked. This can, and should, be done with your films as well.
Instagram is one of the best places to get inspired and connect with a lot of different photographers and filmmakers. It's a great motivator and I am amazed at some people's work daily. It's where you should be.
watch your favorite films on silent
No music, no dialog, and no subtitles. I'll admit, this one is tough for me to practice, however, it is well worth the discipline. You gain so much while watching a film this way. For one, you really see how visual communication works. What does a wide tell you, a close up? What does this push in tell us? This kind of viewing focuses your attention to the visual aspect of the film. How does the cinematographer use the camera to tell the story?
research other cinematographers
Looking at other cinematographers work will expand your perspective. Watch commercials or shorts on vimeo's staff picks and look up the DPs that work on them. view their portfolio and examine every frame. When you build up a base of great cinematographers you can start to see a style or techniques that really inspire you. Take those inspirations and put your own spin on it. I love being inspired by other people's work and seeing what they come up with. You have to get passed the jealously phase, but when you do you can see each individual who is on a journey just like you.
Reach out to those talented cinematographers that you find. You may even create a lasting connection or friendship from that! Don't be afraid of everyone else, embrace them. It's easy to see all of the other cinematographers as competition, but when you start to see them as allies and artists it totally changes your mindset.
Podcasts & blogs
There are so many great resources online that explore the craft of cinematography and film making. Here is a list of my go-to spots. Just to name a few.
Podcasts are my favorite for long drives in the car or a walk. They are all very insightful and passionate about teaching the art of cinematography. If you know any others that aren't on the list leave a comment; I'd love to find more great resources.
Pursuing other art forms as a hobby.
When you dive into other art forms it broadens your perspectives. There are so many thing we can learn from painting and writing that can be related back to our journey as a cinematographer. For example, When we work with colors and pigments like in painting we must focus and respect the colors, it is so hard to get the colors right and understanding colors and tones in this way can help us shape better images. Writing is another great thing all cinematographers should be working on as well. The reason I say that is because we do a lot of prep for a project. When we practice creatively writing blogs, like this, we can apply that practice to our treatments and communication during prep.
Living a creative life is also a huge part of being a cinematographer, and when we practice other outlets of creativity it helps us get our juices flowing. The more creative outlets we can explore, the more we will continually be in a state of creativity. Which, is sometime a hard thing to accomplish when we don't have many outlets.
I am not say we should all strive to be professionals in all of these various outlet, however, when we explore we will find something to take from it.
Reading books on communication and physiology.
I know, I know, this sounds really boring but from my experience it has been critical to my growth as a cinematographer. Let me explain myself; As a cinematographer you are a leader. You lead a team to achieve a goal. Being a good communicator and leader is very important. How to live a creative life is also really important as well. There are so many fantastic books on both of these subjects. David Lynch's Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity is a wonderful book about living a fulfilling creative life. In Chris Widener's book The Art of Influence: Persuading Others Begins With You he gives us a grand parable about how to be an effective leader.
7 things that can help you pursue the journey of a cinematographer and film maker. If there is anything else that you believe should be included please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.
Until next time,
Reid M. Petro