26th Feb: American Cinematographer and Wandering DP

This week I read Kaity Williams’ article from May 2020 “Overcoming Limited Resources on My First Feature.” I found this interesting as it gave the perspective of a newer industry figure – something which is often absent from articles in AC. Williams described the challenges their lower budget presented, particularly a tight schedule, lack of prep time and limited equipment. By combining her own resources, contacts and creative approach she was able to overcome these constraints.

As she had not been given the opportunity to scout many of her film’s locations, Williams explains that she was forced to think on her feet and cheat dimensions to make many of the spaces fit with the story, particularly the size of a high school’s classrooms. In addition to this, Williams focused on building visual interest within the frame, particularly in one apartment location with plain white walls. Through a combination of production design and having actors stand away from walls, Williams explains how she was able to make this bland location much more dynamic. To keep on schedule, she advises careful planning to group shots with similar lighting setups and actors and focusing on coverage before more ‘artistic’ shots. Overall, Williams argues that a lot can be done with very simple tools, particularly when priority is given to cast blocking and shaping available light over the camera’s specifications.

I also watched a cinematography breakdown by the Wandering DP of a commercial shot by Sebastian Winterø. This gave me an insight into a more polished, higher-budget shoot where the DP still adapts natural light to their advantage. Patrick focuses on the exterior scenes where the sun position is used to create engaging texture and contrast on natural features. He also advises keeping the sun out of shot, allowing the exposure to be balanced for the sky, while keeping the subjects well-exposed. This is applied to several shots where sunlight is shaped by buildings to create a pool of light – Patrick notes the importance of shooting from the shadows into the light, allowing the pool to create an area of focus within the frame. He also notes carefully placed props which block hard sunlight and create softer lighting on the cast, while the bounced light from the room is sufficient to keep the actor well-exposed. Patrick argues that this commercial, and many others, are based on a set ‘framework’ which can be adapted by altering contrast and quality of light and by adding detail and brightness variation to the set – a technique which he describes as ‘salt and pepper’.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFI-d6BNNYk)

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