While chatting with an ASC colleague a few days ago, we noted some of the shifts that cinematographers have encountered since the film negative lost its primacy to the digital sensor.  Rather than hash over the obvious (bits of gear, drones, LED volumes, etc.), we cast a somewhat broader net.

            Our bullet points are in random order.  I make no judgement as to whether they’re good or bad.  They just reflect the way it is at this moment in the evolution of the craft.

            – shooting in mixed color temperatures, whether by chance or design

            – unimaginably low light levels

            – switching to a lower resolution in-camera so as to gain a tighter focal length

            – more of a tendency to light spaces as opposed to people

            – less of a tendency to light for a specific, consistent T-stop

            – riding exposure on-the-fly through the monitor with the single-channel unit

            – letting daytime windows and extreme highlights blow out more frequently

            – letting the camera roll until the memory card is filled

            – the use of multi-cameras when a single-camera would do

            – decline of visual structure; shows are often hosed-down rather than composed

            – reliance on post-production wizardry as a fix rather than an enhancement

            – camera assistants and operators, once inseparable, are now quite separate

            – the rare appearance of the camera assistant’s tape measure

            – the even more rare appearance of the geared head

            – the disappearance of the light meter

            – being addressed as “dude” by a twenty five-year old production assistant

            I’m sure there are many more.  Enter your own observations in the comments box!


13 thoughts on “CH…CH…CH…CHANGES”

  1. Being asked by a young Producer, why are you using an “Old School” tungsten fresnel. why not use a LED 1×1 panel or a LED tube light?

  2. Love this post, Richard, and I agree with pretty much everything you noted. I must say that some of the observations are part of a new world that is both changing and creating a new style. I was born 40 years ago and I lived the transition from analog to digital in many aspects of my life; from a landline to a touch screen cellphone, from a CRT television in black and white and with a 1.33 aspect ratio to a flat screen 4K QLED that receives my commands by voice and answers back. It’s a brand and brave new world and I started using and loving M&R tungsten lights heavy like a FIAT 500 (first model) and now I see LED panels and soft boxes that don’t get hot and are lifted with one hand. As I said, I think it’s both a changing and a creating-a-new-style environment. LED lights are cheaper, eco friendlier and lighter, but I constantly miss that wrapping soul that a tungsten fresnel or an HMI are giving me. The use of LED lights, especially less expensive panels, created the necessity to illuminate the spaces rather than the characters and this new type of lighting generated a new style; people are moving within a space and this space give them light. Rather than focusing on the character with the illumination, we focus on the space where the character moves. The next step was to make this space more visually interesting, so one way was to mix color temperatures and create complementary color palettes, mostly with hot and cold results like yellow and cyan, red and green, magenta and blue and other combinations. I found myself working different type of projects and the points you noted are true in some of the productions I did, so I believe this technological evolution kind of forced a new approach of shooting and created and new style, at the same time. Productions are using a 2-cameras setup to make the principal photography shorter and this pushes for a light setup that needs to be done faster, because now we are able to shoot more footage in less time, but the speed for the lighting setup was just fast before. One thing I’d like to add to the list is the wireless system; everyone uses wireless now, from audio, to video, to follow focuses, to drones, to comms and personal cellphones. We are all in this mega Tesla Coil bubble and we think this makes things easier and faster, but the reality is that every time something loses the signal, with so much interference, it takes a long time to figure out where the issue lays, when it’s all wireless. So I would add the reliance on too much wireless systems. What bothers me the most, though, are the disappearances of light meters (I always carry and use my Sekonic 758DR), tapes measure (I always carry the hard, soft and laser versions) and the “fix in post” modus operandi (to which I always reply “No, we fix it now.”)

  3. I feel lucky to have started my journey as a cinematographer shooting on film, both 16mm and 35mm. It’s maybe because of that that I still have a light meter on my belt when shooting. It is interesting that I don’t use it on every setup though. I do use other digital exposure tools though, my favourite being false colours. Learning to work in the digital realm involves learning this, the use of LUTs and the power of digital colour correction to achieve your desired results, where in the past, you relied solely on your knowledge of the film stocks characteristics, your trust in the film labs processing consistency and your light meter. I would definitely say that I am braver with my exposures on digital and sleep better. Both of these things make me a better cinematographer.

  4. Hey Dude! In a couple of posts the word “volume” is used as a descriptive, for example the shot could have been done in volume but it would have been expensive or LED volumes. What’s the meaning?
    Disappearance of the geared head, good riddance.

    “camera assistants and operators, once inseparable, are now quite separate” In what way? Don’t understand this.

    Disappearance of the tape measure, I can understand this. The tape allowed the a/c to measure not only the the “mark” but also to other potential marks as the scene progressed and the actors began thinking the marks were just a suggestion! I recently saw an episode of either BILLIONS or SUCCESSION in which the laser pointer made a very brief appearance!

    Keep it up Rich, as always I love your insights.

  5. Greg – According to the Virtual Production Glossary, a volume is defined as “The physical space in which performance capture is recorded. Also refers to a nearly enclosed
    LED stage in which a volume of light is emitted, or a display surface for projected content.” As for the disappearance of the geared head, I really miss it – especially when I see the fluid head lurch slightly forward\backward at the start\stop of a fast dolly move. Camera operators and AC’s used to work cheek to cheek at the camera. Now, the AC is usually face-glued to a monitor 150′ from the dolly; it’s not a recipe for great communication between two key players.

  6. Greg – If you’re shooting with, say, a Red Helium 8K sensor with a 50mm lens at 8K resolution and suddenly need to punch in tighter – but are pressed for time – a quick answer is to drop down to 4K resolution. Due to the crop factor of the sensor, this will result in a 100mm focal length (for television presentation the shift in look will be negligible). This saves the stress of an actual lens change, which is not a simple thing these days. There are usually focus-zoom-iris motors and attendant cabling that must be disengaged and reattached…and that always takes time!

  7. For better or worse everything you state is very true. A lot of creative options
    if you know its an option and you understand them and work them.
    A lot of folks out there are winging it, many safety nets in the process.
    Hard to criticize when there are so many fantastic results but I’ve seen a lot
    of fake it till you make it projects.

  8. Hey Gordon! I don’t necessarily think the changes we’re experiencing are negative…but in the interest of positivity I didn’t mention the bad ones. One way or the other, we’re the ones who have to adapt. The industry at large surely isn’t going to adapt to us!

  9. Thanks for the clarification on “volume” — sort of like a stage that has pre-hung lights, DeFillipo, Farkas and some of the insert stages in Manhattan.
    As to geared vs fluid heads, seems more like operator error rather than a problem with the head. Anywhooo, hope all is going well on your project, stay healthy and warm, Greg

  10. Interesting on 8K vs 4K. I only encountered it in post, editor can re-frame the 4K shot and still retain sufficient quality for TV broadcast. The technique is sometimes used in an interview situation, the subject of the interview states something really important in the context of the interview but the shot is MCU and a tighter shot is warranted. The technique also eliminates a second camera framed on the subject. Greg

  11. Hey Greg – Yes, what you say is very true. But what I object to in those situations is when a director or an editor is the one who makes the decision about the composition of the new frame.

  12. I agree but my experience has always been guided by “a work for hire” clause implicit in the contract. There’s no script to guide the editor. The documentary director along with the editor create the story in the editing room. Back in ’78 I spent 8 weeks traveling China for a documentary which became known as “China: In a Class by Itself” — in a NYT review the critic John O’Connor singled me out by name for not making any wide shots. I wrote him a note stating that after the film ran through the camera, the way the images were assembled was out of my control. A couple of years later he reviewed another documentary I filmed, singled me out by name and praised the cinema verite style I employed! Go figure.

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