Stop trying so hard! Stop worrying! Stop getting so frustrated and down on yourself because you don’t like the look of what you’re putting onscreen!
With the rarest exceptions, the early work of every cinematographer who has stepped behind a camera is crap. Seek out the first films shot by some of our most legendary practitioners. You’ll be shocked at just how lousy so many of them are. By the way, I’m no exception in this department. On the wrong day, it can make me physically ill to revisit my neophyte material.
But that reaction is only a small part of the growth process. It’s more important to possess a raging will to learn and do better. And if you’ve had any doubts about what it takes to maintain status in this profession, well, that ethic must never waver.
After making peace with your present deficiencies, the important thing is to step back – emotionally detach from what you’ve been doing and the way you’ve been doing it. Then, coldly analyze why certain things are successful while others are not. There have never been more methods with which to do this than are available now, so don’t make excuses. Deconstruct your work in as much detail as possible, sparing no criticism at any point. Then, seek out remedial approaches and maintain them as notes on how to not repeat the same mistakes. It’s also helpful to scrutinize well-shot films and poach them for their best ideas. If you have access to a mentor or experienced advisor, include that person in this practice of reverse engineering.
Now comes the real challenge – putting what you’ve learned into action.
Be patient! Don’t expect massive improvements overnight. The ones that you see will likely be incremental. But if you do this consistently and with total commitment, you will gain positive results. As they accrue over time, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the forward leaps your work will begin to take.
Not that you should ever become totally satisfied with what you’ve shot… I still adhere to this practice after every job and it has yet to fail in moving me closer to my imagined ideal.
Taste is an expression of technique. Its development represents the logical follow-up to mechanical competence in a cinematographer’s career. As a more complex mountain to climb, it’s one that can never be fully conquered. I’ll be sure to address this issue in a future post.
In the meantime, keep at it and make your obsession a part of everyday life!