Glad to be a Photographer

I praise the day when I decided to pursue photography in earnest – or even professionally. How much excitement that interest has brought me in the last four years. The places I have been allowed in to see, the people I have been able to meet, the experiences I have gained. And yesterday was another example of that. But it has simultaneously also shown me that I am glad I am not a cinematographer.

Yesterday’s occasion was a shoot in a shoot. The star of the film was – my house. But the fact that I work in a studio in this house suited the filmmakers plans, and thus I was asked to “act” in her film. I will be a mere footnote in the finished work, but that suits me well, because what I wanted to get out of this, I certainly got. I got a first-hand experience of a professional video production. Five people were involved in the shoot – the director, her AD , the director of photography, a steady-cam operator and a focus puller. Now, I have often read these titles in the credits of movies, and of course I had a general idea what their roles were. I had a glimpse of it when I acted as an extra on a soap opera years ago, but when you are a mere extra in a big production, you do not get to ask questions or to poke behind the scenes.

Photography – Drawing with Light, Literally

The attention to detail in video productions is staggering. Furniture was moved, paintings re-hung, decorations arranged to the millimetre. Light was artificially enhanced and recreated. My role in all this was to act the photographer, i.e. I was in the frame as a photographer who is in the middle of a photo shoot. An easy role to play, you might think, but not if you are aware of a camera moving around behind you, which you have to allow space to pass by while still acting your own part.

Most interesting for me was that stills photography and cinematography are two entirely different kettle of fish. Yes, both work with the recording of light, time and space, and yet it seemed to me as if photography, although much less complicated, needed a much stricter framework than cinematography. For starters, the mixture of lightsources – flash and daylight, did not seem to impede the camera very much. For me, however, it was slightly tricky to be shooting flash with light streaming in from an open window. (For those not in the know: A mixture of light will result in funny hues in the image.) On a usual shoot, I would not place my sitters as close to the backdrop as I had to yesterday. And I certainly would know that my flash has to be much closer to my subjects in order to illuminate them properly than it sits in this shoot. For the steady-cam it was more important to have the whole composition right, the flash did not really matter much to it, and similarly the intensity of light seemed to be less of or little consequence. My demands, of course, were secondary to the production, and so I had to go along with the “script”. I will have to issue a massive caveat before any of my photography friends see the final products – the gaps in my “studio safety” alone will have those in the know scream in agony…

The shoot has left me with a new appreciation of all things video. It was interesting to see the split responsibilities of the director on the one hand, and the DP on the other – one in charge of the aesthetics, the other looking after the technical side of things. Likewise, roles of the camera people were clearly split as well, with the steady-cam operator moving the camera with the poise and deliberation of a ballet dancer through the room, while the focus puller crept along to concentrate only on the focus of the image that he saw transmitted onto his screen.

All of these jobs were incredibly multi-task – operating complicated pieces of equipment while keeping the instructions of the artistic and technical directors in mind, all of that restricted by the dimensions and characteristics of the room. One wrong angle or a bump against the rigging and you can start again. And all this before you even get to the participation of the “extras” who unwittingly look at the camera, or move the wrong way, or move to quickly, or what have you. It’s pain-stakingly slow, and what will appear as a minute-and-a-half in the finished video has taken us three hours to shoot.

I am glad that as a photographer I am operating in a slightly less technology-filled realm. Give me a lightsource and a subject and off I go. But those have to be set in direct relation, otherwise it won’t work. There is still plenty of multi-tasking going on in my job, too, and lots of technology to arrive at the desired outcome. No doubt you can easily do with a pair of extra-eyes and a few hands to move the details around. But nowhere near the complexity that filming needs. Phew – glad I am not doing that. I most certainly lack the patience for cinematography.

So yeah, I am glad to be a photographer. I am able to understand what is going on in the world of cinematography, but I am happy that what I do requires less pre-planning, less manpower, less post-production and is altogether that little bit more accessible and tangible. Simpler, maybe, but certainly not less enduring or impressing.

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