In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers along with some new questions and answers, so stay tuned for a few entries at the end of the series which will take us past 28 days. Use the hashtag #28daysofinsights or email us at [email protected] if you want to help us build up some questions for a brand new series.
All other things being equal, what would you rather have…the camera you want to use, or complete control over lighting?
Wow, that’s a good one. I’m going to vote for the right camera for the job.
Complete control over lighting allows me to use any camera I want, but in some ways it makes me less artistic. The beauty of film was that I could light by eye, check a couple of things in the shot with my light meter, and shoot knowing that I’d get something usable and, most likely, very pretty out of the deal.
This was true especially of situations with burned out highlights: shooting out windows, or shooting in an interior where sunlight lit a space naturally by bouncing off the floor… bright portions of the frame weren’t a big issue because they gently rolled off into white overexposure, and often held detail along the way.
An idea for a lighting setup had been kicking around in my head for a while and I finally had a chance to try it out on a shoot for Driscoll’s Berries.
HD is very good at seeing shadow detail—it does this better than film—but having the freedom to get a little “sloppy” with the lighting is an artistic choice in itself. The late Conrad Hall, ASC changed the face of filmmaking when he incorporated things that had traditionally been considered “mistakes,” such as stray pieces of hard light raking through a set, or lens flares, or reflections off shiny surfaces, into his own work with great success. He celebrated the “mistakes” as adding realism to scenes, and he’d often introduce them intentionally.
Sometimes perfect lighting doesn’t feel right for a project, and in a weird way shooting with a better camera allows me to be a little more cavalier with my lighting choices.
There’s also the fact that composition was my first love and is what convinced me to get into the business at the age of 12. Lighting is important, but placing the camera in the right place and the right time with the right lens is possibly the most powerful thing a cinematographer can do.
Composition Occurs in both Space and Time
I can make any camera work with the right lighting. I can make a great camera work with whatever I have time to do. The latter appeals to me more as a challenge. I’d rather spend more time shooting than lighting perfectly for a weak camera.