Boot Camp

I had the chance to attend a weekend workshop on cinematography this month at FilmNorth in St. Paul taught by Jeremy Wilker.

In my grant feedback, one thing they noted was that a cinematography boot camp seemed a bit elementary for someone who was considered an advancing (and not emerging) artist. I can definitely see where the commenter was coming from with that feedback, but I am so glad that I went. You don’t know something until you know something, and sometimes you have to go back to basics to learn what you were missing all along.

Takeaway #1: White Balance is Important

Ugh, it’s embarrassing to admit that I didn’t do this every time I set up a camera, but here we are. This is why I’ve had so much trouble with color in my final work – I’ve never configured the white balance properly on the camera I have. On some cameras, that wouldn’t have been very noticeable (possibly), but it certainly is on a Sony. For another kicker, it’s actually annoyingly hard to set on the type of camera I have. The Sony A7Sii requires you to switch out of video mode into manual photography mode to set your white balance for your environment. And then you have to remember to switch it back to video mode when you’re done, something I have definitely screwed up.

Until now, I have been just using one of the pre-programmed white balance settings (indoor lighting) so it’s no wonder everything looks bluer. The good news is that now that I know, I will never forget!

Takeaway #2: Add Filters for Sunny Days

I think I knew this deep down, but it didn’t really register until I had a camera in my hand with a cool apparatus that switches out ND filters at specific levels that essentially make you use less stops on your aperture. So, it is possible to get a bokeh background on a sunny day and you don’t have to shoot everything at f2000 or whatever. I need to get a few more filter options to add to the end of my lens.

Takeaway #3: Placement of Lav Mics

I guess I always thought you had to see the mic pinned to the lapel, which is why I haven’t really used this kind of microphone in production (I do narrative and that doesn’t seem real at all!). I learned that a good placement is taped to the sternum of the actor, under the shirt. For some reason I always thought closer to the mouth was the way to go, but attached to the chest makes a lot of sense, especially for lower voices.

Takeaway #4: Bounce and Diffuse Practical Lighting

I know that there is way more I could be doing on the lighting front in my shoots. I have never rented a KinoFlo or a lovely tungsten fresnel light and utilized it, mostly because I don’t have time or budget. But, at a minimum, I can be diffusing harsh overhead lighting or reflecting it with a white board to even out the shadows on the face. This is bare minimum stuff and I still have room to grow.

Takeaway #5: Moving Shots are Fun

It never hurts to experiment with a moving shot and I got to play with a jib and a dolly slider. Just putting one together, finding out you can rent them from FilmNorth and getting a little bit of confidence inspires me to try it out on set.

I’m really looking forward to putting some of these new skills to use. I am not a total noob at filmmaking, but sometimes it helps to go back to basics to finally learn some hard lessons about what you were struggling with all along.

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