I recently received an advance copy of The Filmmaker’s Eye (Gustavo Mercado, Focal Press 2010), and posted a general review up on Amazon.com. You can get an overview there, so I wanted to expand on something I mentioned there: how this book impacts me as a photographer.
[dropcap cap=”W”]hat I really gained from Mercado’s book was a new vocabulary to describe types of cinematographic shots. I really believe that one of the biggest challenges to learning something new is vocabulary. Language is the wrapper of ideas, and you can’t fully realize those ideas without knowing how to unwrap them. Applying some framework to these film techniques, as a lay person, helps me apply the concepts to my own work.[/dropcap]
This happens in a few different ways. In some cases, I’ve been able to fine-tune a few techniques I’ve already been using. In other cases, it’s something new to me because I’ve not always been able to go beyond ‘easy’ technical or physical limitations. It also helps when I’m trying to preplan a shot, because it’s easier to explain concepts that I can’t draw. I mean, I use a camera exactly because I can’t draw 🙂
Consider your own approach to series. How can they be updated, refreshed, enhanced?
The first thing I want to play with is developing series. I usually approach series as collections gathered over time, adhering only to thematic ideas. For example, if the subject was something particular about flowers, I’d develop a theme, and seek to portray that theme with different subjects and points of view. What I want to try now is changing composition while maintaining the same subject. Sort of like taking stills out of a moving shot.
In this case, I’m talking about short durations, the development of a moment through seconds or minutes. However, the same idea can be expanded like a storyboard, which is another element I’ve not really had the determination to apply.
When I read about the various techniques in The Filmmaker’s Eye, I started to think about applying the ideas to still photography, and immediately realized I’ve seen similar elements in other people’s work. It just never occurred to me as a way to develop new ideas in my own photography.
Another element I’m excited to try is changing my view of lighting. Due in large part to the nature of my work, I usually shoot available light only. I use studio or DIY lights for special projects, and sometimes will take modifiers with me – reflectors, scrims, shade, etc. This is done almost always for aesthetics, even though I’m a big preacher of ‘telling the story’. I don’t pay enough attention to controlling light like I should. Instead, I really only pay attention to capturing what the light tells me.
So the approach to lighting will include more subtle use of off-camera flash and reflectors to put the story above the aesthetics. This will take some planning and practice, so I’m starting to make notes about how to put this into play. While I’d love to start including this idea right away, I think it will take quite a bit of time to get to the point where it gets folded into normal shooting.
That being said, the conscious and deliberate approach is something I’ve gotten a little stale on. I find that once I absorb a certain technique, my overall shooting gets better, but my interest goes down. After a while, the quality begins to decline as I get sloppy. Working at folding in new ideas and approaches helps keep me moving forward, even if the experiments are not immediately successful.
After all of this, I highly recommend shooters to go check out Mercado’s book. It will begin shipping later this week, so consider putting in an order now. Read through it and consider your own work from a filmmaker’s perspective.