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T436 - Fall 2012 - Week 2

Lenses & Cameras

Readings B Brown Chapters 4, 5 & 6
Next week: 7, 8 & 9

Reality check:

  • Stories are due this week by the start of lab. Please turn in at least two treatments or script outlines (not scripts). Please place them into the folder called "Story Ideas" in our Oncourse Resources area. Please be prepared to pitch your ideas in Wednesday's lab.
    • The story idea does not have to be yours - but you need to be able to get legal permission (E.g. a signed license agreement) to use it.
    • Some of the strongest stories we've produced have little or no dialog.
    • We’re looking for projects that are compelling and lend themselves to artful production. Please also remember that our target audience is not students – it’s adults.
    • A scenario in itself is not a story. A story has a beginning middle and end. The main ingredient is conflict. Keep it simple. Building questions and expectations - This is what good storytelling hinges on.
    • Please start looking through the Story Ideas after lab this Wednesday and next week (Wednesday, because of Labor Day), bring in a list of at least 4 that you think are worthy of production. We'll put these into the "finalists" folder. Everyone should read all of the stories.
  • Lab this week:
    • Turn in & pitch initial story ideas.
    • Look at scene fragments you shot
    • Camera Exercise (another scene fragment)
  • No Lab/Lecture next week (Labor Day)
    • On Wednesday we'll pick stories
    • Turn in and present 1st set of cinema reports (see web for details)

Blain Brown review:

Chapter 1 - writing with motion.

Know how the tools of cinematography can be used to add meaning and depth to our work. These tools include:

  • The Frame
  • Light & Color
  • The Lens
  • Movement
  • Texture
  • Establishing
  • POV

The chapter has examples of how these tools have been used.

Chapter 2 - shooting methods

This chapter looks at shots and the methods of structuring and creating scenes.

Cinematic Technique - The art of creating a more powerful experience for the viewer.

The frame

Many early practitioners used mainly a wide shot, similar to a theatre's proscenium. Filmmakers have moved past the proscenium approach and brought the viewers into 3-dimensional space.

Building blocks (shots): WS, full shots, establishing shots, head & shoulders, CU, etc.

Cutaway shots show elements in the scene related to the scene. Can be problem solvers for editors.

Reaction shots are a specific type of cutaway

Many students fail to understand the importance and structure of answering shots. Be sure to match angles as well.


  • practical inserts usually provide information
  • emphasis inserts enhance/punctuate the action
  • atmospheric inserts contribute to the mood or tone

Connecting shots tie in and reinforce spatial relationships of characters/subjects that can't be framed together.

Master Scene Method (and related elements)

Properly done the techniques are "invisible" - not noticed by the viewers.

The master shot by iteslf can be thought of as a proscenium shot. But with our coverage, we can then move the viewer into the frame/3D space.

Coverage - all of the shots used to cover a scene

Always plan for the cutting/editing point

All of your knowledge of continuity will help you plan for and shoot proper coverage.

Shooting order - Generally directors start wide and move in. (minimize lens changes)

Plan scene (intentionally using a long choreographed single shot as in A Touch of Evil or the Player). Since it is real-time, the director has no escape route or editing tricks. This can be very effective in building suspense.

Hitchcock’s Rule (the size of the object in the frame should equal its importance)

Triple Take or overlapping method - Shoot sequentially in film-style. Once something is recorded, stop action, re-frame shot, and repeat action on next shot.

POV - Subjective vs Objective POV (1st person or “I”= subjective. 3rd person=objective. 2nd in the middle somewhere.) POV shots are almost always handheld. Brown makes a point to note that while POV shots are often used (wolf-cam) rarely would Little Red Riding Hood look into the POV shot. THis would break the "4th wall" or the "illusion of film".

Chapter 3 - visual language

Chapter 2 has many great examples of composition techniques: Students should be able to identify/discuss techniques or elements of visual design (other than the rule of thirds)
Unity, balance, visual tension, rhythm, proportion, contrast, texture, etc.

review of Design Principles from Brown book:

  • Unity
  • Balance (or unbalance)
  • Visual Tension
  • Rhythm
  • Proportion
  • Contrast
  • Texture
  • Directionality

3-Dimensional Field (techniques) that can make 2D look more 3D

  • Depth
  • Overlap
  • Relative Size
  • Vertical Location
  • Left to Right
  • Linear Perspective
  • Foreshortening
  • Chiaroscuro
  • Atmospheric Perspective (creating haze)

Forces of Visual Organization

  • The Line
  • The Sinuous Line
  • Compositional Triangles
  • Horizontals, Verticals, and Diagonals
  • The Horizon Line & Vanishing Point
  • The Power of the Edge of the Frame
  • Open and Closed Frame
  • Frame within a Frame
  • Balanced and Unbalanced Frame
  • Positive and Negative Space
  • Movement in the Visual Field

Film & Video Composition

  • Rule of Thirds
  • Rules: don't cut off feet, hands and necks, frame for TV safe, etc.
  • Headroom
  • Noseroom (Lead or Look Room)


Switching gears: video and film

Why does film look like film and video like video?

List some ways to make video look like “film” during the production phase. (not post)

  • lighting
  • camera movement
  • avoiding zooms
  • warming or cooling the scene (false white balancing)
  • use widescreen
  • limit DOF

A great deal of the cinematic look is limiting the depth of field. Video has a smaller target than 35mm or 70mm film cameras. Because of the smaller target the depth of field is far greater. One of the tricks that DPs who work with video know is to shoot with the aperture wide open. They “starve the camera for light” by using ND filters in order to get a limited DOF.

Sometimes, a large DOF is called for. In the book this is called “deep focus.”

f-stops and T stops

Film cameras often use T stops while video cameras usually have f-stops. The marks are called “witness marks.”

f-stops can be derived mathematically by dividing the focal length by the diameter of the lens opening.

But lenses are imperfect and some of the light entering is lost, thus affecting many elements. T-stops represent the actual amount of light passing through the lens.

Back Focus - Never assume that the back focus is set properly. Back focus = flange focal distance.

To set back focus:

  • Use Siemans star 8-10 feet away
  • Turn peaking on and to the maximum setting
  • Open iris all the way (low light)
  • Zoom in & focus
  • Zoom out & adjust back focus
  • Repeat several times until satisfied

If in doubt, it’s better to underexpose than to overexpose

ASA and ISO are similar- but ASA really refers to B & W

A note on shutter speeds

Do not confuse the idea of using a faster shutter with that of changing the frame rate (over-cranking / under-cranking). Higher shutter speeds do NOT change the frame rate. They simply reduce the duration of the light sample.


Outside of determining lighting and all elements contained within the frame, the director must determine the height of the lens, the angle (tilt), and possibly the cant, as well as movement.

Why do we move the camera?

Dolly, crane and truck shots provide depth. They move the camera into and through the scene.

Foreground, midground, and background layers and elements are essential to creating a sense of depth.

Have you ever been to an amazing mountaintop and taken a picture? Perhaps you got home and looked at it and were less than impressed. Photos often look compressed and perspective is lost.

Filmmakers are constantly struggling to get depth out of a 2 dimensional frame.

This is why they block action along the Z-axis (towards and away from the camera) and move the camera through the scene.

A static lens is a proscenium and will appear 2-dimensional.

Lens Perspective

Wide angle vs Telephoto

Humans can see at most about a 180 degree field of view. As we focus in on objects our field is much narrower- about 40 degrees.

Extreme wide angle lenses create distortion.

Wide angle lenses also provide Deep Focus (everything appears in focus)

Telephoto lenses compress space. They also reduce the DOF (depth of field)

Selective Focus and Rack Focus are common techniques that rely on a limited DOF.

Image Control

  • Filters
  • Soft Lenses
  • Flare/Glare
  • Frame Rate
  • Slow Speed Blur
  • Shutter Angle
  • Time Lapse
  • Lens Height
  • Tilt
  • Reveal
  • Movement

Basic lens decisions:

Height in relation to subject
Angle (tilt up or tilt down)
Cant (pitch)
Field of view (expressed in angle or lens size)



Reveal – When the camera movement shows us something new, relevant to the story.

Telephoto lenses give the illusion of compressing space

Dollies – Chapman and Fischer dollies can only be leased.

Lab this week:

  • Design scene for rotation exercise
  • Build set
  • Carry out jib exercise

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