A still from the film I shot, 'Pop Up Men.'
I've been dipping my toe in the director of photography pool. It's a whole new experience for me.
Here's what happened. My company, Wheelhouse Communications, started investing in equipment. We purchased a brand new Sony FS700/OdysseyQ7 combo and then picked up a SONY PMW-F3.
After handling these cameras and dealing with lenses (some we bought and still some we rent), it became pretty clear that I knew how to set up these cameras quicker than the DPs we hire. Also, I knew their quirks. F3s tend to moiré without ND. FS700's can get grainy in the shadows, etc.
Since I didn't want to risk being a DP on client work, I decided to find a story I could shoot on off days.
For my first subject, I picked the Christmas tree sellers who invade Manhattan after Thanksgiving and set up shop for four weeks hawking trees. I got the idea when I was crossing the street in my neighborhood looking at a Tree vendor who strung up some lights across his display of trees. I thought to myself, "That would be pretty to film at night."
So I asked someone I worked with to scout around the city for a couple hours and to find a friendly person who wouldn't mind speaking to me on camera about selling trees. We scouted on a Thursday. We shot on a Friday with a PA and a Production Coordinator/Boom holder. I edited over the weekend and bam! Pop Up Men was born.
Here are some lessons that I've learned along the way to DP-hood and shooting with prime lenses.
- Invest in the best tripod you can. The precision of your tripod, the ease in which it can be manipulated, has a direct result on the quality of your filmmaking.
- If you are doing documentary, stick with one lens most of the time. I find a 50 mm to be the best lens for me. It's not too far off from the way our eyes see things.
- Use zebras to help you with not blowing out your subjects face. I set them on 80% and then like to see the lines barely dance on the hottest part of the face.
- Keep the lens on the person! You can't think of your next shot while you're shooting your current shot. Find your shot. Breathe. Keep it there.
- Do your first shoots on cloudy days. When the sky is overcast, everyone has a nice soft look and you don't have to deal with harsh sunlight blowing out your scenes. Check out this interview with Woody Allen where he says he doesn't like sunny days either.
- In terms of compositions, here's a short list of what to look for: think of the screen in thirds; look for foreground elements; look for lines; look for balance and symmetry but then also don't make it too perfect -- I know that's contradictory. Once you start seeing the frame as made of these elements you can shape, you can decide to use or break the rules. There are tons of videos and books on this subject. You could go nuts reading about this.
Here's the video! I was thrilled when the film was picked up by LaughingSquid.com. Many thanks to my colleague Dana Salvatore for finding these gentleman.
What are your newbie DP tips?