In this brand new section, titled “Lens Swap,” I try to get a different perspective (see what I did there?) on an aspect of cinematography.
I’ve only been practicing cinematography (does that sound too medical?) coming on four years now, so I don’t have a lot of the experience and technical prowess that a lot of fellow DPs and DPs I admire have. I could probably do a lot of technical blogs and camera reviews and gear tips and all those things, but today I’m going to focus on something that has been awfully profound for me lately, and that’s making the jump.
What do I mean by that?
Here’s me in 2012, on my first shoot as a DP.
There isn’t much to this. I’m, for some reason, setting up a daylight soft source in front of a very nice natural light source, with a 5D Mark II ready to shoot.
Now, here’s me in 2016.
Why am I posting pictures of myself on set? Is this some sort of self-indulgent post about me being a badass with a bigger camera?
No. I just needed some visual content in this blog, but there’s a point to all this.
From 2012 to 2016, I’ve worked on a number of different shoots and different types of films as a DP. Sometimes we shot on a 5D Mark II, sometimes on my trusty C100 Mark II, and sometimes on a decked out Sony F55. Sometimes I’ll have a crew of twenty, sometimes I’ll have a crew of three, sometimes it’s just me and the director and the actors.
As I started shooting more and more projects, I kept getting more excited and anxious to shoot bigger things with bigger crews. In 2012-2014, I only shot on DSLRs, but in 2015, I made the jump to C100s and Blackmagics, and that was exciting for me, to finally step away from the DSLR world and into something a little nicer. I thought things would change, and I thought my visuals would take a step up.
In 2012-2014, I was used to working on sets where I could count the members of my team on one hand, but in 2015, I started working on crews with actual, specific roles, like 1st and 2nd ACs and gaffers, and in 2016, I finally found myself on a set with a key grip, dolly grip, a best boy, rigging techs, etc. I thought things would feel different, and I was honestly worried I wouldn’t have anything to do for myself, with so many people to help in different departments. I remember saying to my 1st AC Bryce Wandling before the shoot that I was worried about feeling too lazy on set, just sitting next to my camera and barking out orders while my crew scattered about.
In 2012-2014, my gear consisted of a tripod, some PVC pipe dolly tracks, and some photo lights. On my most recent shoot, we ran 75% of the shoot on a Chapman dolly, 20ft of track, a grip truck full of c-stands, combos, 2ks, 1ks, 1×1 Litepanels, and a bunch of other stuff I don’t even honestly know the name of.
As I started to get on larger and larger sets with more and fancier gear, my anxiety would increase. I don’t even know what some of this gear is, I’ve never used this type of gear before, I’ve never used this camera before, I’ve never had this many crew hands before… and the list goes on. I just kept throwing myself into unfamiliar situations and stressing myself out that I would be absolutely clueless on set. After all, I was working with people whose experience levels were way beyond mine, and people who were usually older than I was. I sometimes found myself pretty intimidated.
It wasn’t until after this most recent shoot wrapped that something hit me. I kept thinking I was going to have this moment of “wow, I’m on a bigger set with more gear and more people and this is all going to suck because I’m not going to know how to do my job effectively because this is all so new and different but hey look at all this sweet stuff I get to play with and try my hand at using and I’m getting more experience because of all this and it’s just going to feel different.
And the truth is, nothing felt different from my first shoot with a 5D and two crew members to my most recent shoot with an F55 and over a dozen crew members. I was still working with the director on telling a visual story through framing and composition. I was still thinking about how we’re using light to tell our story. I was still thinking about how we’re using camera movement to tell our story. I was still thinking about how we’re doing all of this to make our audience feel something. I felt no differently when I worked on my first shoot to when I worked on my most recent shoot.
What is the point of this post? Am I ego-tripping?
I guess what I’m trying to say in this not-so-elequent way is that your job as a cinematographer doesn’t change, whether you’re shooting a no-budget indie with friends or an indie with a ton of crew and gear (other examples apply too). You’re still doing the same things, just with different tools and different people. The principles remain the same, and it doesn’t matter if you have one light and a DSLR or a hundred lights and an Alexa. Your job is to paint a visual, compelling image.
I thought making the jump would be this profound moment. It turns out that profound moment was realizing there is no profound moment. How profound.
I’m thankful to have been able to put that mindset behind me. Don’t be like me and constantly be worrying about whether or not you’re cut out to do the job, just because there happens to be more stuff involved. Show up, do your job, just as you would in any other situation, and have fun doing it.
If you like my work, and want to keep up with what I’m up to, head on over to my Instagram page.
Till next time.