Photography and The Moving Image


“Photography helps people to see.” – Berenice Abbott

The word 'cinematography' comes from the Greek root κίνημα meaning 'motion' and the word γραφή meaning 'drawing.' Cinematography, in the raw sense of the word means 'to draw motion.' In a way that is true, but I think we sometimes forget where the moving image originated from, which is photography. We overlook the power of the image in filmmaking. I know I have.

The word photography means "drawing with light.'

Photographer think in terms of light all the time, because light is what makes their craft. I think, because it is harder to control light while an image is moving (as opposed to taking a single shot) beginner filmmakers tend to overlook light. Due to time constraints and budget on film shoots, productions mainly rely on controlled light to recreate exactly the look they need for each scene. It works. It's a lot of work but worth the effort. In film, it is also a necessity.

Still, I feel that filmmakers can and should learn from good photographers. They shouldn't forget where their own craft came from.

I have had Emily Frazier from Emily Frazier Photography staying with me over the past 10 days and watching her work has brought my attention back to the power of natural light. She uses what is available to her, keeping close to windows indoors to get that all-consuming moody look that natural light brings.

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She focused on her subject (who happened to be me!) making me comfortable and relaxed. Instead of spending hours and hours lighting, ignoring me, which so often happens in film (the poor actors wait around, feeling left out and unimportant when really they should be the main focus) I barely noticed Emily composing her photos, adjusting things around me. Far from feeling left out, I felt wonderful! It was all about a natural performance and I felt beautiful. For someone who hates almost every photo that is taken of me, this was no mean feat.

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It made me think. What if we could use this method in filmmaking? Focus more on the performance and making the actors feel the centre of story (which they are!)

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Movie-making is an expensive business and most productions can't logistically film one scene over 3 days just because it needs to be shot at sunset and sunset only lasts 30 minutes.

But what if we could?

Recently, I was pointed to a director called Terrence Malick who directed a film called 'Days of Heaven.' I must admit I haven't watched the film yet, but I watched a small featurette on YouTube about the cinematography in the film. It was very interesting. Of course they did use lighting but I found the section about shooting outside in natural light very interesting.

Essentially, what any given shot should be in a film, is a moving photograph.

Perhaps I should start to set all my short films next to a window from now on.

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Please head over to Emily Frazier Photography and browse through her wonderful photography sessions.