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DP's who counter doc-style lighting with cinematic camera movement? (12 replies and 10 comments)

Stip
2 weeks ago
Stip 2 weeks ago

Hi everyone,

I am looking for cinematographers who like(d) to combine available/practical (non-) lighting with thoughtful, motivated camera movement. So in a way countering the realism of the image with cinematic camera movement. Can anyone think of a DP (or director) who does or did that or movies that were shot with this or a similar approach?

I hope I this makes sense, greetings from Germany 🙂

dmullenasc
2 weeks ago
dmullenasc 2 weeks ago

I don't think many filmmakers would think of it as "countering" to have a natural lighting approach combined with controlled camera movement. Also when someone says "doc-style lighting" to me that could also mean the more obvious (i.e. less natural) use of small lights on real locations rather than using large lights that recreate natural light.

But I think you're talking more about using natural light on location. An obvious answer would be Terrence Malick's movies, which avoid adding any artificial light (so he doesn't do many night exteriors...) but use devices like the Steadicam to move freely around rooms. You might want to look at "Tree of Life" for example.

RileyADonavan
2 weeks ago

This project that I did was all natural light, just finding moments where you can shoot 360 and others with specific attention to time of day https://vimeo.com/672870407»

Stip
2 weeks ago

Beautiful Riley! My favorite shot is at 8:10 min, the push in on the axe, were the cat walks in and stops short at the perfect moment.

Stip
2 weeks ago
Stip 2 weeks ago

Thank you David!

You are right, I actually meant no lighting at all, like Malick. But he uses, as you mentioned, a freely moving, reacting camera. What I have in mind (but failed to express) are much more controlled, motivated camera moves. This shot with Sheen entering the room, might be a good example:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJkXmHigS-k&t=55s»

A simple but effective pan:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UlLrz-NzO8»

Another well thought of camera move:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlE8H6RaduI»

In these examples, both lighting and camera are well planned and executed. I wonder if there are cinematographers (or directors) who's emphasis is solely on the camera movement, with lighting being left mostly "as is" on location?

I guess with "counter" I meant the difference in effort put into lighting versus camera movement (looking "cheap" like doc footage but "moving" well like a thought out feature).

I wonder what effect it might have on the viewer, if it would work as a concept or not.

dmullenasc
2 weeks ago

I don’t think any cinematographer thinks in those terms, lighting versus camera movement. Certainly the planned camera movement affects the lighting plan. But plenty of movies might have a day interior under natural light or a night interior with practical lighting and choose to use a dolly to move the camera.

dmullenasc
2 weeks ago

Since the goal of a lot of cinematography is to look natural to the viewer, and camera movement to feel motivated, I don’t think the “concept” that the viewer would notice the a sense of any artificial lighting but notice that the camera moves were “planned” makes much sense to me — all camera movement and lighting should be planned, whether the best choice is to use natural light or not.

Stip
2 weeks ago
Stip 2 weeks ago

Thank you David.

DPs who light to make it look natural still try to make it aesthetically pleasing. Usually docs, where the camera just follows people wherever they might go, are aesthetically flawed but have a sense of realness that differs from the world a movie wants to draw you in, even if lit naturally. I think the audience can distinguish them.

But I wonder how much of that "realness" is due to motion, not lighting.

There are plenty of movies shot to achieve that "realness" and I only find ones that use hand-held or locked-off camera.

I wonder if something that looks like Dogme 95 but moves in thought out ways that carry subcontext (I am not talking about simply moving the camera) would make an interesting contradiction but I can't find anything.

Roger Deakins
2 weeks ago
Roger Deakins 2 weeks ago

I couldn't disagree with you more when you suggest any documentary, by its nature, will to be aesthetically flawed. For me the feature films that try to create the, so called, 'immediacy' of a documentary are starting with a flawed concept. As for 'realness' you might want to read what Fred Wiseman had to say about that in reference to his own work in documentary.

Within the average feature film there will be scenes that are shot under 'natural' light (to use an oxymoron) and others for which 'artificial' sources have been utilized. Not every film can be shot like a 'Rome, Open City' or a 'Compartment Number 9', much as I might like that.

Stip
2 weeks ago

Oh I'm sorry, "aesthetically flawed" is misleading.

I looked into Fred Wiseman's "reality fiction", thank you!
I was thinking about movies that don't pretend to be anything other than fiction.

Compartment Number 6 looks great from the little I could find! I find this so much more pleasing than generic, "polished" productions.

Roger Deakins
2 weeks ago
Roger Deakins 2 weeks ago

I know I have mentioned the film on many occasions but Klimov's 'Come and See' is basically shot without using extra, or 'artificial', lighting and the shot construction is quite deliberate.

Also I might mention 'The Return' and 'The Banishment'. Although many of Zvyagintsev's other films make extensive use of stage sets they all look as if they were shot on location utilizing natural light, while the shot construction is more like that of Robert Bresson.

And then there is Tarkovsky .....

Stip
2 weeks ago

These are all beautiful, Come and See breathtakingly so.

Tarkovsky's composition of movement is actually very close to what I thought about!
Kurosawa had an emphasis on movement as well, especially of nature and people. But all their movies are also visually stunning.

Stip
2 weeks ago
Stip 2 weeks ago

I realize "documentary" covers far too many approaches, qualities and decades to use as a description base.

I was thinking about fiction that combines a lack of lighting like this:

https://film-grab.com/wp-content/uploads/photo-gallery/Florida_Man_014.jpg?bwg=1569409047»

with shot construction like this (doesn't need to match this level):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBZsj8FPSbo»

As if they took all resources away from the one and added it to the other.

Al Duffield
2 weeks ago

I think what your describing isn’t a documentary or a narrative film. Sounds more like experimental art.

To my mind, a narrative film “fiction” as you called it is there to tell a story, so lighting a scene or shooting it under available light with no modification are choices made to better serve the purpose of telling the story. Even in observational documentary work, the camera operator will be composing their shot and that will include the use of the light in the space, albeit real time as the action unfolds.

From what I understand you’re looking for examples of completely ignoring the light and focussing entirely on camera movement and composition. An interesting concept, i suspect you’ll have more luck looking at visual artists experimental work rather than film makers who are very likely to always consciously chose the lighting they shoot in.

Stip
2 weeks ago
Stip 2 weeks ago

 

Thank you Al!

You perfectly described what I'm looking for. Maybe replace "completely ignoring the light" with "deliberately taking (significant) trade offs".

There are some fictional/narrative features, like Dallas Buyers Club, that use this approach - in this case due to budgetary reasons but also Vallée had just shot with a down-syndrome kid, where they did not set up any lights, and he liked the look and process of shooting 360°. It also happened to serve the story.

Soderbergh's Contagion is one that even looks outright ugly at times.

 

But all examples I can find with a 360°, available light approach use hand-held or locked-off camera to go along with it (Lubetzki uses a freely moving camera, as David mentioned, but then his expert use of available light and location is not a "trade off" anyways).

 

Btw, I completely agree with Roger and didn't mean that documentaries are aesthetically flawed by nature, not at all. Locations and their natural light, well used, often offer imagery that I much prefer aesthetically to most polished productions. It's also a great "cheat" as I learned that - unless you are really good - trying to light it "natural" will most likely result in something worse than not lighting at all.

Roger Deakins
2 weeks ago
Roger Deakins 2 weeks ago

That clip from 'Mirror' shows that Tarkovsky was/is virtually in a league of his own. To me that is film.

Stip
2 weeks ago

I read that he urged directors to sacrifice themselves to the art.

With him showing what it could be, it is fascinating (and frustrating) how many films, that are not even made to be remembered, get done until another Nomadland comes along.

Stip
2 weeks ago
Stip 2 weeks ago

I found an example.

Citing Rossellini's Paisà as his main reference, Matteo Garrone's 2008 'Gomorrah' has the lighting approach I failed to explain.

(In true Italian neorealism fashion,) Bringing together established actors with local non-actors in well chosen, real locations, where they treat light "as is", induces a chilling truth to this film about italian mafia. See this fantastic opening scene:

https://youtu.be/bDLraUrOfSs?t=1»

Another intense scene:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7pBnFsk6ew»

 

And then there is this well constructed shot within these scopes (watch with sound):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arwuMP-xio8»

I think it works great!

 

If anyone knows similar work please let me know.

Roger Deakins
2 weeks ago
Roger Deakins 2 weeks ago

You might want to look at Audiard's 'A Prophet'.

Stip
2 weeks ago

Thank you, that is a great suggestion.
I will check if they mixed in any planned camera movement.

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