7 PRO Camerawork Tips for Students

Camera tips from M. David Mullen, ASC, Paul Wheeler, BSC, Peter Levy, ASC, Paige Thomas, SOC, Gustavo Mercado, David E. Elkins, SOC, and Patrick Cady, ASC…
Picture above: production still by @frankiefilms_xu, Boston-based cinematographer and filmmaker.

7 PRO Camerawork Tips for Students


Tip #1

“Just remember that like any other cinematic technique, camera movement is most effective when used with discretion – overuse will cause the emotional effect to be lost, just as when you overuse a close- up.”
~ M. David Mullen, ASC

Read M. David Mullen, ASC’s article, Notes on Camera Movement: When to Move the Camera and Why. “Motivation is not just something actors need – it’s something cinematographers and other cinema artists deal with every day when making a movie. This not only applies to how a set is lit, but also to elements like camera movement. When to move the camera, why to move the camera, ultimately matters more than how you move the camera…”

Tip #2

“Crewing. Get the best camera operator and focus puller you possibly can, they are your right arm. I know it’s unfashionable to use camera operators, and producers see them as an unnecessary expense, but if you have a lot of lighting to do, having a camera operator will improve your lighting immensely as it frees you for your main job. And, don’t keep telling your operator what to do. If you have chosen the right one, all you should need to do is brief them at the beginning of each scene, and let them get on with it, you hired them, after all. I know in America, the DP tends to rule over the camera operator all the time, but this is not how I like to work, and I think it inefficient and rather insulting to the operator.”
~Paul Wheeler, BSC

Read more in the article, Paul Wheeler, BSC Talks High Definition. ” When solid state storage came in replacing tape and the three-chip configuration was replaced by single chip sensors. The larger single chip sensors enabled a whole raft of conventional motion picture lenses to be used and encouraged established lens makers to build lens sets especially for HD…”

Tip #3

“Camera movement. I’ve always believed you should feel the camera’s being sucked in by the energy of the scene. So, any time I do a camera movement, I always want to go towards the emotional content of the scene rather than tracking away from it or tracking sideways because it gives you a moving shot. Let the scene dictate how it wants to be photographed, and you’ll find that you want the camera to advance, to be drawn in by the energy of the scene. Pretty much any time you track away from something, you de-energize it. Of course, there are exceptions, and there are no rules.”
~Peter Levy, ASC

Read more in our Conversation with Peter Levy, ASC. Mr. Levy shares insights into cinematography and advice for students.  “I dropped out of high school at 17, and I tried to make a buck out of being a photographer. By the time I was 19, I did the stills on an independent film in Australia. I saw the cinematographer working, and I was like, that’s it, I want to do that, there’s no question. And for that, I’m very fortunate and very grateful, because at 19, there was no doubt in my mind what I wanted to do.”…

Tip #4

“If you’ve designed an intricate shot and something is not working, rewind and get back to basics.”
~Paige Thomas, SOC

Read more in our Conversation with Paige Thomas, SOC. “TV seems to be faster paced in terms of product delivery pressure, and features seem to have a bit more time for shot development and overall production.”…

Tip #5

“Train yourself exhaustively on the operation of the camera, not only on the basics, but also in terms of setting up all the peripherals/attachments that will be used during production. Basically build your rig exactly as it will be used so you can work out ahead of time where everything needs to go (external monitor placement, cable management, weight distribution, etc.) at this time and not while the entire production crew is waiting on set. You should also try and replicate the conditions under which you will have to operate. It does little good to build the perfect handheld rig you tested for 2 minutes while in an air-conditioned room if you will have to use it for a long take in humid conditions on location. Over-prepare, always!”
~Gustavo Mercado

Read more  Camerawork Tips from Gustavo Mercado. “The most important lesson I have learned in every shoot I have ever been in is that it is virtually impossible to overprepare for a production. No matter how big or small your budget or your crew is, how difficult or simple the logistics might seem, there will always be something that can potentially derail your shoot.”…

Tip #6

“Listen to the DP and Director.”
~David E. Elkins, SOC

Read more in David E. Elkins, SOC’s article, “How to Get Your Foot in the Door“. David shares 18 Key Questions You Should Ask During a Job Interview. “One of the most frequently asked questions I am asked by my students is, what is the best way to get that first job?”…

Tip #7

“The number one practical tip, and I have had hats made to say this ever since I was the cinematographer on the first season of ‘Cold Case’, and that is to Block, Light, Shoot – in that order. It’s always gonna seem at some moment like ‘we know the actors are gonna come in, and they’re gonna be sitting here, and they’re gonna walk from over there to over here’. You think you can start lighting before they get out of their wardrobe change or whatever. You’re gonna think you’re getting ahead by lighting before you see it on its feet, and sometimes you’re gonna get away with that, and other times it’s gonna cost you a lot of extra time. In general, it’s always faster to block it, then light it, then shoot it. It’s my number one thing I teach and tell students to remember. We all get into those spots, we feel that we’re getting behind and you can get a little jump on it, but if we don’t know what the scene really is gonna to be, and we haven’t seen the performance from the actors, it’s an easy way to lose time.”
~Patrick Cady, ASC

Read more in our Conversation with Patrick Cady, ASC. “I’ve been a cinematographer for 20 years now. I was an electrician and Gaffer, and before that I learned filmmaking at Ithaca College.”…


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