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25/12/2016 110 things Ive learned in 10 years as a DP Medium

Ed Moore Follow
Cinematographer
Oct 17 11 min read

110 things Ive learned in 10 years as aDP


What I wish Id known a decade ago when Istarted

A few weeks ago I realised its been ten years since my rst time
working on a lm set. In that time Ive denitely made progress up the
cinematography ladder by my estimation, having started at 0 and
with the likes of Kaminski at 100, Im hovering at a solid 3.2 (rising to
4 momentarily any time Larry Fong likes something on my
Instagram).

So its early days. Nonetheless, if Ive got a lot to learn now, I was
genuinely clueless a decade ago. Only through the generosity and
openness shown by other DPs sharing their knowledge and
experience in person, in books, magazine articles and internet posts
have I made it this far.

To mark this decennial (I had to look that up), it seemed like it


would be fun to note down a few of things I really wish Id known
when I started out. Plus who doesnt love a listicle? (Number 73 will
shock you)

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25/12/2016 110 things Ive learned in 10 years as a DP Medium

I cant promise that any of the below will be useful to you, or thatll
youll even agree with it its all just my opinion but in the spirit of
the people whove helped me I present the following.

edmooredop.com

. . .

To: me(22)

From: me(32)

Re: things you shouldknow


. . .

. A DPs most important skill is previsualisation the dierence


between taking pictures and making pictures

. A DPs most important asset is the directors wholl hire them


expand and protect that group

. There will be many days with no work. Dont waste them on


worrying about it

. Your credits list and reputation are far more crucial to getting
work than your reel

. Ensure your CV and online presence are as well-presented as


your work

. Theres a ne line between seeming excited to work with


someone and desperate

. Dont assume having an agent will result in a sudden increase in


job oers the work will mostly come from your existing
contacts and reputation. The agent helps your legitimacy, with
negotiations, paperwork and provides advice

. Runners have a way of becoming producers and directors be


nice and stay in touch

. You will mostly be oered work thats similar to your existing


credits. Dress for the job you want

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. Sometimes turning down work can be the best decision in the


long term

. Its usually better to be the DP they wished they could have


aorded than the one who undercut everyone else

. Once youve given a discount on your rate its almost impossible


to walk it back for future work

. Its good to have experience in the other roles on set before


stepping up to DP, but nothing beats time spent as a DP even
on no-budget productions. You dont learn how to play piano by
being the page-turner, regardless of how close to the action they
sit

. You can be the most talented cinematographer in the world but if


youre no good at interviews you wont get o the starting blocks

. In both operating and lighting, avoid the tendency to do


something just because you can. To a man with a hammer,
everything looks like a nail

. The best operating often results from not operating let the
dolly or crane do the work laterally and avoid panning or tilting

. Learn to operate on wheels this gives you one operating


technique that can be used across every type of camera mount

. Handheld rarely looks good if you try and add shakiness to what
comes naturally

. The reason many ADs think handheld is faster is because you


stop concentrating as much on the lighting when theres a heavy
camera on your shoulder avoid the 6pm handheld scramble

. Better to have a camera build where the Easyrig isnt necessary in


the rst place

. Consider the average size of modern televisions when planning


shot sizes

. The close-up loses much of its impact if repeated in every scene

. Resist the urge to sneak back and forth on a slider throughout a


shot for no reason. See note 15.

. When tight to eyelines get the subject framed nicely before you
worry about positioning the dirty character

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. Many interesting angles are available to those who dont always


stick slavishly to eyelines

. Beware the psychological pressure not to improve the shot simply


because it involves changing how the camera is rigged. Operating
with a remote head out of view of the camera helps

. Always nd a pre-frame reference in the back of the shot so you


dont have to ask the actor to stand in before each take

. Respect your focus puller by doing your utmost to keep the


camera at the same point over the course of each take, or
warning them if its likely to change. This is an easy way to gauge
an operators experience

. Much of the work of improving your composition can be done by


altering the actors marks on the oor before touching the
camera. Ask them if the new marks are okay before the take

. Position yourself on the dolly so you end up comfortable for the


longest part of the move this is rarely the start

. If equipment is starting to get dangerously close to your


framelines there is probably a better way to achieve the same
lighting look or camera move that gives you a greater margin

. The most important name to remember when operating, besides


the cast, is that of the boom operator

. The dierences between types of lenses are generally over-


exaggerated. Dont push for the really expensive set if it means
sacricing lighting equipment or crew; both of which will have
far greater eect on your image

. Beware of spending hours in the rental house shooting lens tests


and no time shooting lighting tests, or talking with the
production designer. This results from the temptation to see lens
choice (which feels controllable) as the most critical component
of the look of your project, instead of just one of many factors
(which may not)

. T1.3 lenses are very useful especially in tiny locations or with a


minimal art department

. Try to add 21mm, 40mm and 65mm lenses to the standard set
you carry they end up being very helpful on location (for
spherical S35)

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. Buy your own on-board monitor that records each take so you
have your own instant playback. Youll wonder how you survived
without

. Resist being the DP who owns a fortune in equipment; if you can


raise that kind of money put it in property

. Theres nothing inherently magical about doing things in camera


accept that many aspects like lens artefacts and diusion can
be added digitally with a greater degree of control. This concept
is anathema to many, but focus on the results you want and then
nd the best method. Often doing things in camera is a way of
generating theatrics on set thats ne, but understand why
youre doing it and dont lose sight of the wood for the trees

. When using IRND lters that tint the image, always white
balance this out in camera

. Having a small, (sometimes cheaper) camera on standby to grab


inserts or establishers can make the dierence between getting
them or not

. When it comes to lighting, less is more

. Less than that

. Youre probably still overthinking it

. Before you bring in lighting equipment, make sure whats there


naturally isnt better

. Taking light away is usually quicker than adding it

. Very few shots wouldnt benet from some negative ll

. If in doubt, backlight

. If you cant backlight, sidelight

. Use really big lights, really far away

. Whenever possible light through windows and keep the lighting


equipment on set to an absolute minimum

. Just before a take ask yourself if theres any light source youd
actually be better without, or that makes the shot feel lit. Its
often the last one you added

. Use the inverse square law to your advantage at large distances


and small

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. Light meters are useful but the ultimate light meter is a good
monitor. Ignore the snobbery. Ansel Adams would have loved
false colour

. Never let maintaining lighting continuity force you into a


mediocre shot

. Every shot is an opportunity for visual style; dont spend forever


on the pretty wide shot and phone in the coverage (which will
make up most of the edited scene)

. Plead with your location scouts to try and avoid south-facing


locations

. Always order the high speed ballasts (especially on commercials)

. Always order camouage net to disguise the shadows of textile


frames

. The nightmare lighting situation is day exteriors with


intermittent cloud and high winds. Avoid.

. You need half the level of haze you think you do

. For best haze look keep camera close to subject to avoid shooting
through too much air. Background will still look great but you
retain contrast in foreground

. The full theatrical version of the gel swatch book contains way
more ideas than the reduced cinematographers version. There
are more colours in the spectrum than just CTO to CTB

. Poly/foamcore bounces are brighter than you think. Try draping


with unbleached muslin

. Dont be afraid of hard light. Its not just for backlight

. Master the Source 4. Beware that many lm electricians arent


used to them. The xed lens versions are much better than the
zooms

. A large soft toplight is beautiful, but it rarely looks good unless


you can skirt it almost completely o the walls

. A location lit well purely with practicals is a joy. Always carry a


selection

. Get everything on dimmers

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. The theatre and live events worlds are light years ahead of lm in
their use of control systems and intelligent lighting learn from
them

. Hybrid LED xtures are good but those with RGB are even better.
See note 63.

. Eggcrates and snapgrids are essential

. A book light is often an ecient use of space in a corner but


test for yourself to realise its only marginally softer than directly
lighting through a thick textile, at the cost of nearly two stops
more light required. Usually any extra softness comes from spill
from the bounce source.

. Be aware how much unwanted light sources can aect your


image at ISO800 and above ensure spill from the side of lights,
re escape signs, even LEDs on kit is covered up

. A combo rigger / spark is extremely valuable on all but the


smallest productions. Having a crew full of qualied electricians
is useless if you cant put the light or textile where its needed

. Very occassionally a polecat / wallbreaker rig will be useful.


Usually it just takes forever to setup and ends up restricting your
shots. Try a megaboom or menace arm from the corner

. A large diusion frame on a cherrypicker solves many problems


but accept that the wind in the UK makes this challenging

. Be wary of a tendency of DPs to see digital as a dirty word, or a


quality that must be avoided or compensated for. This is as
meaningless as putting organic at the other end of a non-
existent spectrum. Neither description holds up to scrutiny

. Learn as much about digital imaging and colour science as


possible. Its your job as a DP to know the same detail about
digital as you might know about lm stocks and processing
techniques. Without this knowledge youre handing over a lot of
control of your image to the DIT and colourist

. Charlatans abound in these arenas. As a rule: if someone cant


clearly explain a concept or technology they dont understand it

. Always attend the grade even if this means getting cover for
whatever youre shooting at the time. Without our attendence
being standard eventually it will be considered irrelevant and
removed from budgets altogether

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. Shoot a proper colour chart which includes skin tones in each


setup as a reference for the grade

. Try and get your DIT out of their van and near set so you can
keep an eye on what theyre doing with dailies. Communicate
early and often so intentional stylistic decisions are not xed

. Learn as much about VFX as possible see if you can visit a


facility to see how your footage worked out for them. Your
working knowledge of greenscreens and tracking markers should
be nearly as good as a VFX supervisor

. Remember that alongside your cinematographic duties you are


the overall manager for whats usually the largest group of
people on set. Read a book or two on management and HR skills

. Your own reputation is dramatically aected by the behaviour


and conduct of the crew you hire

. Your gaer and grip are critical an informal interview at the


very least is a good idea before committing to weeks working
alongside someone you dont know

. Just because a crewmember has huge credits does not make


them the right person for the job

. Female crew are often better than their male equivalents not
due to their gender but because theyve usually had to work
much harder to get to the same position. This is an industry with
deeply-ingrained gender roles and we have a lot of work to do on
this front

. Ensure your crew have actually read the manuals for all the kit.
Many a piece of perfectly functional equipment has been angrily
returned to the rental house

. Micromanaging your team is both counter-productive and awful


for morale. Ask for a result, dont spell out a method

. The extra half hour in bed isnt worth it

. Always re-read the days sides over breakfast

. Use the Waze app to avoid trac

. Having your morning coee and 102 well before call time will
leave you focused on the crucial rst decisions of the day, not
looking for the rst opportunity to nd a bathroom

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. Assume anyone you dont recognise on set is an executive


producer and treat them as such

. Work with your gaer to plan pre-rigs so blocking can start very
shortly after call time. It doesnt look good to have ladders and
electricians all over the set when the cast and director walk on

. On a drama its considered very bad form not to turn over within
an hour of the call time

. Nothing good happens after the rst beer in the crew hotel. Make
your excuses and get an early night. This gets worse the older
you get

. Often the best thing you can do to improve tomorrows work is


go to bed at 9pm

. Remember that your constituents are the director and producers


its tempting to hang out with the crew but theyre not going to
get you the next gig

. Its a great sign of trust when a director starts asking your advice
about how to block a scene dont waste it by not having any
ideas ready

. Swap lots of references with a director new to you to make sure


you know what they mean by dark, edgy etc

. Be wary of the conservatism and resistance to change inherent in


much of the industry

. Remember in prep that budgets are a zero-sum game: by


insisting on resources benetting you they must be taken from
someone else

. Respect the work of the line producer and take every opportunity
to control your costs. Be realistic about your requirements and
look for ways to simplify your methods for the same results. Its
not clever to have unused equipment sitting on the truck

. You do your best work when out of your comfort zone avoid re-
treading past victories

. Dont act like youre bigger than the job youre on this is
evidentally not the case

. Other peoples success is not your failure

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. Your value as a DP is more than just the sum of the things youve
learned along the way

. . .

If youd like to hear more from me, heres my Instagram, and you
might like my podcast interview on Modern Cinematographer.

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