Cinematography and Me

If you were to ask me what defines my experience at Conn I would most likely turn to my Film Studies major. I cannot imagine graduating without the invaluable knowledge and experience I have gained from this department. This semester, I took “Cinematography I” where I learned about the importance of meaningful execution with a camera.

The class is broken up into a four-hour section on Tuesday nights and a section for an hour and 15 minutes on Fridays. On Tuesdays, we learn about different aspects of cinematography, such as lighting, depth of field and focal distance. As the semester carried on we began to execute shots in class with advanced rigs such as the dolly, jib and gimbal. Outside of class, our assignments are to use what Associate Professor of Film Studies Ross Morin has taught us and execute a shot with different stipulations dependent upon the unit. On Friday mornings, we review each team’s shots and provide feedback on cinematographic aspects that were executed effectively or could use improvement.

One of the most fantastic parts of this class is that each one of us gets the opportunity to be a Director of Photography (DP) in the Tuesday night section. We pair up with another student to plan the shot beforehand. We draw a diagram, complete with lights, camera setup and the movement of the subject(s). Next, we meet with Professor Morin to make sure our shot is fathomable. Then we execute it in class on Tuesday night. At the beginning of the class, each group projects their shot diagram on the board and explains the mood, tone and overall vibe of the scene to the class. We walk through how the subject moves, where the camera will be and what the lights are doing in the scene. Next we assign roles to every member of our team. Some people are on lights; other people are on camera setup; and one or two people are subjects.

I was lucky enough to be the DP twice so I got to execute two very different shots. The first shot was with a jib, a rig that moves the camera along the X- and Y-axes. The jib shot allowed us to get an overhead perspective and gave a more grounded feeling to the scene. We used mixed color lighting with CTB gels to emulate moonlight and a member of the team flashed a light past the scene to mimic a car driving by.  The second shot was executed with a shoulder mount, a rig that mounts the camera on your shoulder. The shoulder mount shot allowed us to zero in on the subject and provide a chaotic feel to the scene. We shrouded the scene again in CTB gels to imitate nighttime and emphasized the heist nature of the shot. Both shots could not have been more different and I am thankful for that.

The best part of “Cinematography I” this semester was hands down all of the collaboration. Whether it was in class or with my team outside of class, learning from and teaching each other was an experience I hope everyone can have at some point. I encourage people who know nothing about film studies to look into this class. If I was passionate from the start, I can only imagine what this class can do for someone that has never thought about films with an analytical or creative lens.