Frank B. Good, A. S. C.
from an American Cinematographer Magazine October 1933
PERHAPS there are more than ten mistakes the amateur commonly makes, but ten is sufficient to point out the outstanding weakness of the cinephotographer. None may possess all of them, some may have conquered all of them, there are many who have one or more of them.
Possibly it is because they look upon cinephotography as a toy, something that is taken in the spirit of the moment and the many details that must be watched for good photography are left to the gods.
Let’s jump into the frying pan and look these mistakes right in the eye and then mull over them:
1 . Over exposure.
2. Poor focus.
3. Too fast panning.
4. Unsteady camera.
5. Walking while shooting.
6. Too much footage on no action pictures.
7. Poor composition.
8. Lack of continuity.
9. Not enough close-ups.
10. Do not change exposure for close-ups.
Over exposure is undoubtedly due to the timidity of the operator feeling that the film cannot possibly be as fast as the manufacturer claims. Sometimes it is due to the fact that the operator just does not check exposure before he starts shooting. Believe in that label the manufacturer puts in the box with the film. He has spent many dollars to secure that information. He wants you to secure good pictures so he will not give you mis-information.
Then we come to poor focus. Just another bit of carelessness.
The lense is arranged for different foci so as to give you better pictures. If you haven’t a distant meter it is much better to make a good guess at it than it is to ignore the question entirely, or pace it off, figuring about three feet to the pace, you’ll come mighty close to the right focus.
And here’s the old bugaboo that every writer shoots at the amateur every chance he gets. Don’t pan so fast. It’s better not to pan at all than to pan fast. Make them as consecutive pictures. Pick out the highlights and make individual pictures of them, just to pan on scenery does not add to its interest. Do not pan unless you have action, then follow the action. Learn that first and then attempt
other panning. When you hold the camera in your hand hold it steady, or your pictures will be unsteady. Clamp your elbows to your side and stand firmly.
Some people think they are a perambulator. They walk while they are pressing the trigger and especially backward. You walk more awkardly backward than you do forward, and still your body weaves in walking forward so that the chances are far less for good pictures in walking backward than forward and your chances of getting good pictures in walking forward are nil. Figure that there are some limitations to good pictures and do things the simplest way.
There is nothing more boresome than to see foot after foot unwind on a picture in which there is no action.
There is nothing to interest one. Motion pictures were designed for motion. The occasional shot of a non action picture has its place, but do not waste footage on it; it’s dull; waste of film and you could get a much better picture with a still camera.
This thing of poor composition comes mostly under the head of having people half out of the picture and half in.
By this I mean cutting off their heads, having them way over to one side of the picture with nothing at the other side of it. Take your camera out and practice without film in it. Let your people go through action and then attempt to keep them properly framed in the finder. Reading
and learning a thing will not help you. You have to apply what you learn.
There’s that lack of continuity. Pictures of people and things, just snaps, taken for no reason. Even pictures taken for no reason can be interesting. If it’s worth taking do not only take a long shot, take a quarter shot of it and then a close-up. That is usually sufficient continuity to make it
interesting. If you take a picture of a child playing, the close-up may show a smudge on the face, freckles or something else that will be interesting.
Of course not enough close-ups ties right in with the lack of continuity. You see the 16mm home
movie is an intimate picture. They are called personal movies, home movies and every other term that indicates they are intimate. So get intimate shots. The close-up is the most intimate picture you
Many fail to change their exposure for close-ups over a normal shot. You must open the lense from one to two stops for a close-up when there is no change in the light as compared to the exposure for a
long shot on the same subject. The amount the lense will have to be opened of course will depend upon the light reflecting qualities the subject contains.
The darker the subject the more you must open the lense.
We have merely sketched these faults and methods of over-coming and correcting
From time to time we will devote a complete article to these various phases so as to give you a more intimate understanding of what to do to secure better pictures.