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UNDERSTANDING PICTURES

Do with the Camera what you'd do with the Eye


That's a vast over-simplification, of course, but it really is fundamental. And you need to know what you do with your eye. Did you know, for instance, that we see by cutting from picture to picture? You might think that if you're looking at someone talking, when he talks about the weather that you pan to the window. It seems obvious. But think - do you really pan? Do you really take in the bookcase, the clock, the painting of the bird in flight and the curtains? No - what actually happens is that your eyes close momentarily, 'whip pan' to the window, then open again. The effect is the same as a cut. Seeing things in separate shots is the most vital thing about the camera and the eye. Shot sizes follow a similar principle. Take a simple example; You go into your office. You're not looking at anything in particular, so the camera equivalent is a 'wide shot' of the room. A colleague says good morning, but as he's someone you see every day you probably don't look close. You look at your desk, and there's an unusual envelope on top of the pile of mail. You'd probably mentally see a 'close-up' of it as you try to fathom the handwriting. Then a voice asks for you by name. You look up; there are two people in the doorway - strangers so you might well be looking at a 'two shot'. They come in and sit. One of them does most of the talking, so you'd be seeing him in 'mid shot' much of the time. Except for the bit where he offers you a lot of money. You'd be much more interested in him then and probably cut to a 'medium close-up'. Then when he mentions his friend as being the richest man in the world you'd look closer at the friend then. And so on and so on. I've cheerfully gone on about closeups and things. Most businesses have their own peculiar jargon, and television is no exception. You'll need to learn some of the terms, and one of the most useful and easiest to comprehend is the language of shot size. SHOT SIZES Most shots include a person, so let's start there. The most common sizes are: The Long Shot: Top to toe plus a little bit spare. All the person. The screen will be largely empty if the shot is of just a person. Written abbreviation LS

The Mid Shot (MS): The top half of a person - the waist is usually at the bottom of the shot. Slightly wasteful of space - at least half the screen is empty if you're just featuring a person. Most useful for people plus things; for example a lady plus vase of flowers she's arranging

The Medium Close-up (MCU): The top bit of a person. Head and chest down to the top of the breast pocket. This is probably the most common shot used

on television; close enough to see the face clearly, not so close you feel you're intruding. The Close-up (CU): Head and shoulders - just wide enough to include the tie knot if there is one.

There are many other shots, most of them obvious from their names. A two shot contains two people, for instance. How wide the shot is will probably depend mostly on how close together the people are. A useful interview shot is the over shoulder shot - the back of the head and shoulders of one person (over shoulder) plus the front of the other one. Here are two examples of two shots:

A two shot. That's all. You hardly ever have to specify the size of a two shot (three shot, four shot, whatever); if the two stand close together, then the shot is naturally closer. Abbreviation 2S.

A mid-shot of the girl over the man's shoulder. Abbreviation MS Susan O/S And a couple of Close-ups

one nearly full face,

the other profile: Knowing the correct names for things is quite important. You can always indicate to your cameraman or photographer how big the shot should be, but if you know some of the terms you're ahead on credibility. And that's a large part of being a director!

Right. That's enough for now. It's not brain surgery but if, you want to practice a bit, get a magazine and label some of the pictures in it. Then check with this crib.

WHERE TO PUT THE CAMERA


Do you want a high angle or a low angle instead of a shot from eye level? The low one will tend to make the chap look important, the high one makes him seem less so. The two together (sorry my pictures aren't good enough to demonstrate this!) can work well if you're shooting a drama and want one person to look important and the other submissive. Though usually there'll be something else in the action to motivate the high/low camera angles - perhaps the dominant character will be standing and the other one sitting. There are sometimes other good reasons, though, for shooting high or low.

Look at these two pictures. The one on the right is so much more pleasing (at least I hope you'll agree). Apart from the change of camera angle to include the building, the main improvement is the shift of the horizon from halfway up the frame to one third of the way up. THE GOLDEN MEAN The ancient Greeks discovered and rationalised a thing called the golden mean; if you divide an area with a line into three-eights (near enough a third) and five eighths it looks most pleasing. It comes into play in all sorts of ways - the most obvious one is when you're shooting a person; the eyes (the centre of interest) will nearly always be one third of the way down the frame. There are always exceptions; an obvious one is (thinking about landscapes again) a picture including a lake or other large area of water. The artist might well put the horizon halfway up the picture to include the reflection of the tree or whatever. But look at where the tree is - probably one third of the way across the frame. Here's another example of the 'horizon' being shifted. It's the join between the backdrop and the floor in this case, but the thinking is the same

THE RIGHT CHOICE OF LENS ANGLE A modern zoom lens has quite a variety of angles to choose from. It's tempting to leave the camera in place and zoom around to select the picture. Be careful, though, of shooting Close Ups on a wide angle. The distortion can look horrid. Though there are always exceptions - are you doing a horror story? Here are two close-ups of a chap - the left one was shot on a fairly narrow angle lens; the other with the camera much nearer and using a wide angle lens. It exaggerates perspective and makes his nose look enormous. So be very careful with your choice of camera position versus lens angle - imagine Miss World given the same treatment as this chap! But a wide angle lens can be a very good friend in the right circumstances. The man on the left has been shot on a wide angle lens from a slightly low camera position; it gives him a 'superior' feel - good for a drama about the

arrogant boss of a company. And on the right is the same chap playing a different sort of role! Mass murderer instead of megalomaniac. There's an awful lot to learn about lenses, depth of field, etc. Press on to the next section if you want to know more.

CHOOSING LENS ANGLES

Here are yet a couple of two shots; the one on the left is a close-up on a medium wide lens - the shot on the right is just the same, but using a narrow lens. Because the depth of field is reduced, the background becomes blurred and the concentration goes on the girl's emotion, not on the flowers behind her.
MORE ON LENSES

A television screen is two-dimensional. The picture it shows has height and width but no depth. The director and cameraman can imply that depth in many ways. We get depth information in many ways; the most important of them is perspective. Things which are near to us look much bigger than things a long way away. The road or railway line is a classic case. Now have a look at this two shot. It's OK, but it's rather flat. So get the girl to walk a couple of steps forward. Not really any better. Not terribly exciting. But zoom in and the picture comes to life - we're seeing into her eyes and experiencing her emotion. Even better, track into her. Now you've got depth as well as concentration. If you can't track smoothly, can you find a reason for her to walk forward? It doesn't have to be the clich 'pouring a drink' shot; there are lots of good reasons for people moving about. Watch a group of people talking. If the mood is relaxed, they're often fairly static; when the excitement mounts they'll move more and more. And drama (story telling) is more about excitement than relaxation. CLUTTER Don't just presume that the shot tells the story you want to tell. Look at it dispassionately if you can. I know it'll take two minutes to shift the camera and it's getting late, but have you got a shot like the one on the left?

The one on the right is essentially the same, a mid-shot of the presenter with the object, but it's far less cluttered (and a clock in shot can be dangerous).

JOINING UP THE SHOTS


The first thing you've got to think about is how why and when do you cut between two shots. What makes a good cut or a good edit. I could fill a whole book with dos and don'ts, but let's just think about the basics for now. There are three basic rules: Always cut on movement if you possibly can; never cut until you have to (and there are many

reasons for cutting), and always cut to show something different. But that's not the end of the story.... Let's go back to my earlier sentence: Do with the camera what you would do with the eye. It's obviously not quite that simple - does your eye see what the director of the average pop video shows you? Of course not, but it's a jolly good start. Try watching yourself watching people if you can. One of the first things you learn is that you don't necessarily look at the person who"s talking. Imagine being in a room with two people. One says to the other "Where on earth did you get that hat? My oh my what a creation! I've heard of bird's nest soup before, but never on someone"s head". Where were you looking? At the hat, of course, not at the chap who's talking. Then when the second one chips in with "Never mind my hat, what about your nose", you cut to a picture (shot) of the nose owner. So we've now got a series of shots cut together, either in the camera or the eye. If you were shooting this conversation with the camera you wouldn't actually take a picture of person A, then get him to pause halfway through the sentence about the hat while you move the camera (and possibly the lights) to person B. What you do (presuming for the minute that this is a drama) is shoot all the conversation while the camera is seeing person A, then do it all over again on a shot of person B. In a real drama you"d do even more - the whole sequence again on a two shot, and then some close-ups (cutaways - another new term; shots of things - inanimate objects) of the hat and the nose.

OPTIMISING THE VIEW So far I've been talking (or writing) as if the camera remains physically in one spot and just pans around to get different shots. That would sort of work, but imagine the scene again; the two people are looking at one another, not in the direction of the camera or eye, and unless you"re very close you"ll be seeing the sides of their heads (profiles - a not very new term). But given that people, whoever they are - actors, politicians, lecturers - communicate visually with their faces, particularly their eyes, let's try to see the better view of them. We"re idealising the view, not sticking to the eye/camera simile, but I expect you can easily see that it's a better way to photograph people. In other words this: So neither had a funny hat and they both had strange looking noses. I"m not an artist; but I hope you get the idea. In general, shoot people as near full face as possible. Absolutely full face isn't usually possible (or desirable - he's looking at the girl, not the viewer) when you're shooting a drama or an interview, but David Attenborough talking to the camera (and therefore the viewer) should be full face. So far I've been talking about two people. What if you've got two shots of the one person and you want to cut between them? The first thing to ask yourself is why.

One possible reason is because of heightened emotion - the chap is rooting around in an old chest and comes across a blood-stained stiletto or a thousand pound note or something. He'd react and you'd want to cut closer. But you have to do it right; the rule here is:

THE CLOSER THE FULLER


In other words the tighter shot should be on the better eyeline. Not like this It's what you'd do with the eye, so do it with the camera. If you were in the room with him and you wanted to look closer at him, you wouldn't go to one side as you got closer; you'd want to look more fully into his eyes to see his emotion.

You'll hear directors talk a lot about "crossing the line' or the 'optical barrier" and it all sounds jolly mysterious. Actually it's not at all complicated in principle. Remember the hat owner and the nose proprietor? Here they are again: They're looking at each other. Or to be more exact, one is looking left and the other one right. So they appear to be looking at each other. It's more or less how you'd see them with the eye. The camera positions would be something like this:

That's if the shots were taken in the same shoot - it isn't always so. Even if the man was speaking on the telephone in one country and the girl was speaking to him (in reality or pretence) five thousand miles away, you still need one facing right and the other left. And by the same token it's possible to shoot the two people in rooms with similar decor in two separate continents a month apart and to cut the two shots together so that it seems a perfectly normal scene. As long as one looks left and the other looks right it will work just fine! But here they are once more both looking the same way - it's as if they"re both looking at a third person:

The two shots were taken from opposite sides of a line drawn between their heads

All you need to do to avoid this rather elementary mistake is keep the camera on one side of the line or the other for all shots in any sequence. Sounds complicated but another way to think of it, if imaginary lines through the head aren't your cup of tea, is to think of looking directions. In the earlier example, when he was looking right (from the camera's point of view) and she was looking left, everything was OK. But if they both look right the two shots won't cut properly together. When you're shooting two people talking to each other (whether it's an interview or a major drama) if one looks left, the other must look right. CAR CHASES There's a similar sort of problem when you"re shooting any means of travel. If a car is going from left to right in one shot, it should continue that direction of travel in the next. If a man is walking from his front door to meet a friend and he"s going right to left, then when we see him arrive at where the friend is standing, he should still be moving right to left. It"s even more important to be careful about direction of travel if you"re shooting a chase. For example can you imagine these two shots cut together? One car is going left to right, the other right to left. The implication is obvious; they're going to have a head-on collision! The camera has crossed the line again. There are exceptions to this rule about not crossing the line (television and film are full of exceptions to almost every rule). Imagine you"re shooting a comedy, and you want to show that a driver is lost and can"t find his destination. You might well have a series of shots showing him going left to right, then right to left, then left to right, towards camera, away from camera, etc. - he's effectively driving all over town in his search for whatever it is. A non-exception, but worth mentioning: If you did want to shoot the car chase, and wanted it to last perhaps four minutes, it would be very boring if the cars always went left to right. And some lighting set-ups or physical road set-ups might demand a right to left shot. No problem.

Look at the diagram - here's how to make the car change direction in the middle of a shot. What you do is shoot some left to right sequences, some right to left and some transition shots You'll have maybe four shots left to right, then one of the car going right and towards the camera (on a corner?) turning off left at the end of the shot, then three shots right to left, then a shot from the chasing car (more jargon: the driver"s point of view - POV) looking straight ahead; then you can go back to left to right travel for a while. Etc., etc. Be very careful, though, of your continuity if the car chase gets at all rough. The self-repairing cars and jumping hubcaps in Bullit are truly wonderful! Here's another sort-of exception: Imagine these two pictures cut together. Technically the cut crosses the line, but the geography is so well-defined it might be OK. You might get away with it if the plot had established that there were only the two people on location or we'd seen another frontal shot of them walking to the beach so we know what they look like. But if these were the first two shots of a film the implication could easily be that the second couple were watching the first. Make sure the pictures tell the story you want to be told.

Truth is Beauty . . . Therefore Beauty is Truth Often a "real" shot will not be very pleasing. Imagine a scene outside a building. You"re doing a piece on car parks so you shoot an interview with an irate car driver using cars and trees as the background. Now look at the reporter/interviewer; his real background is probably the blank white wall of the building. Not a very pretty shot, and it contrasts hugely with the master shot. So cheat it - move the interviewer round so that you"re shooting against cars (different ones from the interviewee"s shot, of course), then move the interviewee to give the interviewer an eyeline just off camera. Looks much better, and "true-er" than the "real" shot! Had enough of optical barriers for now? OK, just don"t let it confuse you. The main thing is, if the one person looks to the right of the camera, the other should look to the left. Don"t worry at all about real geography, just about how it will seem on screen. The joins between pictures are just as important as the pictures.

And that's a lot of what a storyboard is about. And you can read all about storyboards in the next piece.

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