World-class cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto talks about shot-listing, lighting design, working with directors, and embracing constraints.
Key Insights

  • Before you begin to design the look of a film, you need to know whose story it is and understand the emotional content of the script in order to connect to the material.
  • Next, start visualizing the film by researching images; you can use still photography, other films, and art as references to share with your director as you think about the lighting, camerawork, texture and composition of the film. 
  • You must test your looks, showing as many variables as possible to the director including lenses, film stocks, and color; your production designer can help with this process. 
  • Select and understand your locations - this will impact how and what you can shoot. Have an opinion and design plan in place, but ultimately marry it with the director’s vision. 
  • Prepare your own version of the shot list including ideas for shots and transitions and listen to the ideas of the director. You can use storyboarding for more complicated scenes being careful that it doesn't get too literal or get in the way of more creative choices during shooting. 
  • When designing a sequence, understand the point of view of the camera, it's not about coverage; you'll feel when the shot isn't right. 
  • Prioritize what you absolutely need to capture - you cannot shoot everything. 
  • Rely on your experience - your skills in one area may translate in a way you never imagined. 
  • Be open to change - your plans may totally fall through on the day and you’ll have to improvise.
  • A cinematographer understands parameters of space, budget, and equipment. But don’t become too bound by practicality - be willing to push the boundaries for bigger payoffs. 
  • As a cinematographer, you are working in collaboration with the director to serve and illuminate her/his vision and the story.


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