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Shooting non-repeatable events: weddings, recitals, plays, performances...

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Old December 17th, 2012, 03:31 PM   #1
Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: Sydney, Australia
Posts: 1,148
What makes you take a shot?

Was chatting with a script supervisor last night who expressed a curiosity about the thinking involved in taking a shot. His example was: he saw a reality TV show where someone did a slider + pull focus from half-drunk wine glasses to a mother and daughter arguing. He saw the image as significant -- the mother viewed the world as half-empty, and the daughter as half-full. But why would someone even think to take that shot, he wondered. What sort of improvisational cleverness must have gone into it.

I think I kind of looked at him blankly. I don't know how other shooters work, though I'm very, very curious. But, for my own part, under event or documentary situations, I'm not all that sensitive to the meaning of a shot, to how an editor might use it to say something in the context of a sequence of shots. I'm more looking for shots that are pretty or interesting for some reason.

But even restricted to "pretty or interesting", what makes one press record? What's the thinking? What are you sensitive to?

I guess, in any situation where I'm getting cutaways, or wedding highlight-style grabs, what I'm thinking about is:

-- 1. Follow the action. Bride getting laced up is the action rather than the grandmother sitting in the corner watching TV. What makes it the action, apart from the fact that it's a moment people seem to value or find interesting, is that something is happening or changing rather than remaining static. Groomsman doing a jig during the photoshoot is the action if everyone else is just standing around talking.

Of course, from an edit point of view, lacing the dress (as opposed to doing a jig) is also advancing the story, but I tend not to think like that...

-- 2. Be sensitive to movement. Bridesmaid adjusts the hem of her dress, groomsman slicks back his hair.

I used to think, more generally, that every good shot should either have movement in the frame or movement of the frame. When people edit my footage, I'm sometimes surprised to see that the moments they've selected are reframings -- zooming in, adjusting focus -- but I guess these are the more dynamic times.

After seeing editors make good use even of staged and static photoshoot material, my opinion on movement has changed, but still I don't think it's a bad rule of thumb.

-- 3. Be sensitive to sound. If someone laughs or a doorbell rings or there's cars hooting outside, I'm on edge. Something is happening or about to happen.

-- 4. Dialling it in, simply knowing what will look good from memory. I think the more you do weddings, the greater the temptation to just dial it in. Probably an impossible-to-resist temptation really. "Yeah, I'll just have the couple posing with the sun in the background, and I'll get some nice lens flare before they kiss." "Yeah, I'll just do a round-the-corner slider reveal of the bride getting makeup."

-- 5. In terms of composition, every videographer is probably moving around looking for shots. But what guides the thinking in composition? What I personally tend to focus on are: (1) framings -- archways, trees, etc; (2) reflections; (3) perspective lines or objects in a row; (4) shooting through things -- I hunt for shots that have at least foreground and background, if not middleground as well; bridal parties often laugh at the way I'm always hiding behind a bush or a pillar or someone's shoulder or whatever.

What I'm not sensitive to, but ought to be, are: (1) shapes; (2) patterns; (3) colour contrasts; (4) moving compositions, like the sort of thing that suits slider/steadicam (I think very statically). The last is a particular failing.

I'm not really sensitive, either, at least under event conditions, to the meaning that comes from grouping things together in the one shot. Situating a couple against an ocean backdrop. Panning from flowers to a bride. Or pulling focus from a candle to a couple dancing. What does that mean? Why is ocean, flowers or candle associated with the couple? No idea. But I'd probably take the shot anyway.

So these things I think amount to half a method. You can consciously tell yourself to look for them, and practise looking for them. Beyond them, I think what makes me press record is a lot more subjective, a case of whatever happens to fascinate me, either by way of content or of image -- a tiny statue of Buddha, a pattern of leaves on the ground, etc. I used to spend hours photographing a sculpture from different angles, and I think the process was half sheer exploration and trial and error -- does this angle look interesting? does that? --, and half a matter of smelling something, sensing something that fascinated, even if you didn't know what, and then trying to capture that.

I think the subjective consideration of "Follow what fascinates you" might be even more important for continuous documentary shooting than for cutaways -- treating the camera as your eye -- being sensitive to what you want to look at, and to how you want to see it presented -- what shot size, how fast do you pan, etc.
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