Making Movies. What's more important than the gear?

As a commercial photographer I see people rush to embrace video all the time. They figure that all their cameras come equipped with HD video and stereo sound so how hard can it be. If you trawl the web for information you'll find lots and lots and lots of technical information about the gear, how to use the gear, where to buy the gear and how to measure the gear but you'll find very, very little about how to make a visually compelling video that tells a story without losing the audience.

If you need to read about which camera to choose or how to make a slider work you can go to Phillip Bloom's site or peek in at Vincent Laforet's blog. They'll tell you about bit depth and codexes and focus following rings made out of titanium and unicorn horn. And don't get them started on fluid head tripods or you'll be there all day.

But, just as in still photography, the technical stuff is just the top layer. The congealed fat on the top of the p├ąte in the mould. You need to dig down under the top layer to really make a useful and watchable project because so much of film making is about how to shoot scenes for continuity of action, so that the time line makes sense, so that they are believable.

I'm always looking for books that teach me how to see rather than how to capture and it's no different in making movies and videos. I ordered this book, Cinematography: Theory and Practice, by Blain Brown, about six months ago and I've just recently had time to sit down and start thoroughly digesting the information.

Brown discusses lighting but only in as much as how it affects mood and action. His real job in this book is to teach you why a film makes sense to viewers and how you can maximize good story telling practice to make better projects. At nearly 400 pages and an accompanying DVD it dives into good detail.

Chapters include: Writing with motion.  Shooting methods. Visual language. Language of the lens.  Visual storytelling.  Cinematic Continuity, Lighting basics. HD Cinematography. Camera Movement. Image Control and much, much more. It is complete with good illustrations and has zero body fat = no fluff.

If you've plowed through workshops and DVD's and endless blogs and you now know which camera has the lowest signal to noise ratio at ISO650 and which slider has the lowest coefficient of friction and how a jib arm works but you understanding of visual storytelling hasn't improved one lick then this is a great book for you (and for me).  It's dense, informative, well written and a tier above all the meaningless crap that the technogeeks love to spew.

You will learn more than you thought possible if you read this thing cover to cover. And it will improve your videos and your still photography. I can almost guarantee it.

It's a different way to come at learning more about imaging. And it may just resonate with your brain in a different and better way than the prototypical stuff from yet another stills only photographer.  I'm re-reading it as soon as I finish it. It's really that good.


  1. Wow, thanks for the recommendation Kirk. "That'll make a nice Christmas present for my brother" was my first thought. But when I see those two photos on its cover I think it could be very interesting for myself as well...

    1. It's a really comprehensive and well done book. I like it. Christmas present for Ben?

  2. Here's my favorite book, "Film Directing Shot by Shot" (visualizing from concept to screen) by Steven Katz. Stringing shots together, that flow, is what separates the men from the boys. This book will get you started down the right road. Bought my copy in 1991.

    It's available at Amazon.


  3. Interesting, I think some of the best books on "photography" these days are actually books on video. They seem to be able to talk about storytelling, mood and lighting without getting bogged down in gear discussions...


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