Last week was the annual online cinematography event hosted by They make their entire summit available for free each year, but only for 48 hours. Usually I’ve been too busy to watch much, but this year I managed to watch pretty much the entire event. Yeah, in 48 hours 🙂 I learned lots, took tons of notes, and didn’t get much sleep…

For those of you who couldn’t attend, I thought I’d do a recap of the key points. I went over my notes and pulled out 5 key things I learned:

1. People will put up with bad images as long as the story is good. The key to good production is good pre-production.

Figure out what it is you are trying to say and then do your best to make that come across.

Patrick Moreau of Stillmotion talked about using 5 keywords to define the goal or focus of a promotional film. You can find keywords by looking at the things that come through over and over.

  1. Do research online.
  2. Try the product or service (immerse yourself in the environment, walk the locations, get to know it from multiple angles)
  3. White board it. Throw anything on the board. It’s not about coming up with it right away, but throw it up on there.
  4. Make them into clusters (or themes).
  5. Check back over it and make sure you’ve got it. Is this the full picture of what you want to say?

If you try and say too much, you say nothing at all. The keywords help you be intentional.

2. Just because you have a certain gadget doesn’t necessarily mean you should use it. Make sure it helps tell the story.

Just because you have a drone doesn’t mean you should use it. Everything you do in the film will affect the audience in some way, so you need to try and be intentional about it. Make sure your cinematography serves the purpose of the story and doesn’t overshadow it.

For example, Scott Kimber pointed out that a closeup means what you see is important to the story at that moment. If it’s not important, don’t show a closeup of it.

That also applies in editing – Just because you shot it doesn’t mean you need to use it.

3. Make sure you have good collaboration with the art and costume departments. They are a huge part of the quality of the image.

The costuming and set design is huge. Hiring someone to be your art director is way more important than great equipment.

Also, don’t be afraid to move objects so it works better for the framing of the shot. There’s a lot you can get away with, and it will make your image much richer.

4. Time is always the biggest constraint. Sometimes you have to do less with lighting to give the actors more time.

At the end of the day, the editor will always pick the best performance over the best cinematography. Know your schedule and decide what the priorities are.  Figure out which lines are the most important and then give them more time.

Another point is to always light the background first. Otherwise you’ll spend all the time on lighting the actor and run out of time for the background.

5. Just because you don’t have a large budget doesn’t mean you can’t have great images.

You just have to work smarter. It’s not about having really expensive equipment, but knowing how to use what you have. Understand what makes the great shots and copy it. What matters is the result, not necessarily the process.

For example If you have real low quality LED lights (with a color spike), just remember that skin tones are the priority. You can balance it in-camera, and as long as that’s fine you won’t notice the rest.

I could go on, but these are my main takeaways. Every one of the sessions where just packed with great information, and I’m sure if I watched them again I’d get even more!

Bethany Meckle

Bethany Meckle

Content Curator

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