What's a DP?
DP is short for Director of Photography. When it comes to filmmaking, there is a lot of hierarchy. Executive producers/producers are above the director, who is above all the department heads (DP, production design, sound, VFX, casting, etc.) But when it comes to production, the director and the DP are a tight knit dynamic duo. See here or here. The DP is in charge of executing the director's visual goals for the film. Sometimes they operate their own camera, sometimes they don't—that's usually personal preference and also depends on the scale of the shoot (sometimes there are many cameras, or even second units). People often think that DPs are in charge of the camera work (they are), but I would argue that lighting is even more important, more difficult to master, and most overlooked by viewers. In other words, DPs are rockstars. (I might be biased)
What are you doing with your life?
That's a question only aunts and uncles are allowed to ask at Thanksgiving and then I get to escape by going to help make the mashed potatoes. But if you really want to know right now I'm working at Keslow Camera!
What's your favorite movie?
I'm going to pull a mom move here and go with "I love all my children equally."
Also, this list changes every day, and more incredible things are added all the time!
But here are a few films that I can always count on:
Flawless, always: Wit, Roman Holiday, Atonement, Tokyo Story, Ida, Notorious, Marie Antoinette, SHORT TERM 12!!
When I'm sad: Ever After, His Girl Friday, Romeo + Juliet (1996), A Hard Day's Night, Mona Lisa Smile, Lost In Translation, Harold and Maude, Where is the Friend's House, A Little Princess, Like Crazy, The General
Feels like an old friend: About a Boy, Lars and the Real Girl, While You Were Sleeping, It's a Wonderful Life (the pool under the dance floor! gets me every time)
Made me want to be a DP: Skyfall, Lost in Translation, Singin' in the Rain
Guilty pleasure: Law & Order (always), 1990s John Grisham legal thrillers (The Pelican Brief), Phil Dunphy on Modern Family
Judge me if you want but I love: Titanic (it's so terrible that it's perfect), Enough (JLo at her best), Riverdale (can you say EXTRA)
What equipment should I get?
People ask me this question a lot. A lot a lot. I have many thoughts about this. The first and most important one is this: it really doesn't matter. Yes, having more dynamic range and expensive glass and all the M-18s money can buy would be nice, but none of that matters if you don't have your own eye and way of seeing things. Seeing and feeling is the most important thing. Followed by lighting. Camera comes last. It really does.
But, if you're wondering, here are my thoughts if you're ready to invest:
If you're going into cinematography/just starting out, go Sony! I recently switched from Canon (I started in photography) to the A7S and I've never looked back. If you're shooting video on a Canon DSLR it will never be sharp. It just won't. When it comes to lighting if you are on a small budget, get some china balls and cords—they're underused, small to store, and inexpensive. Anything more I'd just rent, whether it's lights, glass, or camera bodies!
And my two cents—get a camera you can shoot some film on, whether 35mm or medium format. Especially if you're going into cinematography, it will demand more of you than digital will and your technical abilities will benefit as a result. You can't cheat with film and it will make you better. Also, film is great. Try it out! You might like it! It really does make you better.
Cinematography—where do I begin?
Watch films, look at photographs, listen to music, go to museums, walk outside, people watch—find things that resonate with you and go from there. I have prints from my favorite photographers covering my room and I spend a lot of time watching the filmography of DPs whose work resonates with me. This may seem contradictory, but it's also important to look at the work of filmmakers and artists that aren't your favorite—you have a lot to learn from them, too.
Read! Read so much. The internet is the coolest thing in the world. There is so much at your fingertips! Interviews, manuals, behind the scenes. I read textbooks about lighting all the time and it's one of the most helpful things I can do. If you want to learn how to light, read The Set Lighting Technician's Handbook. Just suck it up and read it cover to cover and set a schedule for yourself so you get it done. That thing is more dense in information than the Rosetta Stone. And then take that technical knowledge and use it to light emotionally. Watch things and figure out how you would do setups to light a scene the same way. Learn about modifying light! Learn about composition (my favorite!!!) and get better at it by taking a purposeful photograph every single day. After a few months look back and you will literally be able to see the improvement! Learn how to color images in post! Straighten your horizons! And learn all these things so you can start breaking the rules.
Don't forget about personal work. If I don't make time for personal work (usually just documenting life or making portraits, which I like to do on film) I get burned out. Make sure you're shooting stuff for yourself, making time to watch things (both just for fun and also things that will stretch you intellectually and creatively), and figure out the things that will keep you from burning out. Cinematography is hard work, literally (gripping, gaffing, long days on set) and intellectually (it's a learning curve that never ends!), but it's the best!