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Best Cinematography courses

Hi All,

I’ve recently decided I want to get back into the industry after studying some 12 years ago then moving away into another industry. I’ve found a weekend cinematography course at the London Film Academy for £395, has anyone does this and have any thoughts for someone getting back in the saddle?

  • I'll probably get shot down for advising this, but I myself would put the £395 towards camera kit and use YouTube as a teaching resource.

    7 months ago
    • I agree with Alwyne. Altenatively try get a place at the National Film School or plan to take a coarse there. Fianlly put the money towards covering your personal overheads whilst working for free as a Camera Assistant on low budget indie films where you will get some real hands on experience, learn how to work with different cameras whilst also importantly beggining to take names, email addresses and telephone numbers for your contacts book of any talented people that you are lucky enough to work with.
      Best of luck

      7 months ago
  • As someone who has taught over 300 people on mostly one to one or two to one short camera courses, I tend to agree with Alwyne and Ray that anyone with a basic aptitude can teach themselves, through observation, self study and exercise, if one has the facility.

    Just about every technical skill associated with film making can and has been acquired without attending any kind of structured training. Mostly though a truly professionally competent level of skill isn't achieved quickly without some sort of qualified mentoring or example.

    Working with incompetent or inexperienced crews though can sometimes be detrimental to a students progress, especially if that crew also has misdirecting confident aplomb, reinforced by delusions of grandeur, that sometimes arises. Always check out their previous work and if it's good be satisfied that they where actually the ones who where responsible for it.

    Because of a number of circumstances as diverse as individuals, some people need help in awakening their aptitude. Conditioning, education and perhaps a lack of experiential opportunity can stifle confidence.

    If one is thinking of investing ones limited and hard gained money on a course then checking out how good the course is must be essential. Where one is relatively well funded opting to spend money on accelerating the acquisition of skill is not an unreasonable choice.

    7 months ago
  • Thanks all for the advice!

    7 months ago
  • I was a photographer before I went into the camera department and cinematography. I was entirely self taught. So it was easy to transfer to cinematography as the tech knowlegde regarding shutter speed/angle, ISO, apature etc is the exactly the same. Cinematography is all about making great images, just like photography. Go out, take pictures with a camera, learn lighting, get some cheap lights, have a go. Also, when you are out and about and you see something that looks good, whether it be in a cafe, a park etc, look at the scene and see if you can work out how the light is lighting that scene, then go and see if you can replicate that look with the lights you have bought. Also, work on other people's shorts, even if it is just as a runner, then you can watch the DOP working and you can learn from that.

    7 months ago
  • Oh fiddlesticks! My answer vanished with this unstable internet!

    Some great responses above, film is very vocational, but for camera department I would suggest you can be ahead of the game by brushing up on your GCSE physics, learn how light works, learn how lenses work, even learn how sensors work. It's not difficult stuff, but can make a huge difference and is sadly lacking in a lot of self-proclaimed DoP's!

    By understanding light at a deeper level, you can bypass a lot of the folklore and fetishism that drives camera department, this will always stand you well. Despite the different marketing blurb you can cut through the nonsense as at the core. All the lens and camera makers are constrained by physics, and can't do anything magical outside of it ;-)

    6 months ago
  • I agree. Only a few bother to teach basics and one “Film School” actually boasts in their advertising that they won’t bore you with the maths of cinematography!!! This is essential!!! How else will you know about DoF and lensing etc? I founded the Brighton Film School and ran it for 12 years, mirroring the London Film School which I attended in 1964/5 and youngsters must learn that modern digital cameras are designed to replicate movie cameras and 35mm ain’t dead yet! Even the S8mm competition still runs. As a BAFTA ambassador I am happy to mentor those up and coming who need a one-to-one on Cinematography when required. Buy the “Hands On” by David Samuelson as your essential bible. There are lots of others too but I bet most film schools don’t even know these professional books exist!! I’m at - Cheers - Franz

    6 months ago
  • I'm not going to argue against you guys! The physics of lenses and light are important. And can be learned from books. Spending £350 and a weekend to learn that stuff is probably pointless.

    But cinematography is surely an art and a craft, not a science. Composition, contrast, colour, angle, detail, movement, angle, background, focus/blur - these are what audiences see, these are what create the emotional effect on them. These are harder to explain in books, as is the interface between the technology and the result (for example, the emotional difference between going in close with a wide-angle, or using a longer lens from further away). So a weekend spent exploring these aspects, especially if hands-on with a good communicator, would pay dividends on set.

    YouTube should be the perfect medium for demonstrating creative techniques. It could show the set-up, discuss lens choices and lighting options, and show the results.

    So... who knows good YouTubers who do this for us?

    6 months ago
    • I would say, if you don't understand the science of cinematography then you wouldn't be able to do any of the artistic stuff that audiences see. The science is the foundation on which everything else is based. I would say, if you want to learn the science, then photography courses, youtube videos on photography are a good place to start as you can learn the science (logrithmic relationship between apature, shutter, ISO etc) without the distraction of the craft/art side of cinematography. Then take that foundation and start learning cinematography.

      When I started in the camera department, I already had the science bit as I had been working as a photographer. It enabled me to hit the ground running.

      Without that science foundation everything else would fall apart.

      6 months ago
  • One of the great things about video (meaning all that is not film) is that 'what you see is what you get'. Back in the pre-digital days one never knew for sure how ones filming turned out until you got the dailies back from the lab; even with the later development of video assist. About the only 'what you see is what you get' function available was the framing. Measuring light with a meter and focal distance with a tape measure required a considerable amount of theoretical calculation combined with knowing which type of film stock to use and by comparison with digital, a lot less opportunistic risk and experimentation. Today, watching how crafts people get great images, in real time, is real mentoring, whether it be on YouTube or on a short course. The science of light and lenses is an explanation of fact; the methodological approach to mastering those facts however need not be entrenched in any singular process. Dyslexics and autistic spectrum folks who come at cinematography from an entirely non academic approach have been highly regarded. One may reference scientific and theoretical facts as a useful approach but so can others based more on fundamental environmental awareness and with which digital technologies are greatly compatible. One doesn't always need to develop awareness academically to be a cinematic savant.

    6 months ago
  • Loving this thread. If I understand correctly, Franz and Mark have been cinematographers since before a lot of us were born.

    Some courses do teach the physics, and I've seen physics in the old camera technique books.

    Yes, I know photographers who aren't scientists, who play it by eye, but I can see how a knowledge of physics can help you make decisions before purchasing.

    I have to share this with the science teachers I know.

    One thing to note is that a course isn't just about learning technique. Some can be more fun than teaching yourself. I did one at Pima, in Tucson, that had a great teacher who taught not only cinematography, but all kinds of common sense things (Like how not to burn your fingers on the lights). He may be retired from teaching now.

    Also, you sometimes make a film right then and there, saving you time and effort looking for locations and actors.

    Now, anyone know any fun courses that go into the physics of it?

    6 months ago
    • I say to anyone, start with a pinhole camera. There's even a whole pinhole camera "scene". You don't need to print or develop the images, just a tissue paper "screen" on a box with a hole in (start with a small pinhole for a sharp but dim image, add a few more pinholes and get a brighter but softer image, and so forth) and you start to relate to light like the pioneers - it's incredibly satisfying!

      6 months ago
  • A photographer has to know the relationship between apature, shutter speed and ISO. If he/she didn't they wouldn't be able to make a correctly exposed image. Of course they could put the camera on auto and let the camera make all the changes, but, if they did, they wouldn't have any control of their image. The knowledge of the relationship between apature, shutter speed and ISO is part of the science of photography/cinematography. Anyone who calls themselves a photographer or a cinematographer must know these things in order to control the images they are producing. If they do not know these things, they are not a photographer or a cinematographer but just think they are.

    6 months ago
    • I remember a few years ago I was watching some of the entries to that year's "Rode short film Competition." There was one that was black and white, a lot of the highlights were blown out and it looked quite bad I have to say. I watched the BTS video (all entrants have to produce one). It turned out that the reason that it was black and white was that the images looked so bad that they had to go the black and white route (using just the Chrominance signal and ditching the luminance singal - more science!). The DOP (who was about 20) said the reason the footage was so bad was that they had used a Sony FS700 and, if they had been able to use a higher spec camera such as an Alexa, then the footage would have been ok. This is complete bollocks. Any DOP who knows what he/she was doing would have been able to get really great images from a Sony FS700 without all the highlights blowing out ( I once used a Sony FS100 as a B Cam to an Alexa XT on a beach with strong sunlight on a Music Video. It worked out fine). The real problem was that the young DOP didn't know what he was doing, F**ked up and, instead of putting his hands up to it, he blamed his camera (a poor workman blaming his tools).

      You have to know the science in order to know what you are doing. Anyone who thinks that you don't does not really understand Cinematography. After all, if it was that easy that anyone could pick up a camera without any photographic knowledge and be a cinematographer then there would be a lot of cinematographers. But there aren't many cinematographers because it isn't that easy. And the science bit is just a small part of what you have to know.

      6 months ago
    • @Mark Wiggins - That's what I always assume when I see monochromatic shorts! Even that, though, is a learning opportunity, albeit a little advanced, about chroma and luma and different compressions (ie that 4:2:0, 4:2:2 has lower spatial resolution than the luma), and dynamic range ;-)

      6 months ago
    • @Paddy Robinson-Griffin This is exactly why the idea that anyone can pick up a camera without any knowledge and be a cinematogrpher is false. And that knowledge is science (even if people don't want to call it that because science is some sort of dirty word:) ).

      6 months ago
  • Of course any camera person worthy of the title has to know how to use all of the control functions of a camera. Shutter, aperture, focus, ND, framing and how to use lights, grips and microphones too. There's a control on every camera for them. Knowing how to use the cameras functions is just the start of it. Creative artistry can only flourish if those functions are fully understood, it's not rocket science but it must be learned and understood.

    When I'm driving my car I'm controlling gears, clutch, brakes, indicators, steering wheel, lights and controlling my in car environment. I'm checking my instruments for speed and engine condition, I have warning lights to react to and on top of that I need to know exactly where I'm going and have regard for everyone and thing I'm sharing the road with. I don't need to know any of those things in the form of academic hypothesis but the degree of my expertise as a driver is the same or better than the engineer who built my car. I'm an excellent driver, even got an HGV Class One ticket.

    A proper camera person uses all of the controls that a camera offers without thinking about out it too much because getting the recordings they need ought to become second nature. It's like when you've driven a 100 miles, got safely to exactly where you meant to go, but never once had to think about what gear you used or the technicalities of how the brake pads interacted with the break disk. Doesn't mean that such driving was any the less competent. In fact such driving was the better for the second nature of instinctively turning the focus and aperture rings and being in the appropriate shutter speed and ND for the best depth of field etc., etc. There is of course an empirical language to all this but some folk speak it differently.

    6 months ago
    • If a photographer knows how to change the aperture and the shutter speed but doesn’t know that if, say, the aperture is f5.6 and the shutter is 1/60 and they want to change the aperture to f4, they have to change the shutter to 1/125 or, if they want to change the ISO from 800 to 400, this means they either have to change either the apature to f4 or the shutter to 1/30; if they don’t know these things, then they can’t do their job and knowing these things is part of the science.

      6 months ago
  • As a multitasking producer for the last thirty plus years during which I've also been the cameraman on more broadcasted productions than I can remember and on productions that I shot that won awards, and perhaps more importantly, commendations from commissioners, I've never relied upon anything other than my 'driving skills' (see above post). What I've really loved to do however is to play with and fully explore every device and posibility that my cameras can do. Whether or not that's science is a matter for interpretation. The transition of camera and format technologies since the time when video achieved full broadcast standard, officially with Betacam SP but affectively earlier with High band Umatic SP, saw some new vectors for people to learn how to shoot effective and creative material that includes all of the light, focus and motion possibilities.

    The poor camerawork that we see too often, particularly in broadcast, is not down to the lack of scientific appreciatin as much as a lack of 'driving skills' and laziness partially brought on by increasingly affective artificial intelligence in the form of automatic functions. We always taught that auto functions could be useful in some circumstances but that manually controlling them was not a contradiction in terms if used cognacently.

    6 months ago
    • But what you describe as driving skills is understanding the science. If you don’t want to call it that for whatever personal reason; that’s fine. But it doesn’t change the truth of the matter. Not sure if you are deliberately misunderstanding what I am saying for a sake of a good argument or not but we are actually saying the same thing.

      6 months ago
    • Sounds like you have internalised those skills John, I know you're technically astute. Much like driving, I suggest that through years of practical experience you have an innate feeling for the underlying mechanics. When you drive you don't concentrate on the gear, but you certainly know that there's a gearbox, know that different gears deliver different levels of torque to the wheels, know the coefficient of friction differs with road conditions.

      That's the deep understanding that's lacking with someone hopping in an automatic, selecting "drive" and pressing "go". The equivalent being to get a camera, set everything to auto, maybe fiddle with a few mysterious settings because they think they should, and calling themselves a cinematographer :)

      6 months ago
  • Jack Cardiff, Patron of my Brighton Film School, was very untechnical, got his first job with Technicolor because he knew art and colour and understood light source. He got the job!

    6 months ago
    • Ok. So are you saying that Jack Cardiff didn’t know how to expose his images correctly?! He knew exactly what he was doing. The examples I cite above are fundamental rules in photography and cinematography. All photographers and cinematographers know them. They cannot do their job if they don’t. And these rules are science.

      But what do I know? I’m only a cinematographer!

      6 months ago
  • Mark, we are saying the same thing. It's only the language that differs. There's more than one way to master the same skill in terms of mindful awareness. Personally I've tended to avoid referencing the many facets of camerawork in terms of scientific language because it can put off people who might otherwise be capable of being very good at it. In many ways it's also the difference between film and video. I can understand why some people don't refer to the term video because it has been associated with amature practice and prefer to use the term digital since it has become a credible alternative to film. However, even the highest digital format is still video. I can only reiterate that it's the real time 'what you see is what you get' that has expanded the mindset options for becoming a camera savant beyond the need to have a GCSE in physics. Not that an academically scientific approach is detrimental at all. It's just that it really isn't essential. We might have to agree to differ on this one.

    I'd like to be clear though that I respect and appreciate Mark's evident professionalism. I'd feel much assured if he was shooting my production.

    6 months ago
  • I'm not a technical person either. My background is in the arts and I am dyslexic. But what I learned from being a photographer stood me in good stead when it came to cinematography. Its true its easier with video (and I don't mind calling it video) is that you see what you get. This is why so many young DOPs are frightened of film and won't go near it. I, on the other hand, love it. Horses for courses. :)

    6 months ago
  • For clarity, I think we're probably all on team physics here, and the natural mechanics of physics exist whether or not people can express them numerically. It's the relationships between light levels and focus that can be understood simply with a shoebox pinhole camera which is important - that innate understanding that the bigger the hole, the more light rays reach a screen, but that laso means softer images.

    Or further down the road, how chromatic aberrations appear at the edges of cheaper lenses, or the recent "bokeh" surge of fascination, or how anamorphic lenses work, and why they can create those odd smears. I'm not saying that you necessarily need to run numbers for this stuff every time, but understanding it gives you a steady foundation.

    It's not the 98+% of shooting that we're discussing, indeed auto settings handle most scenarios eyewateringly well considering how terrible they were 10-20 years ago. It's those edge cases, those few shots where you're pushing the kit. Do you choose the long lens or move the camera? One option takes 1', the other 10' and you have to be able to justify to a producer why you're running a whole crew, location and cast into expensive overtime when you're getting behind. I suggest this is where a deeply grounded understanding of what you're doing is what you're getting paid for.

    6 months ago
  • You need a DSLR or something of that level to see all the f-stop numbers. I've played around with one for years, and so I know how to produce bokeh and a few other effects.

    DSLRs have artificial ISO numbers (which are really just gain or like setting the so-called exposure in post.) I tend to keep it low, because raising the DSLR "ISO" just goes grainy (unless you have a very, very expensive camera.) Video "ISO" is really a mislabel. I suppose it might be useful for those planning on moving to film, but it doesn't even seem that accurate on most cameras. (Two Canons, same lenses, same settings, same lighting, ISO is different strength.)

    Also, you may be building a portfolio to pitch to people who don't understand ISO and the rest of it. People who aren't photographers, no matter how well they know physics, will often be more impressed by a higher resolution camera with a cleaner lens than how much you know. A lot of photography these days is clear, but visually boring. I think fewer people understand photography than ten years ago, now with all the phones.

    And, there's so much to do with light. If you only have a camera (and lenses, and even filters) then you're only doing part of the job. I've used natural lighting for years, and if you control what time of day you shoot at you can have variety, but you'll need some control of the light to do other effects.

    You can do fun stuff with slow shutter speeds, dual exposures on digital and all the rest.

    ISO, f-stop, shutter-speed all affect the picture in different ways. However, learning these will not help you pass GCSE physics.

    All that said, a cinematographer usually has to communicate more than a photographer does. If the director has an idea, you'll need to understand it. And, if you have an idea, you'll need to be able to communicate it to the crew and director (and as Paddy mentioned, maybe the producer.)

    6 months ago
    • All sensors have a native ISO (the measurement of how sensitive that sensor is to light). If they didn't, they wouldn't be able to interact with light. But it is true that when you set the camera to a different ISO setting you are not changing the ISO, you are just applying gain. The native ISO of a sensor though, is exactly identical to the ISO of a film stock (being a measurement of how sensitive that film stock is to light). That is because the laws of physics/science are universal. When you rate a sensor at an ISO higher than its native ISO, it becomes noisy and more contrasty, in the same way that when you "push" film (rate it at an ISO higher than its actual ISO), it becomes grainy and contrasty. If you shoot a scene with a sensor and, for example, the exposure you needed was T4, if you shot the scene with a film stock with an identical ISO as the native ISO of the sensor, it would also be T4.

      Its a fact that the native ISO of a lot of digital cameras is not actually the real ISO. This is one of the things cinematographers test for when they encounter a new camera; to find out a camera's true native ISO so they can work with it. Of course, if they didn't understand the physics/science of it (and everything I have just been talking about is physics) they wouldn't be able to test for the true ISO as they would not know what to test for, why they are doing the test and how to do the test.

      Picking up a camera and using it with very little knowledge may be all right if you just want to shoot weddings and corporate videos but if you want to end up working on features and Netflix dramas, you have to know this stuff. Just pointing a camera, pressing a button and hoping it comes out all right is a good way to get fired on these sorts of jobs.

      6 months ago
    • @Mark Wiggins I love that explanation. In the USA, they may still use ASA instead of ISO.

      The thing is, as far as learning this stuff in school, you probably won't. You'll more likely find it in a photography course than a physics one. I have GCSE and A-level physics books at home, and lots of photography books. No ISO in the physics books, ISO (or ASA) in every photography book.

      Here's a quick one from BBC Bitewise for photography:

      That said, in the UK anyway, I suggest people learn science rather than arts for one simple reason. The establishment doesn't take arts properly, so they aren't taught very well. They have stunt men teaching screenwriting, gym teachers teaching history, producers teaching cinematography. But, if you want to teach math or physics, you can't simply side step there if you happened to work as a lab assistant or were a CEO who never learned the science.

      There's also chemistry behind the way different film stocks react to light.

      I wouldn't hire a point-and-shoot photographer for a wedding or industrial film. However, I do know people who are physicists, who simply point and shoot!

      6 months ago
    • @vasco de sousa Yes, what you say is correct. However, it doesn’t change the fact that it is physics. A lot of the problem with this this discussion is there seem to a lot of people who do not realise that it is physics.

      I’m in cinematography because I love the art and love creating stunning images but I couldn’t do that if I didn’t understand the mechanics of it( the physics.

      6 months ago
  • Physics is the study of the physical laws of the Universe. When I am talking about Cinematographers understanding physics I am talking about the physical laws of that govern photography and cinematography. I am not talking about Quantum Mechanics or Special Relativity! I think there is some confusion amongst some people here so I thought I'd better clarify.

    6 months ago