Learning

Jumping YouTubers

I love a good jump cut. I love slipping them in to narrative work to give you a glimpse in to the splintered psyche of damaged character.

What is a jump cut you say?

It’s a cut where you keep the same frame, with the same subject and you chop some time out without cutting away to anything. It’s kinda jarring because our brains work in a linear way, they even edit our visual stream, either to reduce the torrents of info reaching our brain, or to keep us safe. You can test this yourself; if you whip your eyes from one side of the room to the other you’ll notice that you don’t see the motion blur in between the movement the way you do see it with a camera whip pan. Your brain cuts that moment out to stop you from getting motion sickness.

We’re neurologically wired to take in scenes chronologically, so jump cuts leap out at us. In drama, they’re often used to enhance a heightened emotional state in a character, or to draw the viewer’s attention to the fact that they’re watching a constructed story. Documentaries on the other hand try to avoid them at all costs, they want their pieces to be immersive reality and not a construct. The last thing documentaries want is to remind the audience that they’re watching a film.

That is, until now.

YouTubers are turning this idea on its head, intentionally using jump cuts in an effort to make themselves seem less professional. This rough round the edges approach makes them look more real and believable, just the average person, videoing themselves with no professional training. This ‘truthful’ style can be particularly useful if you’re trying to push a product without seeming like an advert.

The technique can be over used, I’ve even seen it referenced by some vlogers making use of it, which shatters the illusion that it’s a happy mistake, by an amature broadcastying from their bedroom. But when the jump cut is done well, it can really sell the image of reality.

Here’s one of my favorite vlogs laying down some true jump cuted facts:

What does this mean for the oldfassion TV docs and dramas? The jump cut has now been introduced into the the visual dictionary of YouTube viewers and soon the language will become commonplace. The effectiveness of the jump cut as a jarring technique could diminish and no longer will documentaries need cutaways to get round a tricky edit; in fact using cutaways could be seen as a lie.

Could the Jump Cut become the new documentary standard for truth?

What Ever Happened to my ND Grads

I love a matte box and filters, they’re great for creating artful exterior exposures, but some would say why bother when you can shoot Log and use grading software. And yes, those things really help a lot, but sometimes they can’t do it all on their own.

Cameras in them-days had a crummy contrast latitude (essentially the number of shades of grey from black to white) so it was very difficult to get a balanced exposure outside, the sky to bright, and the subject too dark, so you would use an ND grad (fading from clear to dark) to make the sky darker, giving more detail and contrast. If you were feeling fancy you could add a polariser, which when turned would make the clouds pop.

Nowadays cameras have a much wider contrast latitude ursine Log looks, so there’s more detail in the highlights and lowlights, but I’d say there still isn’t enough. Especially as Log looks best when over exposed, so you lose detail in the highlights and once those details are gone, no amount of grading will get them back. So you may need to squeeze the highlights down to get the detail in a high contrast situation.

Trust me, if you’re shooting outside and you want the sky to pop, it’s definitely worth getting the matte box out and mucking about with filters. Here’s a project where I did just that and I’m glad I did, as this moody sky looks great in monochrome.

Stop Using 3 Point Lighting

3 point lighting, the ultimate way to light anything right? 

Wrong.

There is a reason why we use 3 point lighting; it’s simple and it will get you decent results in a lot of situations, but it’s not the only way and it’s starting to look boring.

I’m going to break down what each of these 3 lights do, why we use them in 3 point lighting and what we can do differently.

First off, the key. You’ll pretty much always need a key, it’s the main line on your subject, but where you place it can change your look drastically. Most of the time it’s placed a little off centre, softly wrapping around your subject, but you can change this up, put it at a much more extreme angle, making your subject more contrasty, or head on for less contrast. Or above, or below, or closer, or further away. Making all these changes will have a massive effect on the look of what your shooting. Just experiment and think about the context of what your shooting, how can you enhance the narrative with my shooting style.

Next, the fill. The fill is there to fill in the shadow created by the key. The reason we do this is historic; older cameras couldn’t deal with high contrast images, so the shadow on the off key side of your subjects would look like a black hole. But nowadays cameras can deal with incredible levels of contrast, so why use a fill at all? I often see operators setting their fill to be as bright as the key, making their subject completely flat, maybe they’re afraid of shadow, or so used to a contrast less look that they can’t get away from it. But shadow is great, it gives your subject depth and structure, so don’t fear it, roll with it. If your Keats is soft enough and well placed, then you may not need a key.

Lastly, the back light. The backlight separates your subject from the background by creating a ring of light around them, kind of like an outline. But the only time you should use a back light is if the subject and the background are the same level of exposure, so you have to create some contrast. But if the back ground is dark and the subject is light, or visa versa, then you might not need to do this. On the other hand, if I don need a backlight, sometimes I like to pump it creating a very strong outline, then lowering the key, creating a very dramatic look.

Someone once told me that being a DOP is contrast control, your lighting should marshal contrast and modelling of your subject and separate them from the back ground. And the one thing that 3 point lighting doesn’t come near to touching on is the back ground. Getting your background right is essential, to make your image pop, your subject should be sufficiently different to your back ground, but that doesn’t just mean that your subject should be bright and your back ground dark. You could make your back ground lighter then your subject, you could make it a significantly different colour, you could use depth of field to create separation, or you could have pockets of light and dark in your background. Whatever you do with your background, lighting it can be more important then lighting your subject. Just make sure your image is varied, textured and creates contrast.

To be honest, I’m not saying never use 3 point lighting, sometimes it’s the best option, sometimes it’s just what your client wants. But if you have a little time and a little leeway, then go nuts and find something better.