First, some background
I've been involved in photography since 1958. I've done it all. From shooting on movie and TV sets, industrial, studio work, nature, sports, and I've written for photography magazines, had pictures in Life, Look, NY Times. And even some drone photography. So I consider myself an expert when it comes to photography.
There are technical things to discuss when it comes to photography. Mostly about choices. Film vs digital? DSLR vs mirrorless? Raw vs JPEG? Bokeh vs ...? And, for photography, that's about it. But even with this limited fare, we still have our geeks and gurus.
Taking pictures since 1958. I've seen it all.
I am not a cinematographer. I built tools for cinematographers. I did this back around 1970. Back then, shooting film was easy. You had cameras, lenses, and film. Lighting was simple. But filmmakers worked wonders with those simple tools.
Lighting it the old fashioned way.
Now, after fifty years, I'm back, looking around, like Rip Van Winkle. It's a strange new world.
Technology has overwhelmed cinematography.
"In the old days, technique was important, technology, not so much.
Now it's the opposite."
"In the old days, cinematography was serious and equipment was not that important.
Now, it's the opposite."
"Cinematography is on a Quixotic, never-ending quest for technical perfection.
It may have already passed the point of no return."
To a photographer used to simpler things, the world of cinematography is wondrous and complex. And the most interesting thing is that is seems to be all about choices. And, where there are choices, you will find geeks and gurus.
Two geeks discussing frame rates.
What are geeks and gurus? Here's an example:
If you are falling downstairs, a geek will help you to fall faster.
A geek will point to his YouTube video series on how to fall downstairs.
("Don't forget to hit the Subscribe button!")
A geek will have a T-shirt with a cute falling-downstairs emoji.
A geek will have a falling downstairs web site with all the latest tricks on how to do this properly.
A guru will show you where the elevator is.
Gurus are not so easy to find.
A geek will show you how to solve problems.
A guru will show you how to avoid them.
"Tell us again about the 19 recording formats on the new Arriflex."
Geeks love complexity.
Gurus love simplicity that hides complexity.
"We've always done it this way."
Geeks say, "We've always done it this way."
Gurus say, "Time to find a newer, better, easier way."
Seeking a higher level.
Geeks are fascinated by things at the machine level.
Gurus love simple and intuitive, raising things to a higher level.
Gurus continue to look at the world with childlike wonder.
Geeks expect extra points for degree-of-difficulty.
Gurus get points for ease-of-use.
Picture on the left by an NBC studio photograhper
Picture on the right by me.
Geeks can create pictures that are technically better.
Gurus will create pictures that are artistically better.
* Note: This is very important. *
This is an example of a simple tool.
It shot the opening scene of The Godfather.
Geeks say, "Why make it simple when you can make it wondrous and complex?"
Gurus say, "Build complex toys and simple tools."
"This is a time of false expectations. We keep making the cameras better and expecting the movies to get better, but it's not working."
A geek explaining Anamorphic Bokeh.
Some words from Rip van Winkle
As a cinematography tool builder, I look at today's tools and this is what I see.
I see one part at the very leading, bleeding edge of tech, with things like advanced cameras, lighting, and even virtual studios. All unimaginable back when I was designing tools. It's a world of unbelievable complexity. A cross between Star Trek and Harry Potter.
I also see some cinematography tools that have gotten stuck in a time warp, remaining unchanged since I last saw them fifty years ago.
Question: How did you pan and tilt a camera 50 years ago?.
Question: How do you pan and tilt a camera today?
Question: How did you zoom a lens 50 years ago?.
Question: How do you zoom a lens today?
Look around and what do you see,
Geeks or gurus?
Why I called this meeting
Fifty years ago, I designed and built the computer-controlled zoom lens used to shoot the opening scene of The Godfather. It was programmable and 100% repeatable. I left the cinematography business shortly after, and now I'm back, ready to begin again, where I left off.
What I'm working on is directly related to the questions I asked above. The answer is that there's been no real change in panning, tilting, and zooming in fifty years, so I see an opportunity to add something new to the world of cinematography tools.
What I want to add is programmability and repeatability, and a way to add new moves to the vocabulary of cinematography. And the interface to these tools -- It will be a simple unified interface instead of a separate one for each tool. An interface that can be programmed by the director or cinematographer.
Since these tools don't exist, I'm building a software simulator to demonstrate some new moves that can't be done with existing tools. It's already produced some interesting videos that show that things are headed in the right direction.
Stay tuned, and listen to your inner guru.
Some notes: All of the images above were created by me, between 1958 and today.
Copyright 1957-2023 Tony & Marilyn Karp