Lately, there’s been a lot of debate about what the rise of digital acquisition means for the art and craft of cinematography, and I’ve been hearing a lot of negativity from people about how digital is making every Joe Schmo with no photographic skill think they can be the next Vilmos Zsigmond just by virtue of the camera they buy. Here are my thoughts on this.
Film and digital are both tools. It is true that digital currently has some drawbacks compared to film. It is also true that there are a lot of people who think that the camera does all the work, and that all a DP does is point a camera and some lights at the talent, and the camera does the composition and so forth on its own. These people quickly find out that they either must learn how to be good at the craft part of being a cinematographer or go find something else to do.
It’s not the camera (or the acquisition format), it’s YOU.
Every digital camera manufacturer is pushing hard to position their camera as the best tool for the job, and unfortunately, they’re also sending the message that their cameras are all you need to create the most amazing images ever captured. As professional cinematographers, we have a responsibility to educate directors and producers that it’s not the camera that’s most important, it’s the person behind the camera. Give Vittorio Storaro a camera phone and I guarantee he’ll create amazing images with it, and those images will be distinctly Storaro. It’s not the camera, it’s YOU.
Yes, I have missed out on some opportunities because someone believed the hype and chased a camera, but those producers and directors who did that learned the hard way that the camera doesn’t magically create great images by itself. An amateur with an expensive camera is still an amateur.
So, while I’d really prefer to have both film and digital available to me as tools (and I think we will for some time to come), I don’t believe that digital spells the end of the art and craft of cinematography. We’re just going through a rebirth right now, and birth is always painful. When Kodak introduced the first mass-marketed small camera, professional photographers thought their art had been killed. That turned out to not be the case, and this will turn out the same.