Moving between cinematography and photography / by Glenn Dixon

Sometimes I think like a cinematographer and at other times like a photographer. Often my creative intentions are beyond the capability of the specific tool in hand. If I happen to have a still camera around my shoulder, I sometimes wish the pictures could move and vice versa. On a boat in Antarctica, a photographic mentor explained that he could tell I was a cinematographer as my photographs felt 'cinematic'. I'm still not quite sure what that meant. At times I feel stuck in limbo between the two mediums.

The moving image differers fundamentally to photography and must be approached with careful consideration. The elements that create a powerful photograph are not strictly interchangeable with motion picture imagery. While they share commonalities you cannot simply copy and paste.

The addtion of time changes everything. Photographers press an eye to the viewfinder in eager anticipation. They have one frame to tell a story. The decisive moment at the peak of the action lures them like a trophy. Cinematographers perceive action a little differently, they think in sequences. The record button is triggered, the action commences, climaxes and then looses momentum. Master cinematographers sense how much lead in to include before the action peaks and how to nurse us through the come down. Cinematographers move the camera through a space in a graceful and fluid motion. The camera seems to invite the action, the composition beckons the subject/s to move through the space within. Cinematographers are not concerned with each frame being a beautifully crafted frame worthy of being hung on a gallery wall. The consideration is on the shot as a whole and how the shot will move into the next. The movement from beginning to end. They have the flexibility of allowing the subject to move in and out of the frame at will, something that is rather rare in photography.

If you switch between the two mediums frequently as I do, you must be aware of the side-effects. Photographers making the shift to motion picture work often reveal traces of their alternate lifestyle. Some giveaways include zooming in and out sharply to re-frame the action during the shot and/or sudden and violent adjustments to focus.