A Key to Professional Camerawork

 Intention is senior to Mechanics.

When you mean to do something, no matter how small or big, no matter how simple or impossible, if one truly and purely intends to do it and then does it, it was the intention that carried it through to completion. It was the intention that guided all of the mechanics necessary to get it done. And by mechanics is meant tools and materials and stuff–and even the human body itself.

A short story:

I was once interviewing the employees of a rather bigger-than-life character.  A couple of the lads were on the back of his yacht shooting at targets in the sea with a .45 hand gun. They weren’t having much luck. And they weren’t aware they were being watched. Suddenly the old man tapped one of them on the shoulder and said, “Give me that”.

He took the .45 and “BLAM, BLAM, BLAM”, hit all three of the targets.

Then he handed back the gun and said, “Just hit it”, and left.

It reminded me of the Nike slogan, “Just Do It”.

You can add all matter of complexity into anything, most of which will prevent you from getting anything done–

If you think about it, all the best things you ever did or accomplished and which brought the greatest joy were driven by the purest of sheer intention. If you waver, you miss. Or you take a long time. Or produce a less than desired result.

I’m pretty sure this applies to Martial Arts and to the apparent miracles pulled off routinely by the best sportsmen and women around the world.

Intention is senior to mechanics.

So how does this apply to camerawork?

I had already sort of figured this out earlier in my camera career. By treating the camera as an extension of my eye and keeping my attention outward (whether I was on a tripod head, crane, dolly or hand-held) I was essentially eliminating a certain number of mechanical “vias” (like going from Point A to Point B via Point C, rather than going direct).

The trickiest was the Worrel geared head, and that’s where I sort of perfected my approach. With a geared head (designed for the heavy cinematography cameras) you’ve got one gear that does the pan and one gear that does the tilt, and you have to operate them together regardless of different speeds or degrees of movement of either the pan or the tilt. If you thought about it much, you simply couldn’t do it.

I’m sure you can think of similar complex actions that, once practiced, you execute “without thinking about it”. And when you find yourself thinking about it, you mess it up.

Another thing that complicated it was the need to hold your eye to the viewfinder on those big cameras–added to the fact that as you panned or tilted, sometimes the viewfinder was hard to keep your eye on–in which case you had no choice but to aim the camera like a gun.

So I used to sort of consider that cross hair in the viewfinder as a target that I would draw across the scene. I was well aware of composition needs, but by then that was second nature and tended to fall in place as I guided the cross hairs (and I’m talking about complex camera moves involving changing planes on multiple axes (plural of axis).

The advent of video assists suddenly eased some of the mechanics (no need to twist and crane your head and neck).

When I later heard the “just hit it” story, the full simplicity finally dawned on me. But it was with an understanding of the meaning of that statement.  Intention is senior to mechanics.

So in camerawork, what are the “mechanics”?

It covers the camera itself and all of its mechanisms, the lens and the subject of optics, film and the subject of exposure, the camera mount (tripod, dolly, crane, etc.) and head,  your hands, legs, eyes and everything else that holds that all together. And then there’s the stuff (people, objects, spaces) that move within your frame.  It’s all the physical stuff and there’s lots of it.

When you’re brand new, you worry about all of these things and you might say that you’re introverted into the mechanics. Your stuff probably even looks mechanical. But with knowledge, practice and experience, your attention goes more and more outward and the mechanics just become an extension of your intention when framing and composing scenes.

And that’s what it takes–knowledge, practice and experience.

Even this is a rather complicated explanation of something which is itself a simplicity when it comes to explaining good camerawork.

The short version is:

Just shoot it.


Just Do It!

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