DP. It stands for director of photography (DoP for you British types. Two simple letters. D. P. It's funny how much is communicated when you add a few letters before or after your name.
In each of these examples, these letters truly mean something. They mean you've take some sort of extended training and education to earn the right to add those titles to your name. It will be very easy for the average lay person to know if you have the goods.
Not so when it comes to the letters DP. The way that term gets thrown around and added to people's names, you'd think someone is passing them out on the street corner like flyers. But come on, let's be real. Are you truly a Director of Photography?
Let Their Be Light
So, let's shine some light on the sitch, shall we? According to Wikipedia a DP is…
Just for the record, I know the term and title goes beyond film crews. But the part I want to hone in on is the “artistic and technical decisions related to the image.”
Artistic, as in “that related to the creativity of the art.”
Technical, as in “that related to the science of light and gear.”
So I ask the question to those of you who so freely and easily add this title to your moniker. Are you truly engaging in the artistic and technical direction of the light used to create the images you are creating (i.e. a DP) or are you just putting up the lights and fiddling with them in a somewhat 3-point system so the guy's face isn't too dark? (i.e. a light putter-upper).
I have been hired in the past to “DP” projects. This is where I come in and I'm chiefly responsible for the lighting and camera operation. For most of my own gigs that I shoot, I do this. And I'm pretty darn good if I do say so myself. But, for now, I do NOT use the term DP to describe myself because I know that I have a long way to earn that title. In fact, I don't think I'll ever use that term because frankly, that's not my forte nor do I want it to be.
I was really awakened to that fact last summer when I participated in the local 48 Hour Film Project and brought in a real DP. Shortly after I arrived at the rental house and was picking out a few lights, the real DP arrived and started picking way more gear I never even thought of. Gels. Additional lights. C-stands and clamps. Power supplies. I was immediately humbled and so thankful I brought in someone who know what he was doing.
Then I saw the excellent lighting video (below) by Eve Hazelton-Reynolds, DP for “The Underwater Realm.” What I would have approached as a simple 3-point lighting set up, she took to a whole new level. (And by the way, if you don't know what I mean by 3-point lighting set up, you REALLY had best not be using the term DP).
Playing the Role
But there's good news. Even if you truly don't deserve to put those two little letters after your name, that doesn't mean you can't play the role and maximize your craft. The key to remember is the “D” part: director. Think about the role the way you'd think about a project if you were directing it.
- Pre-production. Don't just rent a Diva 400 and a Lowell light kit and show up on a shoot. Determine ahead of time the look and feel for the project. What moods do you want to set? What themes do you want to explore? Work with the director (if it's not you) to figure all of this out and come up with a real lighting design.
- Production. As I mentioned earlier, on most of the shoots I do, I'm manning the camera, setting the lights, etc. Learn how to do all the production-related tasks well.
- Post production. By this stage of the game, your job as “DP” is done. However, how the project will be edited may play a huge role in how you light it. Will there be green and blue screening? Will there be a lot of color grading? Will visual effects be added? Be kind to the editor and light your jobs in such a way to minimize post production work.
I'm sure there will be no shortage of opinions as to this topic. Have at it. Next week I tackle the question: “Are you a director, or just a camera pointer.”
Ron Dawson is an award-winning filmmaker better known as a producer and director (but he sometimes pretends to be a DP). He's an avid blogger, podcaster, husband and father. He writes about the art and business of filmmaking and photography at DareDreamerMag.com.
(cover photo credit: snap from Ron Dawson)