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Lighting for Drama Workshop

For well over 15 years I have been an active, enthusiastic and proud member of the Guild of Television Cameramen. In fact, I was on the GTC’s council some years ago, until the pressures of work meant I could no longer afford the time needed to serve the membership as they deserve.

This organisation has been run by and for the unsung heroes of television, the cameramen, who invest their lives in the practice of the art and craft of making the pictures that ensure at least the best broadcast and corporate television is the world-class art-form most people take for granted.

Of course, television camerawork involves the use of highly sophisticated and rapidly changing technologies. Much of the equipment we use today did not exist even just a few years ago. So the guild produces and distributes a variety of very high quality publications to help the membership keep-up with the constant stream of new products and technologies that offer all sorts of opportunities to shoot in new ways and to produce new or better imagery or to work more efficiently etc. The GTC also organises training workshops for the members to get in-depth and hands-on training in the most exciting and complex of these new tools.

But the core of a television cameraman’s craft is photography. The use of cameras, to capture light in such a way as to make emotive pictures. The basic principals of this craft have never, and do not change. We have to design, create and capture the light on our subjects, be they a talking head, which we record for later editing, and subsequent launching to the www, or a vast event with thousands of people in an arena watching a live performance by great artists or a spectacular sporting occasion with an televisual audience, numbered in the hundreds of millions, around the world, watching our work live.

Within the cohort of television cameramen there are people who specialise in shooting every different genre; news, documentaries, sport, light entertainment, natural history, dramas, corporate communications etc. and then there are some who are very narrowly focussed, such as cameramen who combine their other skills and passions, for instance, mountaineering, diving, flying, skiing, time-lapse, food etc. And some of us are nearing retirement whilst others are much younger and much less experienced and trying to find their future disciplines. So at any one time we have people who are looking for new opportunities and trying to break into areas of the craft that are often extremely difficult to enter and so acquiring the specialist skills is also very difficult. So the guild also organises workshops to help members learn the skills required in specialist genres to aid those who wish to migrate. Recently these have included, shooting on studio pedestals and studio practice and shooting with drones.

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The most recent was, Lighting for Drama, held on the 28th of this month. Always keen to learn more, even in areas of my craft where I am already very experienced and skilled, this was another workshop right up my street. This intensive workshop was held in a large professional London studio with; a 3 wall room-set, an industry standard Arri Alexa camera, a set of beautiful Cooke S4i prime lenses and a wide selection of lighting. There was also a full compliment of drama camera crew, a digital imaging technician (DIT) and a lighting crew, all headed by Director of Photography, Nick Dance. After a brief review of Nick’s vast experience and work by his heroes who inspire him, he introduced his crew and described their roles. He then discussed his philosophy and general approach, depending on the type of film, the script and the Director’s method. The second half of the workshop started with discussing the way he had pre-rigged the lighting of the set. Then they shot the scene, featuring 2 actresses, showing the way the lighting, the depth of field and the filters are adjusted, shot by shot.

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DIT, James Marsden, also added in a huge amount of very interesting information, explaining how his approach involves far more than just data wrangling. He makes personal logs of all the shots he backs up, he opens the clips to see the pictures and puts them on a timeline, in the appropriate editing platform or in After Effects, to ensure they can be keyed and otherwise treated as appropriate to the highest standards and quickly. He identifies and quarantines any memory cards that may be causing concern and feeds back to the DP as he works.

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First Assistant Cameraman, Stephen Janes, talked us through his work and the way he uses and stacks his filters providing explanation and insight based on his lifetime of experience working at the top of the industry.

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Once again Clive North, who organises the GTC workshops, put together a superb event, attended by about 90 professional cameramen and women from across the country, all of whom are passionate about their craft. So, we had another excellent day of personal professional development and a valuable networking opportunity that made for a great day, with some of the best practitioners of the art of television camerawork, anywhere, in the audience and presenting.

Photography, John Tarby FRPS and my friend.

I am a creative Photographer and Filmmaker. I also work as a Lighting Cameraman & Director of Photography, in television, film and digital media.