Written by : Vance Uribe
Over the course of my career as an outdoor adventure photographer to becoming a commercial cinematographer, I've had the pleasure of failing far more than I have succeeded. I say this because these failures have defined my work and drive to continue to chase success, whatever that means. I guess my point is, failure is the scariest part of becoming a cinematographer, or creative at all for that matter, and I'd be damned if I didn't accept failure as part of the process and having some help along the way didn’t hurt either. One of the cliches you will hear often is that no two people will have the same career path and that can be extremely frustrating because there isn't really a "right" path to take. My best advice is learn all you can from everyone you can and take that collective information to find your flow. Here are five tips that helped me along my career that I hope will help you too.
Invest in Yourself
Become a student at the University of YouTube! I can't tell you how often I have people contact me about how to do something on a camera or edit, even people who have been in this industry longer, when the answer is right there for free. I've learned a good deal of my knowledge from youtube and a lot of trail and error. The amount of information you're able to access for free blows my mind. Learning on youtube can be time consuming and it's tough to find all the information you may need in one place. Ways around this would be to find a workshop that you can afford that will help you improve your craft. Invest in yourself before you buy that new camera so you can flex. Just remember that mastering your craft is just as important as getting new gear.
Channels to check out on youtube: Mark Bone is a director that shares industry secrets. It's probably the channel I've learned most from. He also has a course you can pay for called The Art of Documentary. I've taken this course and can recommend highly to anyone looking to pursue documentary or commercial cinematography.
Follow the Passion, Not the Hype
The newest camera in the world won't make you a better filmmaker and comparing yourself to others on Instagram won’t make you more confident. The creative venture is a personal artistic quest and even though there are rules in cinema you should learn, there is nothing keeping you from breaking them. So remember that if you have any camera or even an iPhone, you can create films. If you’re following people on social media that make you jealous, unfollow them and only follow those that inspire you. Don’t waste your time thinking you aren’t good enough because of gear or followers, use that time instead to practice and improve your skill. And the best gear isn't always the newest or most expensive so here is a gear recommendation for anyone who shoots video. The Helios 44-4 f2 58mm is $60 on amazon. This is a vintage manual lens and you will need an adapter for whichever camera you have but the image is one of the most unique and is always in my camera bag.
Find Your Industry
There are very different routes you can take to becoming a cinematographer. When you first start out you will likely be shooting in a variety of industries. Everyone needs to make money, but as your career blossoms you'll need to figure out what style of work and which industry you're going to focus on. A few examples of video industries would be weddings, corporate, commercial or broadcast (TV) and movies or Hollywood being at the top. Understanding the different industries and where you want to focus your time and efforts will keep you in line to your goal. Many if not all cinematographers work in multiple industries to have enough work. Just don't pick too many or you will dilute your portfolio. In today's world, standing out is a little harder, but there is ways to become known. Which brings me to my next point.
Finding Your Style
This one is tough because in the beginning of a lot of video careers, you have to just take any job you can get and there usually isn't the most creative freedom. The sooner you can find a style, the sooner you'll gain recognition for what your niche in the market is. As a freelancer, the jack of all trades sounds appealing, but Mercedes is never going to call you if they see your work is all over the place. At least when it comes to your website or showreel. Try to find a niche or style that you feel you will excel in, that you’re passionate about, and go after that market full force. If your resources are scattered on all these different industries, it will be harder to break into the work you really want to do. If you do want to shoot car commercials and no one is hiring you because you don’t have that in your portfolio, go shoot it on your own. Grab some friends and a cool car and make a “spec ad” or otherwise, fake commercial. This is a great way to showcase what you’re capable of and build up your portfolio for the future.
Making a Showreel
This last tip brings everything you have learned together, your showreel. This is the quickest way to get your work noticed or get hired as a cinematographer. A showreel will be a collection of all your best work in a short but sweet edit. There is no right or wrong way to make this but you want to try to show your best clips, client work and your skills/style with a camera, edit or whatever you're capable of creating. This is where creating a spec ad really helps if you don’t have the client base to make the reel you want to showcase. You can also find plenty of inspiration by looking at your favorite filmmakers reels, most have one. Over your career you’ll begin to progress and update your showreel and it's really awesome for seeing your growth as an artist.Cinematography is a tough job and the more successful you become, the harder it can get. I think saying that is important, you should know what you're getting into but, embrace the failures along the way and they will shape you into a better creator, I promise. Let's be honest about why we do this. We do it for the long hours, for the sweat and tears and to come back with images that inspire us. We don't just do this because it's fun, we do it because it makes us who we are. Now go shoot and pour your heart out!