Hints For The News Cameramen
( Originally Published 1924 )
THERE will be a certain percentage of amateurs who will want to make their cameras pay for themselves. This can be done even more easily than is the case with still photography, for there is not the same competition. There is an active demand for news features, as may be easily seen by watching the material used in the usual news reel. The editors of these reels are more keenly aware of the short-comings of their films than are the members of their audiences, but one or two reels must be issued each week to fulfill contracts and such material as may be at hand must be used. These editors welcome any usable film and pay at the rate, usually, of one dollar per foot for all usable footage. In the case of foreign news events, this rate is doubled.
The great trouble with the amateur lies in his in-ability to recognize an event of real importance. You may live in some remote village where John Doe, world famous explorer has his summer home. You are more or less familiar with his appearance and his coming and going causes no more stir than if he were Richard Roe, the village Bonif ace. Now suppose that Mr. Roe's two story, frame hotel were to burn. You would rush out and make from two hundred feet up-ward of the conflagration. If you sold it, it would be for humorous use to show the antiquated fire fighting apparatus used, otherwise your film would be returned. If, however, you make the aquaintance of Mr. Doe, and can obtain a hundred feet or so of him while fishing, hunting, or even pruning his roses, the chances are that you will sell a goodly portion of it. Apply this test to your subjects; would they be of interest to you if they occured at some point a thousand miles distant? And, would they be of interest to some aquaintance of yours whose hobbies and interests are not yours? Would the occurrence deserve a place in a metropolitan newspaper? If the event fulfils all of these requirements, and if your technical work is first class, you will undoubtedly sell your film.
Now as to equipment. You will need a good camera, but because of excessive weight and bulk, the studio models are not advisable. Any good camera fitted to do straight work will serve, although the possession of a dissolve will add a finished touch to the film which the editor will appreciate. The Ertel, Universal, Ernemann, De Brie and others described herein are admirable, while the Ica Kinamo and Sept are very useful in obtaining pictures where the usual camera could not be used. The Sept is unusually useful in following rapidly and erratically moving subjects which could not be kept in the field with the usual parr' and tilt tripod.
The lens should have a maximum opening of f 2.9 to f 3.5. The lens of f 1.9 and larger apertures are difficult to use even at small aperture, for although these lenses are wonderful under severe lighting limitations, in practice it has been found that many of these lenses have a great discrepancy between chemical and vizual foci, necessitating the use of a blue focusing filter. f 3.5 is adequate for all usual work, indeed, you will probably use f 8 and smaller .in ninety per cent. of the cases. This lens should be of 50 mm. or two inch focus, as this- is the "standard" motion picture lens. If you contemplate photographing events where considerable attendance is expected, and provision is not made for official photographers, a 75 mm. (3 inch) lens may be preferred, as this will give a picture on the film fifty per cent. larger than that produced by the two inch lens, as is known to all photographers. When a second lens is to be purchased if the existing lens is a 50 mm. the second should be a four inch or 100 mm. If the existing lens is a 75 mm. the difference is not worth the cost of the 100 mm. lens, so a 150 mm. lens should be purchased. The 150 mm. (6 inch) lens used in cinematography is subject, in lesser degree, to the limitations imposed upon the telephotographer in still work, in that some quality of focus is lost, but the size of the image compensates for this, where it is impossible to get near to the subject. The third lens should be a 35 mm. lens for work in crowded places, and this may be second choice, according to the usual work which the cinematographer will do. The fourth lens should be one of f 1.9 aperture for interior work without lights, night work and so forth. The fore-going sequence is subject to individual variations, but the above will be advisable for the usual news man. More than four lenses will prove burdensome, and so rarely used that they are practically useless. In my professional work, I used a 50 mm. and a 75 mm. lens for about ninety-nine per cent. of my work.
The tripod must have a pam and tilt top, for other-wise many subjects would be lost while setting up. With the pam and tilt tripod, the camera is levelled in any horizontal plane and is then ready for work. Also moving subjects can be followed. Usually the pam crank moves about one revolution in five to fifteen seconds, so practice is required to operate the camera crank one hundred and twenty times per minute and with the other hand to operate the tripod crank at six or approximately six revolutions per minute and to operate both smoothly. This is best mastered by practicing with the empty camera as when learning to crank.
The film used is Eastman Standard Cine Film, par speed. In cold weather it is a form of insurance to use the X-back film, which has a coating designed to overcome static. The X-back film costs no more than the usual type. The special films such as super-speed, panchromatic and so on should not be stocked for news work, and in case some special work requires such film, notice is usually had sufficiently in advance to order it speedily. The panchromatic film should be used with a Wratten and Wainwright "K" filter, 1, 2 or 3, and this requires lengthened exposure, just as in still work.
A carrying case should be provided for the camera which is sufficiently substantial to support your weight, and the tripod should have sufficient extension to raise it above the heads of the crowd. Now suppose you are photographing a` parade. Extend the tripod legs to the utmost, set your carrying case behind the camera and within the rear legs of the tripod and stand upon it, thus, even if the crowd surrounds you, you can get your picture. A friendly word of warning will usually keep the individuals in the crowd from knocking the legs of the tripod. If you lose your temper you might as well quit.
In photographing a parade, set your camera so you will get a view quartering into the line of advance. If you attempt a broadside, the individual members of the parade will burst onto the screen, race across it and disappear before they can be seen by the spectators. If, however, you quarter into the line of advance, units of interest may be seen in advance and followed, and at the same time any given unit will remain upon the screen several times as long as in a broadside. A third reason for quartering has its basis in psychological law. When we observe any object we observe it first in mass, and then little by little we observe units of detail and finally the individual detail. We can observe the mass while an object is in the distance and as it comes closer to us we have a development of detail, just as we would in observing any object in life, so that in reality we lose nothing by first observing mass in the distance.
When photographing races this is also important in that at a given distance from the object and with a given shutter speed, there is far less blurring in a quartering view than in a broadside. In photographing a speeding express train, a passable photograph can be obtained with a box camera working at about 1/25 of a second, provided the picture is made approximately head-on. Remember this principle in your motion, work with fast motion.
Usually focusing must be done prior to the beginning of action, in the case of parades and similar action. The news man usually focuses by scale; and when the light is strong enough sets his diaphragm to obtain sufficient depth to have all objects in focus. Below is a table of hyperfocal distances for the 50 mm. lens. Everything from one-half this distance from the lens to infinity will be in focus sufficiently sharp for practical purposes.
f 1.9 70 feet
Thus, an opening of f 4.5 is entirely practical for street scenes; as everything from fifteen feet to infinity will be sufficiently sharp.
When photographing a single individual, fill the frame with him. If it is a man in public life making a speech, cut him at the waist or thereabouts, but allow sufficient room so that he cannot fling his hands out of the frame. Later, if you can, get a close-up, with your subject looking squarely into the lens and talking. However; do not get too much of this. Ten feet directly into the lens should be enough. Many news men follow the practice common in studios of having their subject look anywhere except into the lens. In the inexperienced subject, this almost always gives a sense of furtiveness which makes the spectators uneasy. However, if he looks squarely into the lens an instant, the psychological inhibition will be removed and he can and will look away quite naturally with no indication of conscious avoidance of the lens.
Have patience! Keep with your subject, when photographing a personage at work or at play, until he is used to the presence of the camera, and then get your film while he acts naturally.
News work is not essentially sensational. One news company issues a handbook for free-lances in which it states that pictures of animals, babies and pretty girls are always most acceptable. If you are going after physical pulchritude, go to the beach and get your beautiful mermaids in bathing suits. Remember that bathing suits made Sennet famous.
If you care to go after babies, remember that the baby in soiled clothes with a cheerful grin half obscured by jam will probably win the medal. If you can't get the grin get a squall. The beautified, curled and immaculate youngster is out of the running. The news reel wants laughs. Immaculate kiddies can be seen on any street any day, but the human youngster, dirty and heated from play wins the sympathetic smiles from passers-by.
Animals are good, from prize dogs in the show to a field mouse taken in the fields. Wild animals, on the whole, are better than domestic ones, because good wild animal pictures are rare. If you doubt the taking power of animals obtain information as to the net proceeds from the Johnson or Rainey African pictures. If you are in Florida, remember that to the bulk of the nation an alligator is as rare as a lion, or if you are in Oregon, the same applies to a bear.
In submitting your work to the news editor, enclose in the box, but not in the film can, a report which gives the scenes in chronological order. If personages are present, name them invariably from left to right. Give exposure, diaphragm, light, camera used, footage. Enclose in a film can, enclose can in a strong box and mail special delivery the same day as exposed. It is a good plan to have the can and box all ready. Carry a changing bag, and as soon as exposed, place magazine and can in the changing bag and make the transfer. Then the next day send in a copy of the report with newspaper clippings if any are available. The news company will develop your film, and if unacceptable will return it to you. It has been my experience that their washing is anything but thorough, so if you want to preserve your film, wash it as soon as it is received. If the film is accepted, of course, the negative is retained for the files of the company.
Review work is quite different from news work. It bears approximately the relation to news work that magazine articles do to newspaper items. Briefly, they are of general, rather than of timely, interest, so that a good review film would be as valuable a year from now as it is today. Review articles consist of travel pictures, scenics, popular scientific notes, animal, baby and girl pictures. The scenic is a good source of income, but the cinematographer must have his artistic sense as fully developed as that of the successful pictorialist. The scenes must be really beautiful, even if they possess an unusual degree of novelty. Another thing to remember is that you are making motion pictures. The best way to obtain motion is to introduce a figure. The human race is egotistical. The man and woman in the theatre like to see others of their kind. However, this figure must be appropriate to the scene. You should not introduce a woman in smart Fifth Avenue costume in a scene laid in the Canadian wilds. It would be far more sensible to use the Indian guide. Also, do not have your figure conscious of the camera. Have your guide walk into the picture with a pack on his back, and stop to rest, gazing at the scene which is being photographed. I once saw a lengthy and very beautiful scenic woven about the wanderings of a minstrel in the Scottish Highlands.
If you have a factory in your neighborhood where some article of common use is made, you can with a little ingenuity obtain up to five hundred feet of the salient points of manufacture, and the film will usually sell. If you are a worker in some scientific or other highly specialized work, remember that your work is unfamiliar to the public in detail, but that its results are probably important in everyday life. A motiograph of this work will prove interesting. In this work do not pad, do not include operations of no interest or which are approximated in other lines. If you are photographing the work in an automobile factory, do not photograph the man using a file. We all do that, but few of us have seen the delicate and almost human operation of an automatic lathe. Grab that!
Hunting and fishing pictures are good. Dogs in the field should go fine. Trained animals are not so good, but something exceptional would go. Travel pictures are good if you can get native types without apparent consciousness. This involves a point which the news photographer must watch in both news and review work. Mr. Common Man, when he sees a camera wants to stop and grin foolishly into the lens. He also wants to slow down and hog the screen. A good natured chaffing will usually win the crowd for you and keep them on the move. This requires more tact than any other part of your work.
In foreign fields, especially, be sure that there are no official objections to the use of the camera. Prior application will many times obtain official permission to photograph where unauthorized photography would result in prohibition or even confiscation of your camera and film.