When it comes to digital photography and cinematography, Damon Webster has storytelling in his DNA. It has been his lifelong passion, his craft and his career. And his career is one that most shutterbugs can only dream of achieving.
He’s photographed Bruce Springsteen.
And Dizzy Gillespie.
And Joni Mitchell.
He has serious advertising agency street cred.
I recently asked Damon if he could share some of his insights regarding today’s trends in cinematography, how he approaches his work and what advice he would give to those wanting to learn more about this compelling storytelling medium.
Understand the Importance of Sound: Unlike still photography, videography incorporates not only movement but also sound, and this aspect is sometimes overlooked. “Sound recording is critical,” he says. “Sound is fifty percent of your project.” He then quips, “Unless it’s bad. Then it’s eighty percent.”
While Damon doesn’t often use video from a DSLR as this solution doesn’t work well for his particular purposes, he recommends that those wanting to explore this method record audio with an outboard rig, such as a Zoom H4n and a quality microphone. “Plural Eyes is good for then syncing the audio to the picture.”
Damon’s work is indeed unique. “I come from an advertising production background, traveling around the world with 45 cases of gear to shoot a 30 second commercial.” He adds that today’s technology allows consumers and advertisers a lower-cost alternative to getting their message out to the masses. The barrier to entry of telling your story or promoting a business through cinematography is far lower than even a few years ago. You don’t need 45 cases of gear, but you do need to understand some differences in cinematography versus still shooting.
Look At Your Lighting: “Lighting considerations are hugely different from still photography,” Damon counsels. “As you move a camera around a subject, the quality of lighting needs to remain high. You can’t rely upon a static setup.” Damon adds that power considerations and heat from the continuous lamps must also be recognized and addressed.
Abandon Auto Focus: While auto focus works well in many still photography situations, when it comes to shooting video, the requirements are different. “We’ve all become to accustomed to auto focus that using manual focus can be a shock to someone getting started,” Damon says. “Being able to effectively follow focus is an important skill; you need to know how to keep your image sharp where you want it to be.”
Damon states that another common mistake with beginning cinematographers is that they keep the camera in a static position and let the action pass by the lens. “This is the movies. Keep the camera moving for a more dynamic shot.”
Know What You Don’t Know: “It’s important to take the time to get to know your gear,” Damon advises. You need to learn the functions you’ll be using. Read the manual, experiment, or take a workshop. Once you have a basic understanding of how your camera works, you’ll be in a better position to experiment and build on that knowledge.
Understand Your Subject: Damon states that while each project is unique, one thing remains the same. “Solid research on your subject is critical. They need to know that you are familiar with their work. Preparation is key.” Damon says that he often writes out interview questions in advance and works out ideas ahead of time. He’s also a big advocate of quality editing. “An eye to the edit process is key.”
So, what’s Damon doing now?
While continuing to produce ad campaigns, Damon is always juggling other projects highlighting his passion. One such venture is photoinduced.com, a popular digital photography community and online resource for enthusiasts of all skill levels. The site currently averages over a million hits per month and has a loyal following of still and video photographers.
Damon also continues to interview masters of photography to explore and share their perspectives on their craft as well as a ‘What’s in the Bag’ series that asks working photographers what they carry and why their set of gear works best for their needs (to see what Damon carried at SXSW this year).
When asked what advice he would give those hoping to make a career in the industry, Damon’s advice is to the point. “Start at the bottom working for the person you most respect. Work hard and rise.”