Improve Your Cinematography | Creating Suspense



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The same location can be shot hundreds of different ways. You have to let the story you are trying to tell inform your lighting and camera angles. Being aware of how your choices affect the overall feeling of a project is one of the fundamentals skills needed in cinematography. Today, director of photography Laura Odermatt walks us through how to shoot a suspense scene that takes place inside of a phone booth, with specific attention to shooting with reflections.

In this video, Laura shows us the steps she takes when shooting a suspense scene using a phone booth. First, she establishes the scene with a wide angle push-in shot. This sets the tone and the location for the scene. Next, she comes around for an over the shoulder of the character looking at herself in a reflection. This shot allows for a more interesting take on a close-up shot. Then, she pulls out for a profile shot that includes the shadow of the antagonist character coming up behind her. The compressed space in this shot makes the threat feel more immediate. Lastly, she shoots an insert of the character’s phone being dropped as she runs away. This shows the ending of the scene through a unique camera angle.

The main techniques we will be discussing today for shooting with reflections are always wearing black when you’re behind the camera, lighting your subject brighter than the background, and adding texture to reflective surfaces. Wearing black when you’re behind the camera refers to any crew members who are going to be standing behind the camera during a shot. This way they are less likely to appear in the reflection. Lighting your subject brighter than the background means ensuring your subject is brighter than anything else that may also cause reflection. Since glass is only semi-reflective, any bright object behind the glass is going to be distracting in the shot. Adding texture to reflective surfaces means spraying water or adding some other material. Depending on the goal of the shot, texture can add visual interest to the shot, and play up the reflection aspect.

At the end of the day, implementing the visual style that best suits your project is going to be the most important thing. Whether that’s using reflections to show a character’s emotions, or using neon lighting to create a colorful environment for your characters. Whatever your project is, try whenever you can to think outside of the box with your visuals. That will help make your project stand out amongst all the others.

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