Are you looking or seeing?
Have you ever hired a video crew that never captured what you wanted? I have an idea how this might have happened. It has to do with understanding the difference between the way humans and cameras see.
Let’s take a hypothetical assignment to shoot a conversation between three people. You say, “Shoot this conversation between Charlie and Bob and Sally.” The director asks, “Anything specific you want to show?” No. Just the three of them. In other words, have the camera look at the conversation. OK, done. “But, wait, this isn’t right! How come we can’t see the looks Charlie gives Sally.” Well, actually you can. The glances are there, they are just not obvious because the camera only looked at the scene – highlighted nothing, noted nothing in particular, focused on nothing specific. The looks are there, of course, because everything is there. But they are just an unimportant part of all the rest of the action and easy to miss. Since you are now asking for a very directed focus and have explained the purpose of the scene in a very specific way your video crew can give you want you want. Because the camera is a non-selective, everything-equal watcher, they’ll need to reset the camera and the lighting to be certain that the camera looks at this important, silent interaction.
Is it right now? Not quite, says you, “I thought we’d be able to see that Charlie doesn’t want Bob to see his looks at Sally.” Aha. That additional piece of information tells the director how to reframe the shot; to look at it in a way that shows that Bob is deliberately kept out of the line of sight between Charlie and Sally. Again, they’ll set the camera and lighting, slightly shift the position of the three actors and look again.
Video Looks. The Eye Sees.
Anyone – as you imagined the shot – sitting in the room with Bob, Charlie and Sally might have picked up on the secret glances between Charlie and Sally and the fact that Bob was not a part of the exchange. Why? Because a person sees. He can pick what to look at, selectively shift his focus, watch the background or the foreground, the taping foot, the sweaty brow. True, a person could miss it all and remain oblivious because he wasn’t paying attention, but none the less he has the opportunity to see. Not true with video. The camera only looks where it is aimed and focussed. It has to be set and focused properly, the lighting has to be done just so in order to direct the viewer to see what is important. The camera has to be specifically directed to be a see-er.
Not understanding this distinction can lead to some wrong assumptions about camera’s capability to duplicate the human eye. A smart client and a smart director will always talk in detail about a scene before shooting. Once the director understands the client’s goals for a particular scene the director can interpret them so that the shot is set up to see the client’s vision rather than just to look at the scene. It may seem nutty to have to go into such detail, but understanding the difference between looking and seeing can reveal why.
The devil is in the details. It is important to share your ideas and your vision of the outcome with the people who are carrying out your tasks. I am amazed at how often this doesn’t happen and how simple the fix. Has this happened to you? Either as a director or a client?