Effort and hard work, at the end they are the only things you can truly control. When I am asked for advice in my line of work this is the first thing I tell people. Bringing unmatched motivation to be the best will set you a part from the competition. But Chad, don’t you have to be good at what you do? Yes, this goes with out saying. But you won’t be the best you can be unless you are bringing that hard working mindset to every shoot. I realize that every shoot is different with some being “more interesting” than others but when I arrive at a location for a shoot I “turn it on” no matter if I am shooting the Super Bowl for NFL Films or shooting family portraits for a local client.
Pushing yourself to be the best will ultimately improve your skill and give you the confidence needed to be in charge creatively. At the end of the day you have to decide what type of professional you want to be. Even when you get to a point in your career that is considered the “top” the hard work does not end. There are always ways to improve and continue to push yourself. I can tell you from experience that people will want to work with those they can trust. As a cinematographer you need to have the confidence in your ability to think on the fly and make the best out of situations that are not ideal. These skills will set you a part from others and will put you in a great position to get more work from more clients. People talk, your reputation will get around good or bad.
My next advice to add is: In the moment you don’t know what you are doing, you need to pretend like you know what you are doing and work through it to get the job done. When your confidence waivers so does the confidence of others that are depending on your skills as a creative professional. That’s not to say you can’t talk and ask questions. Communication among a crew is so crucial to the group moral and end product. I am a true believer of treating the people that work with you with respect and show them value. This will again instill confidence and do nothing but help the overall project.
If you are reading this as someone that is up and coming, remember to soak everything in like a sponge. Learn as much as you can. Research as much as you can. Respect the professionals that are there to help you learn. Do not take the learning position as a slight to your skill. In this profession you can’t just be good at capturing pretty shots, there is much more to it than that. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen be able to take a cinema type camera and get some pretty shots but they don’t understand the concepts of light and composition unable to light an interview for example. Attention to detail, truly “seeing shots” before they become shots, these type of things really matter.
One of the best things you can do as a young cinematographer is go grab a still camera and just shoot. Try to tell a story with 1 frame. Compose and find the light for one frame. Once you start mastering this, having multiple frames at your finger tips and truly “seeing” becomes like second nature.
So remember, work hard, listen, really open your eyes to see creatively and push yourself to be the best. Have value in your character and if you are meant for the profession it will come.