Okay I admit to having really liked Star Trek. I am a fan. I’ve never gone to a convention or dressed up so don’t go there. But I like the series, the concept and the execution. Of the movies, I can say most have disappointed. Wrath of Khan was very good but the new Star Trek is the best so far.
I plan on watching the new movie several times. I want to study it for different reasons each time. The next time I see it I plan to do a shot-by-shot analysis of the cinematography.
But I can already tell you that if you’re a photographer, there’s something to learn from even a casual viewing of this movie.
Here’s my takeaway…
1. Be a visual storyteller. If you want your photography to really resonate, tell stories with your camera. Star Trek is so well crafted that you could watch it with no dialogue and figure out what was happening. That’s no small accomplishment. Visual storytelling is not an easy concept for some to grasp. And certainly not an easy concept to write about or teach in a short blog post. But you can get some sense of what it means by simply watching this movie.
2. Think big. There are many big shots in this movie. I always try to take an establishing shot when I get to a new location. Something that takes in the entire setting for reference. In Star Trek the use of big, breathtaking, wide, iconic, sweeping shots is completely amazing. It aides the visual storytelling by keeping everything in context. The movie would seem like a TV show without the big shots. So if you as a photographer are shooting something that is indeed big, don’t make it small by just concentrating on details. Give us some context too.
3. Use technique to help establish style. Too many photographers avoid confronting the fact that their imagery lacks style. This too is a soft concept that just hangs out there in the void of space for some. It went over my head for a long time. Then someone explained it to me like this. When you see an Ansel Adams photograph can you tell it’s one of his without looking at the signature? I realized I could indeed. That’s because Adams had a recognizable style. The cinematographer in this movie used several techniques to achieve a style that represents his approach to his craft. Lens flare, shaky camera work (not MTV style or overboard but enough so that shots didn’t look TOO perfect or too static) and lots of big, sweeping panoramas helped define a recognizable style for Daniel Mindel’s cinematography.
4. Don’t forget the light. What makes some of the Star Trek scenes memorable is the lighting. The lighting shifts when the bad guys are on screen. It shifts again when the good guys are on screen. This simple device aides in the visual storytelling giving subtle clues to the audience that they are probably not even aware of, but which help underscore what’s going on.
Now I realize this post is just a group of rambling thoughts but I want to give you an exercise that can tie it all together. You may have even seen me use this before, but it works here as well.
Entire, Details, Focal Length, Angle, Time
Daniel Mindel uses each of these very effectively in Star Trek. He starts off with LOTS of ENTIRE. There are more big sweeping scenes in this movie than a Kevin Costner western. And they work. Midel does give us details, but not in the usual way. Instead of hackneyed close-ups of the iconic Star Trek stuff, he shows us new details by photographing the inner bowels of the Enterprise. Midel changes focal length often in this movie which gives us lots of interesting looks at the cool visuals. He uses angle masterfully to help give us perspective. Lastly, Mindel uses time to illustrate how things work. He slowed down the impact sequences so we could study what was happening in a way that again, helped to tell the story.
This is a big movie and a big subject and it might be too big for a blog post. But my goal here is to get everyone thinking about ways we can learn more about photography by studying other artists who work in visual media.
Live long and prosper.
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