Cinematography – mood vs beauty

One of the most important questions one needs to ask themselves as a cinematographer is, am I creating beautiful images or am I setting a tone to enhance the narrative? For a music video, where beauty is well respected and expected, this is a tough question to answer. It really boils down to the message we want to send across. At some point, for this particular project, the beauty and mood setting had to join hands and work with a balance.

Our story arc was pretty well defined, as to the message we wanted to send and to start my process, I pulled out theme words to define it and inform my planning and styling. Healing, intimacy, emotions were some of the words that stood out at first. Digging deeper, I found more words – Inner self, depression, sadness, happiness, ecstasy, dependency and relationships. On the basis of these words I decided I would use the healing arc to go from pale to warm and the colours to go from blue to red. Inadvertently, I had made my decision to go with setting a mood and tone to enhance our story instead of looking for beauty shots.

This affected everything – the wardrobe, the props, the make-up, the lighting and the colour balance we used. But you see, the cinematographer is a powerful powerful person and I still had a few tricks up my sleeves. Lenses, depth of field, framing shots and contrasts were still a little unaffected. Now, I’ve always wanted to shoot a music video and get beautiful shots!

This was my chance. With few to none mid shots, I made the decision of going wide and close up for most shots. Show the whole picture with small protagonists to show the loneliness and depression they were suffering and close ups to go hand in hand with intimacy. We also used a lot of tracking shots to create empathy, a feeling of being part of that world and for the audience to create connections with our characters.

Now, these things were thought of, but some things hadn’t come through my head. Like what lenses will we be using? Do we want a large depth of field, do we want blurry backgrounds? These decisions were made on set and due to the lack of planning , they were made with having the beauty aspect in mind. That shot with all that blurriness is absolutely beautiful. OMG, that contrast is perfect. Let’s do it!

Looking back now, I like to tell myself that I was still thinking of things like isolating the protag or using hard lighting in a moment of misery and that’s why I took the shots I did. But, that isn’t true at all, even though it worked out in the end. These things though so well thought through are very subjective from filmmaker to filmmaker and sometimes, not everything is as planned out as one would think.

Being a beautiful music video, our films needed the beauty aspect, but that aspect found its place in the mix on the film sets and not before. For me, this helped find a great balance and I personally think as a cinematographer I need to think of the narrative, the emotions and the audience when I plan and then use that planning and manipulate it to be as beautiful as possible. Who said beauty is only skin deep? A well-planned thing can be more beautiful sometimes.

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