Fundamentals of Cinematography: Three Techniques of Subjective Storytelling | Piotr Złotorowicz | Skillshare

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Fundamentals of Cinematography: Three Techniques of Subjective Storytelling

teacher avatar Piotr Złotorowicz, Screenwriter & Director

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Subjectivity is King


    • 3.

      Textbook Character Introduction


    • 4.

      Visualizing Your Character's Perception


    • 5.

      Be Subjective - Don't be Exact


    • 6.

      Class Project


    • 7.

      Good Luck!


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About This Class

Learn how to engage your audience by telling the story subjectively, thorough the eyes of your main character.

I’m Piotr Złotorowicz, and I’m best known as a director and screenwriter, but I still remember the times when I was my own cinematographer. Since I went to Polish National Film School, I had the pleasure of working with many Directors of photography. The best ones use the camera mainly to mimic the perception of the main hero. You can recognize an excellent Cinematographer by his thought process.

In this inspiring 30-minute class, I’m going to walk you through the creative process of how to be intentional with your camera. How to quickly find the perspective of your main hero, so you can engage your audiences emotionally.

Key lessons include:  

  • Characteristics of an excellent DOP
  • 3 techniques of telling the story through your character
  • Simple tools to find visual metaphors 
  • Questions you need to ask the director 

No need for fancy equipment, technical know-how or a large film crew; I’ll give you the knowledge that will allow you to walk onto a set and bring the scene to life in a most compelling way possible.

By the end of this class, you’ll have the confidence and inspiration to film your own story like a pro! 


If you have found this class helpful, please check out my other video classes here on Skillshare:

Film Directing: Learn to Stage Stunts in Your Film

Jump-Start to Screenwriting: Everything You Need to Know to Write Your First Script

Write your script with free version of CELTX

Learn to Write Powerful Turning Points by Analyzing 'Joker'

Learn to Write Plot Driven Films by Analyzing 'Arrival'

Meet Your Teacher

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Piotr Złotorowicz

Screenwriter & Director


I'm an academic teacher at Polish National Film School, a screenwriter, an award-winning director, and an online film teacher here on Skillshare.

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Level: Beginner

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1. Welcome: This is an introductory course for people interested in becoming directors of photography. Hi, I'm pure water, which we're always making my first movies. I was my own cinematographer, editor and sometimes an actor. This is me in 2004 shooting first independent short film with my friends. And here it's me again on the set of my first feature that was produced by comma close. Now it's 2022, and this film is premiering at film festivals. So over the years, I learned that your growth as a filmmaker will be much quicker if you'll get your basics right. That's why I've come up with the series of courses that are going to teach you the fundamentals of cinematography one by one. In this particular course, we are going to talk about what it means to tell the story through the eyes of your main character. Now, you know that your audience wants to be engaged in your character's journey, right? They want to vote for him, share his victories, and empathize with him when he's down. You can help them to be closer to the character with your cinematograph. In this class, I'll show you three techniques that will let your audience experienced the story through your main character. To give you the practical examples, I'm going to analyze scenes from two of my movies, both of which were beautifully shot by Nicolas via guess. The first one, normal people has been awarded for cinematography at camera in each International Film Festival. And the other one, Mother Earth, was awarded by Locarno International Film Festival. I'm super proud of this award since Sukarno is one of ten most important film festivals in the world. So we add, hopefully, see you in the class. 2. Subjectivity is King: Thank you for taking my class. Please remember that at anytime you can speed up or slow down to less than tempo if you want. I usually watch lectures with 1.5 speed. However, during this classes, I will be showing you examples, seeds. If you choose to speed up or slow down the lesson tempo, just remember to turn it back to normal whenever you will be washing the example since. So let's start the course by defining who is the director of photography. More cinematographer or director of photography, who is sometimes shortened to DP or DOP, is the person responsible for photographing or recording of a film, television production, music video, or other live-action piece. The cinematographer is the chief of the camera and light crews and would normally be responsible for making artistic and technical decisions related to the image and for selecting the camera, film, stock, lenses, filters, etc. This study and practice of this field is referred to as cinematograph. Are we going to use the term cinema photography and videography interchangeably? So, videography is simply the production of video from conception to the final product. Generally in small scale, ranging from a team of a few individuals to a single person who does everything from shooting the video to editing. In recent times, mainly because of the advancements in video capture and video editing technology, the line between cinematography and videography has blurred. Many videographers have begun calling themselves cinema and rafters. For me personally, it's more about the mindset than the technology. If the guy is purposeful in his approach to visual storytelling, I don't care what kind of technology he is using. It doesn't matter if the footage is for the cinema TV or it's meant to be streamed on the Internet. So being purposeful in telling the story is what separates camera men from directors of photography. Now, this purpose or intention has to come from someone that is overseeing every other department. That person is the director of the movie. The director of photography is a subordinate of the director task with capturing a scene with accordance with director's vision. Now, relations between the cinematographer and the director may vary. In some instances, the director will allow the cinematographer a complete independence, while in other, the director will allow little to none, even going as far as to specify exact camera placement and ligands selection. Now, the director will typically convey to the cinematographer what is wanted from a scene visually and allow the cinematographer some leverage in achieving that effect. When you are preparing to shoot a scene, the most important information that a cinematographer can receive from the director is who is the main character here. This decision alone will impact every choice you will make while shooting your camera should adopt a point of view of the main hero. Is that simple, yet there are many creative paths that you can approach this challenge. In this short course, we are going to talk about the most important ones. Now, in many movies, there is only one protagonist and it's fairly easy to figure out who's the point of view that we need to adapt. However, there are a lot of films that were, the perspective may change in every scene. This kind of films are called plot driven. If you want to find out more about the difference between character-driven or plot driven films. You can check out this course where I analyze arrival, but please do it after. You've watched this one till the end. So the most important thing here is that you need to think about whose perception the camera is going to emulate before you're going to shoot the scene. And if you're not sure, you need to ask the director about it. Throughout the years, I heard different versions of this question like, who's the hero? Or which character is the most important in the scene? Or there is my favorite one. What does the scene about? It's basically the same question. And as I said before, usually you'll have one main character who is going to be the protagonist of the story and the camera is going to follow his or her perception. Just to show you what I mean, Let's watch a scene from my film, normal people is the one of the short films I made when I was a student of Polish national films called inward. It's the one that receives the cinematography award at comedy much, I quote, a world famous festival dedicated to the celebration of the cinematography and recognition of cinematographers. End of quote. We're going to watch the first scene from that film. While you will be watching the scene, ask yourself Who the main protagonist here is? Local. So you've seen the scene, right? Pretty obvious. The prisoner is the hero, right? Even though you don't really see his face clearly from the beginning, you can tell that the camera is following him. You can tell that you see the world with his eyes, right? These are all decisions that we had to make in order for you to adapt his point of view. Now, there are many ways you could have achieved this effect. You don't really have to have this moving camera, or you can show his face from the beginning. In the next lecture, we are going to discuss a more traditional way of introducing the main character. See you there. 3. Textbook Character Introduction: In a previous lecture, the character was introduced with a bit of a mystery and not showing the character right away is a nice way of sparking curiosity and audience. Me and my cinematographer wanted to introduce this character by his circumstances. We showed the first that he is in some kind of correctional facility and then we properly introduced him. Now, you don't really have to do it like that. In this lecture, I'm going to show you the beginning of a different film is Mother Earth. In this one, we introduced our main character in a very textbook way. Let's watch the first scene of Mother Earth. Dot, dot, dot, my tick. Tick. Magic. Magic will be a setup. Now, as you've noticed, the boy is our main hero. We begin with our character present in the frame when he wakes up, he's alone. So we will naturally find him in the frame and consider him the most important. When he stands up, even though he is in the shadow, his presence is still very strong in the frame. And when he moves towards the window, the camera moves with him. These are very clear indications that here's our main hero, even though we introduced this rather unusual the shot of the hand mark on a glass and the boy left the frame. We still feel his presence in the proximity of the camera. Then the scene ends with a boy running outside through the window, now showing the fading mark of the hand on the glass. A way to highlight the boy connection to the nature, which is a major theme in the film. As I said before, we introduced this theme, but we were still not losing the attention on the boy. When you were watching the mark on the palm fading on a glass, you could hear him dressing up and alarming his father. And then the scene ends when you see him running outside through the window. So even though the camera doesn't see the boy, we, the audience still remain focused on the main hero. I would say that my first advice Is the focus, viewers attention on the protagonist is to begin the scene with him and then end the scene with him as well. In this scene, the boy woke up alone at the beginning, and then it ends up when we see him running outside. In the previous film, normal people. The scene begins with a character walking through the prison and it ends when he is exiting the visiting room. So this is the first technique. Begin the scene with your main hero and end the scene with him as well. In the middle of the scene, you have some time to focus on the character's perception. To really show the world with his eyes in Mother Earth. It was the hand on the glass. So by observing the fading mark on the glass, we are inside the boy's mind. He's alarmed that it's too cold outside and he wants to save the trees. We learn the specifics of what happened from the conversation with his father later in the film, that they failed in saving the trees from the coal. After this conversation, the first act is complete. Now, you don't have to expose all the information to the audience right away when you're telling the story visually, you are communicating with your audience. Unconscious mind. They don't have to know all the facts right away. When we begin the story. The most important thing is to give the audience a clear picture who is the most important character. In the next lecture, we're going to talk about maintaining that focus on the character throughout the whole phil. See you there. 4. Visualizing Your Character's Perception: In the previous scene, we had a little introduction of presenting the character's perception to the audience. It was the fading hand on the glass. Your job as a storyteller is to maintain the focus on the main hero by a variety of means. My second advice is to mimic the character's perception with the camera. The example of the hand on the glass is very abstract. Ideas like that should come from the director himself or from the Screenplay. You really have to know exactly what is the story about to come up with something like that. But the character's perception can be expressed by simpler moons as well. Let's look at another scene from Mother Earth. Now, I know that I'm showing you the scenes without context, but in this course we are focusing on visually expressing who the main character is and the contexts is not really irrelevant as long as you know who the main hero of the film is, which is the boy. So let's watch the scene and serve others. Moving in them, those that are sick, my mom and muddle batches. We have executed. We should Mason you play a view at your shelf, cool. Those meta, your mouth. We have the convenience of it. Was at them next as we start moving us to CJ's pagoda. You always can you stick your thumb, you don't want to go. So right off the bat, the first rule of subjective storytelling. We have begun the scene with a boy in the frame. And then we also ended the scene with the close-up when he's confused about the wound that he has on his neck. This is a strong indication that he is the main hero. But the middle of the scene. There is another way of expressing his perception. We have begun the scene thinking that he's alone in the room. We, the audience members notice the father in the same moment that the boy does. It's another way of expressing that the camera is following the boys perception. So this is my second advice of telling the story by the main character. Always follow his perception. If he notices something, notice it within. Now, just as a creative exercise, Let's imagine this scene from the perspective of the Father as if he is the main hero. So maybe let's begin in his bedroom. He's there. He couldn't sleep because he's waiting for his son to come back. And he eventually goes to his son's room and sit down. The house is still quiet. And then we have a little leap forward in time and he's almost asleep in the chair when he hears something and it's his son coming in through the window, the sun doesn't notice him at all and starts and dressing. And he finally breaks the silence and asks to hear the trees. It would be a completely different scene, a completely different story. So I, hopefully, you can see the, the perspective of the camera is very important and a decision like this can change the whole film. Now, in the next lecture, we are going to talk about your creativity in looking for the character's perception. What questions to ask your director to come up with all sorts of interesting ideas. See you there. 5. Be Subjective - Don't be Exact: You have to be creative when you're looking for ways of expressing your character's point of view. Your camera is showing the audience How's he sees the world. You have many ways to express it by using the composition, camera movement, color, and light. I have a class that focuses on looking for the style of your film that you can watch. After this, it's called the art of visual storytelling. It focuses on the tools that you have available to express his point of view. However, the most important thing is to know the underlying intention that your camera should uncover in the sea. That way you know how to use these tools. E.g. you can express exactly the opposite meaning that the action in the script suggests. Let's watch another scene from Mother Earth. It's a celebration. The sun has finally successfully satisfied his father ambition. For the first time. He helped him with the family business. So let's watch the celebration and try to guess what is the story that the camera is styling. So you've seen the scene and you clearly see that even though the boys seems to be IP, he's suffering inside. And that was the intention behind shooting this seem that way. As you've seen me and my DOP, Nicolas via guest, decided to place the camera outside, which was a major move that changed everything. Because we were outside, we could feel the rain, which helped us to build the mood. Also because we were outside, we don't hear the dialogue which in this case would clutter and abstract or what we wanted to show. And finally, we have the camera movement that is following the father when he's going to sleep, and then comes back to the kid when he is alone in the kitchen. Then we cut to the scars on the kid's arms and begin the sequence of the culmination shooting the scene this way showed us that the boy is not really happy with what he has just done. As a director, I could have used many different methods to show this. We could have the camera inside and tell the actor was playing the boy to pause for a moment. So we see that something is wrong. It would be expressed in actin. This would be the generic way of showing the character's emotion. It would be a different film. Me and my DOP decided to do with this way. I think it's more inventive. Cinema, after all, is a visual art. Every time I can express an emotion without doing it by acting. I tried to take those opportunities. Ultimately, I think that this is the factor that the size if your film is a piece of cinema or not. So to sum it up, I would say that my third advice is to be inventive in expressing the character's point of view. So the difference between the cameraman and director of photography comes down to the thought process. If you use these three techniques, you will be able to step out of the box. If you can. One, identify the character and begin the scene with him and end the scene with him as well. If you can, to stick to this, to his perception. And number three, identify the underlying intention of the scene and show it in a creative way. Then you are a true storyteller. I guy like this is a treasurer in pre-production and onset as well. 6. Class Project: For your class project, I want you to find the first scene of the film you like on YouTube. Nowadays, it's easy to find. Scenes from the films is not a problem. Just type the first scene from the film, then insert the title and you'll find it. Then. Imagine the same scene from the perspective of a different character. Character. So your job is to change the main hero. As your project. I want you to write, what would that look like? If you know how to write screenplay format, then great, you can write it as a screenplay. If you don't know how to write screenplays, you can write it as if it would be a novel. So as an example, let's use the first scene of my film, Mother Earth. It would be obviously the father's perspective. So let's say that he's woken up by his son screaming that the temperature is below zero. He follows his son outside, not because he cares about the Old Orchard, but to give him the code so he doesn't get sick, and so on. So you really can have your imagination run wild here. Because the goal of the exercise is to use two of the techniques that I told you about me. To begin with the hero, end-to-end with the hero. And the other one was to stick to this heroes perception of events. The third technique is not really obligatory. Not every time you are able to figure out an impressive visual metaphor, some scenes need to be told in a basic way. And that's totally fine. If you can find a compelling visual metaphor in few scenes in the entirety of your movie. It's enough to give it a, you know, your personal signature. So describe the scene and attached the link to the scene on YouTube so others can watch it as well. I'll give feedback to every scene that is going to be posted. And if you're still not sure, I will be posting my own project as well. So you know what to do. 7. Good Luck!: Thanks for taking my class. I hope it was inspiring. Now please consider making a review of the course. I noticed that one of 60 students ranks the course and even less of you post the projects. Please be the one who makes an effort and review the course. It keeps me motivated to create more classes. Especially that there are lots of nuances to the techniques I told you about in this class. E.g. it's easier to identify who the main hero is if you're obeying the 180-degree rule, is a rule that is basically a guideline regarding the on-screen spatial relationship between the characters. This rule helps you to create a reliable space in the scene. So if you're struggling with something or you have other ideas for the courses, just let me know. Now, the best way to check out my courses is my website. I encourage you to check it out since I'm on different platforms and this site is always up-to-date. Now, my courses are fully modular, which means that you can watch them separately in any order you like. But if you would like to see the suggested order, you can find it on my website as well. Thank you so much for taking my class and see you soon. Bye bye.