(Originally published on Blogcritics.org)
It’s not often a technical manual can deliver an epiphany. That is what happened for me as I dove intoThe Filmmaker’s Guide to Digital Imaging by Blain Brown.
I go way back with cameras and film. I shot 8mm movies, developed my own 35mm film and watched as images appeared on paper in the developing tray. I could look at the light in a room and tell you what settings you needed on your camera to get a good exposure. I understood the process.
When digital imaging became cutting edge in the early 2000s I got a digital camera and kept up with the new technology. However, I never understood what was happening on the molecular level like I did with the old technology, until I opened this book. Now photosite wells, Bayer filters, the Nyquist Theorem and DSPs are my friends.
Is this level of understanding important? Not if your photographic ambitions are limited to selfies and rock concerts and video at birthday parties. If, however, you are a working or aspiring cinematographer or editor, or play any other technical role in the production of film or online video, you need this book. You need to understand what happens between the time light enters the lens and the time picture appears on a screen.
Author Blain Brown, who has worked in the film industry as a cinematographer, producer, director and screenwriter for 25 years, brings his entertainment experience to his writing. Besides being technically informative, he is also entertaining, peppering the technical info with wit, as in this definition:
Pixel stands for picture element or pix-el (no relation to Jor-El as far as we know).
Brown also goes beyond the internal workings of the video creation process and provides learned on-the-set advice about workflow, data management, and meta-data. I particularly found interesting, and potentially very useful on my next project, his chapter titled “The DIT Cart.”
A relatively new role in movie production is the Digital Imaging Technician (DIT). Whether you are working on a large project with a dedicated DIT or you and five friends are making your next video blog, the suggestions and guidelines in this chapter can be life savers.
How to get equipment to and within a location and working with it there must be planned. Video and audio files pile up quickly. The storage on a camera fills up. Transferring, storing, and naming files must be pre-organized. You need to be ready to “fail over” to a backup system. And, of course, there’s the question of electric power: where will you get it? Do you have emergency batteries?
On my last project, I kept my car engine running for three hours so I could keep recharging the cinematographer’s camera batteries. This is not a recommended technique, and by reading Brown’s book, you should be able to avoid having to kludge your way through a project like I did.
Purchasing the book will also give you access to a website with interviews with people working in the industry and additional technical information.
I can’t promise you an epiphany as I experienced, but read this book and not only will you know what photons do, you’ll be able to make them dance to your tune. Whether you are a working cinematographer, camera assistant, or postproduction artist, or if want to pursue one of these careers, you will learn both theory and practical techniques in these pages.
The Filmmaker’s Guide to Digital Imaging is published by Focal Press, which provides books on film and digital video production, photography, digital imaging, graphics, animation and new media, broadcast and media distribution technologies, music recording and production, mass communications, and theater technology. Its website also provides free instructional videos, runs contests and provides apps.
The book is available from the publisher and on Amazon.