The Miracle Within

One of America’s greatest poet laureates, Ralph Waldo Emerson, famously said: “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Since I first picked up a camera I’ve let these words be my guide as if my professional (and artistic) soul depended on them.

Here is what I believe:

A cinematographer’s intuition is more accurate than any light meter or waveform, his or her instinct brighter and more acute than the best OLED monitor. Our eyes are more dependable than any camera manual, so in a time when the latest technology is akin to creation, there remains no better trail to blaze than our own unique instincts.

It is true that cinematographers of a certain age and background have been forced to make the transition (some easy, some not so much) to digital, while others, of a new generation, have never even had the opportunity to raise a film camera. But I don’t think that fact is even relevant because, as I’ve said before in this column, if you know how to light, the capture mode doesn’t matter, and if you don’t know how to light, the same holds true. My approach has never really wavered: from 70-mm IMAX origination to small-format HD, I test the system for dynamic range all the way through to post. The goal is to know, intuitively, where my last shadow, highlight and everything in between lives. Once that information is absorbed, my eyes and natural feeling for light take over.

We are our best and worst critics (unless you had a mother like mine), which is why it’s so important, in a world where we are “under siege” with technological options, to hone your own instrument and allow the music to pour out. The best way to gain that confidence is simply to shoot, shoot, shoot. Make images with any media available, and fail often; blaze new trails rather than follow familiar paths. Not only will your instrument be tuned, but an inner aesthetic will emerge that may well distinguish your skills in this competitive marketplace.

I urge you to heed the words of another American original, the abstract painter Mark Rothko, who observed: “The most important tool the artist fashions through constant practice is faith in his abilities to produce miracles when they are needed.”

Steven Poster, ASC
National President
International Cinematographers Guild
IATSE Local 600

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