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Cinematography Analysis: Along the imaging chain

Data as an artistic choice: the IBC-time perspective of Director of Photography, Steven Poster, in conversation with George Jarrett.

Data as an artistic choice: the IBC-time perspective of Director of Photography, Steven Poster, in conversation with George Jarrett.

In his second term as president of the International Cinematographers Guild – a trade union compared to the fraternal American Society of Cinematographers for which he is co-chair of its technology committee – DoP Steven Poster attended IBC to debate a set of three burning issues: 4K imaging; the arrival of film negative on death row; and the threats to 3D.

“The problem with 3D today is not with the crews or the on-set ability to capture images, but with the creative intent of storytellers and the lack of knowledge of the language of 3D,” asserts Poster.

“That will change. However one major concern that has the potential of doing great damage to the commercial success of 3D is the quality of 3D projection. Right now it’s terrible, and the use of silver screens to boost the apparent luminance of dark images is even screwing up 2D projection. Until that changes we have the clear and present danger of turning off all kinds of audiences. Unless 3DTV is very successful, we might see 3D fade away, like in the 1950s. Making it look better is always the answer to making it commercially successful.”

There was an IBC master class about 4K and its bandwidth and cost issues a dozen years ago, so what has made it fresh again?

“Cameras are now being introduced which are truly capable of capturing 4K of information along with commensurate bit depth and metadata to back it up,” says Poster. “However, along with that level of data capture we will have to find ways of working with that information and making the images artistic rather then just sharper.

“It won’t be long before the market demands 6K and 8K. However, we are finding out it’s not necessarily an issue of how many K, but what the colour science is behind all of that information. We have to stop thinking about matching film quality, and develop the look of the images based on the imaging device.”

What is at stake is a clear understanding of the need to simplify the way cinematographers work with images and the paths they must follow along the imaging chain.

“There has been a need to address the idea of an end to end, device independent colour management system that will allow artists and technicians to indicate from the point of exposure — or before that in preparation or in the pre-visualisation phase of a complex project — what the intent of any ‘look’ is for the story, and how to get there,” he argues.

“We have clearly reached a tipping point in the transition where the choice of image acquisition is starting to be an artistic one. However you can’t just get a kid with a computer to do the data management on a project and expect to avoid catastrophic data loss,” Poster insists. “Nor can you have proper viewing and reference monitoring without someone trained in the setup and maintenance of these systems. The industry needs to address these issues as a matter of urgency, or risk harming quality.”