30 décembre 2006

Bienvenue sur ma nouvelle adresse

Vous pouvez la "bookmarquer" à la place de l'ancienne. Je transférerai une partie du contenu théorique à cette nouvelle adresse.

26 décembre 2006

Grosse surprise à Buenos Aires

Leandro Monti, 1er ass. caméra, m'a fait découvrir un loueur de matériel cinéma (lumière, caméras, grip) de toute première classe en plein Buenos Aires. Les grosses prods US et quelques chefs op français connaissent déjà l'adresse. Visite guidée sur une page spéciale:

24 décembre 2006

Lumières: le second numéro est sorti

L'AFC met en vente le second numéro d'une sorte de revue exigeante sur l'image de cinéma. Le premier numéro était passionnant, j'ai donc acheté celui-ci les yeux fermés.

20 décembre 2006

Séquence Noir/Blanc du dernier James Bond - extrait d'une interview avec Phil Méheux, chef op du film

photos extraites de la bande-annonce

The filmmakers decided to confound Bond fans’ expectations from the very start by opening with a black-and-white sequence, which shows Bond committing his first two government-sanctioned murders. “If you want to do something quite different and turn everyone around, do something in black-and-white!” says Méheux. “People are so used to seeing all these stunts and everything in color, and we go right into a scene of black-and-white with very little stunt work.”

The sequence was designed to feel more like spy films from the Cold War era, such as The Ipcress File and The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, than a big action film of 2006. Shot in part at Barandov Studios in Prague and in a nearby Cold War-era steel factory, the scenes deal more with character and psychology than action. Méheux welcomed the chance to recall some of his early training in black-and-white at the BBC, and he shot the scenes on a monochrome negative. “Some people shoot color and get rid of it in the digital intermediate [DI], but I didn’t like the look of that. I also tried force-processing some color stocks, but I think if you really want the look of black-and-white, you have to shoot black-and-white film. I used Eastman Double-X [5222]. They don’t make it in large quantities, but we only shot about 6,000 feet.
“I love the way there aren’t many midtones,” he says of the stock. “The shadow area drops off quickly, so if you have something that’s jet black, you have to lose it entirely or put a hell of a lot of light on it. In color, the stocks seem to resolve forever and ever. You get to the DI and say, ‘Can I see what’s in that dark corner?’ and [the colorist] cranks the whole thing up and it’s like sunlight in there. In black-and-white, there’s nothing there. It’s a discipline.”

Méheux approached the two murders depicted in the opening sequence differently. For one, he used a lot of hard sources, and for the other (set in a bathroom), he transformed the entire ceiling into one big softbox and let the white walls reflect the light. In his efforts to pay homage to classic spy films, some of which were shot in the 2-perf Techniscope process, Méheux took advantage of the Super 35mm 2.35:1 format. The greater depth of field facilitated by spherical lenses recalled one of Techniscope’s characteristics. “With Techniscope, the increased depth of field meant they were able to put things like lampshades and telephone boxes in the foreground, and they didn’t appear amoebic — you could actually see detail in them,” notes Méheux.
“In The Ipcress File, there’s a shot where a table lamp is huge in the frame and a man’s face is in the top right-hand corner. I really like that look. Part of the dialogue in our opening sequence was done with very carefully controlled shots that have huge things in the foreground and faces pushed to the corners of the frame. Little things like that echo the Cold War period of spy films.”

Article complet sur http://www.ascmag.com/magazine_dynamic/December2006/CasinoRoyale/page1.php

07 novembre 2006

Théorie de la couleur - les bases

Excerpted from Philip Ball´s book Bright Earth. The information can be a valuable review for experienced colorists or an introduction to color physics and physiology for others. Particularly interesting is the section on color space as applied to the CIE chromaticity chart.
source: telecine internet group

The light-sensitive entities in the eye come in two classes, distinguishable under the microscope because of their different shapes. They sit in the retina at the ends of millions of filaments from the optic nerve, and they are either rod-shaped or cone-shaped. There are 120 million rods and 5 million cones in each human retina. Most of the cones are located in a depression of the retina called the fovea centralis, which lies at the focal point of the eye´s lens. This little pit is devoid of rods, which outnumber cones everywhere else on the retina.

Rods and cones stimulate nerve signals when they are struck by light. The rods absorb light over the entire visible spectrum, but do so most strongly (that is, the chance of the light being absorbed is greatest) for blue-green light. Absorption of light by a rod triggers an identical neural response regardless of the weavelength. So rods do not discriminate between colours, but only between light and dark. They are extremely sensitive, and are the main light receptors that we use in very dim illumination such as starlight. This is why it is hard to identify colours under such conditions. Because their response is greatest for blue-green light, objects that reflect these wavelengths (such as leaves) appear brighter than red objects at night.

In bright sunlight, the colour-sensitive cones supply the visual signal to the brain. Under these conditions, the rod cells are 'bleached' -- saturated with light and unable to absorb photons. Only when the bright light is shut off can the rods relax back to their initial state, ready to absorb photons and trigger nerve impulses. This relaxation takes many minutes, which is why we gain night vision only gradually after leaving a brightly lit building. If we are outside at dusk, night vision takes over quite smoothly as the sun´s last rays disappear. The differing colour sensitivity of rods and cones results in a change in the perceived intensity of blue/green objects relative to red as twilight deepens. This effect was first clearly identified in 1925 by the Bohemian pysiologist J.E. Purkinje, although artists had noticed it previously.

The hypothesis for colour vision was verified by experiments in the 1960s which measured the absorption properties of single cones and confirmed that they fall into three classes with different colour sensitivity. The blue-light cones are the least sensitive, which is why fully saturated blue looks relatively dark. Blue´s late historical arrival as a true colour, as opposed to a kind of black, is thus ultimately for biological reasons. [editor´s note: the history of color is fascinating and is well-researched by Mr. Ball in the rest of his book.]

The overall sensitivity of the eye to the colours of the spectrum is the sum of the responses for all three types of cone, and it rises steadily from red to yellow and then falls off steadily from yellow to violet. So yellow is percieved as the brightest colour. The yellow band in a rainbow stands out not because it is more intense (not, that is, because there are more yellow photons than others) but because the yellow photons generate the biggest optical response from the eye. Curiously, yellow is regarded in many cultures as the least attractive colour, and its metaphorical and symbolic associations are often denigrating. It is traditionally the shade of treachery and cowardice, and clothing designers admit that it is a terribly difficult colour to sell. Yellow is popular in China (it is the emperor´s colour, huang); but in the West you had better call it gold.

Each 'seen' colour is constructed in the visual system from the combined stimuli from the three types of cone cell. Red light excites mostly the 'red' cones. But a mixture of red and green rays can stimulate red and green cones in the same ratio as does pure yellow light -- and so the colour sensations are identical. If blue light is added, we see white. (Although the three types of cone are often linked to Maxwell´s primaries of red, green and blue, this is a crude shorthand. Their peak sensitivities are in fact in the yellow, green and violet respectively.)

The rod and cone cells are studded with many thousands of individual light receptors called photopigments. Each of these is a single protein molecule, embedded in the stacked folds of the cell membranes. All photopigments contain a light-absorbing molecular unit called retinal, which has a zigzagging, smeared cloud of electrons very similar to that in the carotenoid pigments of plants. Retinal acts as a kind of switch. There we stand, say, before Yves Klein´s blue sculptures, flooding us with reflected blue light. A blue-sensitive photopigment absorbs a photon of blue light, and in response its retinal unit changes shape from kinked to straight. This enables the photopigment to set in train a sequence of molecular events taht leads to a change in the electrical impulses in the nerve to which the cone cell is attached. Some region in the visual cortex of the brain stirs into life, and we register 'blue'. Where we go from there is our own business. [editor´s note: Yves Klein patented a color, International Klein Blue, for use in paints.]

Measuring colour

The colour wheel has come a long way since Newton. Its most popular modern incarnation is less pleasing to the eye, but a lot more informative: a colour diagram drawn up by the Commission Internationale de l´Eclairage (CIE), starchily called the CIE chromaticity curve. The 'pure' wavelengths of Newton´s spectrum lie on the tounge-shaped periphery, while the colours inside it are the result of various additive mixtures of these rays. Any colour that lies along a line connecting two points on rhe edge may be mixed from those spectral colours. If the line passes through the white region in the centre, the two peripheral colours may be mixed to white. Thus white light can be created from blue and yellow alone (as it is in monochrome television screens), but not from red and green.

The artificiality of the union of red and violet in the 'colour wheel' is emphasized by the flat base of the tongue -- along here the colours are, as Newton confessed, not found in even the finest unweaving of the rainbow´s strands. [editor´s note: the 'colour wheel' was an early attempt to categorize the color spectrum, and though it looked nice on paper, actually presented an artificial connection of colours at the two ends of the spectrum.)

Yet for all its glory, the CIE diagram doesn´t show us all colours. Where is brown? Where is pink? There is clearly a lot more colour space than the mandalas of colour wheels can accomodate.

The defining characterisitic of a coloured material is not whether its hue sits closer to the kingdom of red than of blue or whatever, but what its total spectral composition is: how it absorbs and reflects light across the continuum of the visible spectrum. A colour´s most discriminating signature is thus a wiggly line that traces the variation in intensity of the reflected light as the wavelength varies. The signature of 'pure' white (though not of sunlight) is a straight line: all wavelengths are reflected fully. Black makes the same mark, but at zero rather than full intensity: every wavelength is negated. What, then, is grey? Along with black and white, grey is sometimes classified as an oxymoronic 'achromatic colour' -- we might say that grey has no 'colour' as such, but is more of an intermediary between light and dark. Grey is what we perceive when all wavelengths are absorbed partially, yet more or less equally, from the light. It is, if you will, white light with the volume turned down.

Brown is another difficult one. It sits on the border between a real colour and an achromatic one -- a 'dirty' colour akin to grey. Brown is in fact a kind of grey biased towards yellow or orange. A brown surface absorbs all wavelengths to some extent, but orange/yellow somewhat less than others. Another way of saying this is that brown is a low-brightness yellow or orange, the sensation generated when low-intensity light of these wavelengths impinges on your eye. It is a physiological and linguistic curiosity that, whereas we might classify low-intensity blues, greens, and reds still as blues, greens, and reds, we feel the need for a new basic colour term for low-intensity yellow.

Brown and grey don´t feature on the CIE diagram because it doesn´t show the colours produced by brightness variations. To do that requires a whole stack of CIE diagrams, with the white centre getting progressively greyer. As it does so, the orange/yellow part of the diagram gets progressively browner.

This illustrates the fact that colour space -- the kind of thing you see in trade paint catalogues -- is in fact three-dimensional. The CIE diagram shows just two of the three parameters of colour -- two 'dimensions', portrayed on a flat plane.
One of these is hue, which is what we usually mean colloquially by 'colour'. Strictly speaking, the hue is the dominant wavelength in the colour, and it is what enables us to characterize a colour as basically red, green or whatever. In this sense, the hue of brown is yellow or orange, while grey has no hue -- no dominant wavelength -- and so can be regarded as achromatic. In the CIE diagram, the hue varies around the perimeter of the tongue. Purples lie along the sloping bottom side, between violet at the lower left-hand corner and red at the lower right. The diagram brings home rather forcefully the oddity that in English and most other European languages there is still no generally accepted colour term for the hue between yellow and green, or that between green and blue, even though these occupy appreciable parts of the perimeter. [editor´s note: what about 'tourquoise' 'aqua', 'cyan'? it would seem that there are some terms for the hues between green and blue.]

The second parameter of colour on the CIE diagram is saturation, sometimes caled the purity or (potentially misleadingly) the intensity. This refers to the extent to which white (or black or grey) is mixed in with a pure hue. Roughly speaking, the saturation of a colour varies along the line between the 'pure' hue on the periphery of the diagram and the pure white spot in the centre. Notice, incidentally, how large the white area is: there is a wide range of whites. True white is defined in the CIE scheme as 'equal energy' white, the white obtained from an equal mixture of the three primaries that lie at the extremities: red light of 770-nanometre wavelength at the lower right corner, violet light of 380 nanometres at the lower left, and green light of 520 nanometres at the topmost point of the upper curve. Sunlight lies slightly to the yellow side of true white.

Omitted from the CIE diagram is the third parameter of colour: brightness, which can be crudely considered as the shade of grey the colour generates in a black-and-white photograph. By the early nineteenth century, colour theorists were already beginning to appreciate that flat colour wheels gave only a partial picture of colour space -- a mere slice through the landscape. Some theorists expanded their wheels to include tertiary colours, which are made by mixing the three primaries in different ratios. The German Romantic painter and colour theorist Philipp Otto Runge went further, presenting a color sphere in his book Farben-Kugel (Colour Sphere) (1810) that, roughly speaking, made allowance for variations in brightness of Newton´s spectral colours. The fully saturated primary and secondary colours are situated around the equator of the globe-like sphere. Toward one pole, the colours get progressively lighter; towards the other, darker. So one pole is pure white and one fully black.

Yet even this will not suffice, for it does not properly accomodate independent variations in saturation and brightness: grey appears nowhere on the sphere. Its surface is still two-dimensional, whereas real colour space is three-dimensional. In the early 1900s the American artist and teacher Albert Munsell made one of the first attempts to codify all of this space. Munsell hoped that his scheme would allow him to classify colours perceived in nature so that he could reproduce them accurately on canvas in his studio. His first colour scale was published in 1905, and was later expanded in the Atlas of the Munsell Color System in 1915. The full Munsell scheme is somewhat like a 3D CIE chart, except that the profile is more like a polychromatic spider than a tongue. As in the CIE chart, hue changes around the perimeter while saturation varies along radial lines towards white at the centre. The brightness varies in the vertical direction, as in our hypothetical stacks of CIE charts, so that the central point runs from pure black through grey to pure white.

Munsell updated his colour notation scheme again in 1929, dividing the colour space into discrete blocks that were intended to progress, in any direction, through equal perceptual steps. Careful psychological tests were conducted by the Optical Society of America to try to ensure that Munsell´s colour space was as 'even' as possible.

The Munsell colour scale, in the form of coloured plastic counters or chips, has been used extensively by psychologists and anthropologists conducting research into colour perception. But its value in this arena remains limited by its attempt to impose scientific quantification on concepts of colour that inevitable carry a lot of cultural baggage. John Gage recounts with some glee how Danish antrhopologists arrived on a Polynesian island in 1971 ready to test their Munsell chips on the indigenous people, only to receive the deflating response, 'We don´t talk much about colour here.' The sociologist M. Sahlins expressed the point very neatly in 1976: 'a semiotic theory of color universals must take for "significance" exactly what colors do mean in human societies. They do not mean Munsell chips.'

By the same token, colour does not mean Newton´s rainbow, nor (as the Oxford English Dictionary suggests) a material´s propensity for light absorption, nor a sensation produced by stimulation of the optic nerve. It is all of these things, but to artists they are mere abstractions. Painters need colour to be embodied in stuff, they need to be able to purchase it and get it smeared across their overalls. That is the bottom line, and I would not like to see it obscured (as it sometimes has been) among multi-hued wheels and globes and charts. Painters need paint. Colour is their medium of expression and communication, but to make their dreams visible it needs substance.

05 novembre 2006

La meilleure cellule pour mesurer la lumière

Les Reflex numériques sont devenus l'un des moyens les plus fiables pour contrôler la lumière sur un tournage.

Pendant longtemps les chefs ops utilisaient des Polaroids Noir-Blanc pour vérifier l'amplitude des contrastes. Aujourd'hui, on utilise couramment les appareils photo numériques, et particulièrement les Reflex. Le petit dernier de Pentax (K 110), avec son stabilisateur très fiable, est l'un des meilleurs du lot. C'est particulièrement vital quand on tourne en pellicule et/ou en basses lumières.

La meilleure méthode est de prendre des photos (gros plans, vues générales) sans flash évidemment, et de les archiver rapidement. Vous pouvez aussi imprimer celles que vous voulez annoter.
3 avantages:
- remplace un carnet de notes visuelles (pour assurer des raccords parfaits)
- vous donne une idée précise des sur- et sous-expositions, si vous prenez des photos pendant le keylite. Après le visionnement des rushes du keylite, vous saurez exactement où vous pouvez vous permettre de frôler les limites d'exposition, en comparant l'amplitude d'exposition de vos photos avec celle de votre émulsion.
- sert de référence pour la suite de la post-prod (vous trouvez un look sur Photoshop, et vous envoyez ça par mail au coloriste qui saura exactement ce que vous avez en tête).

Infos sur le Pentax:

20 septembre 2006

Sven Nykvist - la simplicité avant tout

A l'occasion de la remise de l'ASC Lifetime Achievement Award à Sven Nykvist en 1996, l'Amercian Society of Cinematographers avait publié un article qui synthétise bien l'apport unique de ce "maître de la lumière".
Sven s'est éteint dix ans plus tard, le 20 septembre 2006. Ses propos sur la lumière sont ceux d'un vieux sage. L'article est long, mais il vaut la peine d'être lu - et retenu.

Sven Nykvist, ASC received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Cinematographers at their 10th annual ASC Outstanding Achievement Awards gala. He said he was “surprised but happy” when ASC president Victor Kemper called with the news. His response was typically modest and understated. Nykvist has earned Oscars for Cries and Whispers (1973) and Fanny and Alexander (1983), and a third nomination for The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988). His body of work includes around 120 films, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Nykvist was preparing to shoot a film in Scandinavia when Kemper called, and he will shoot a film based on a new Bergman script in August.

Nykvist’s name is routinely coupled with Ingmar Bergman, one of the masters of modern cinema. Their collaboration stretched over much of three decades. It includes such classics as Persona, The Magic Flute, The Hour of the Wolf, Scenes From a Marriage, Winter Light, Cries and Whispers, Blue Moon, and Fanny and Alexander.

But his Bergman films comprise just a small part of his life’s work. Nykvist has compiled around 100 other credits with many other visually oriented directors, including Louis Malle, Paul Mazursky, Allan Pakula, Roman Polanski, Norman Jewison, Phil Kauffman, Lasse Hallstrom and Woody Allen. His work with these and other directors includes Agnes of God, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Pretty Baby, Willie and Phil, Cannery Row, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Sleepless in Seattle, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, With Honors, Something to Talk About and Kristin Lavransdatter.

Last year (1995), Nykvist marked his 50th anniversary as a cinematographer. His career, so far, spans half of the history of the cinema. Nykvist shot his first narrative film in Stockholm, Sweden in 1945, when he was 23. The title was 13 Chairs. His work has played a large role in redefining the art of contemporary cinematography.

“I was fortunate to work with Ingmar, particularly at that early stage of my career,” he says. “One of the things we (he and Bergman) believed was that a picture shouldn’t look lit. Whenever possible, I lit with one source, and avoided creating double shadows, because that pointed to the photography.”

That could be any number of cinematographers talking today. But Nykvist came to those conclusions some 30 to 35 years ago, when he was blazing trails that many other cinematographers would subsequently follow. He says his inspiration came from Bergman, and also from studying paintings at fine art galleries and museums.

“A motion picture doesn’t have to look absolutely realistic,” he says. “It can be beautiful and realistic at the same time. I am not interested in beautiful photography. I am interested in telling stories about human beings, how they act and why they act that way.”

The previous ASC Lifetime Achievement recipients were Gordon Willis, ASC, Conrad Hall, ASC, Haskell Wexler, ASC, Phil Lathrop, ASC, Stanley Cortez, ASC, Charles Lang, Jr., ASC, Joe Biroc, ASC and George Folsey, ASC. All of them are Americans. Nykvist is the first exception to that rule.

“Sven is a talented filmmaker, who has made unique and enduring contributions to the advancement of the art of cinematography,“ says Kemper. “He has created an extraordinary body of memorable work which grows larger and more impressive every year. This award is meant to recognize and encourage artistic excellence and foster an appreciation of the art of cinematography wherever movies are produced and seen.”

Nykvist was born in Stockholm in 1922. His parents were missionaries, who built a hospital in the Belgian Congo He was a cinema buff as a youth and studied at the Stockholm Municipal School for Photographers. In 1941, Nykvist went to work at Sandrews Studios, in Stockholm as an assistant cameraman.

There were only two people on film crews in Sweden in those days, the cinematographer and the focus puller, who was also responsible for still pictures.

Nykvist spent some time during the mid-1940s working in Italy as a focus puller. That broadened his outlook. After returning to Sweden, Nykvist started shooting film for second unit crews. He also photographed, directed, wrote, edited and recorded sound for many documentary films. In 1952, Nykvist was the co-director, co-writer and co-cinematographer of Under the Southern Cross, a narrative film produced in the Belgian Congo, based on an experience his parents had with a witch doctor. Around the same time, Nykvist shot a documentary about Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Africa..

In 1953, Nykvist was responsible for photographing The Naked Night (a.k.a. Sawdust and Tinsel). It was his first experience working on a film directed by Ingmar Bergman. Another cinematographer (Göran Strindberg) was scheduled to shoot that film with Bergman. He decided to go to Hollywood instead to film a Cinemascope movie with a much bigger budget.

Nykvist recalls that during those days, Bergman was making films for $100,000 with a crew of eight to 10 people and four or five actors.

“That was a very nice way to work,” he says. “Everyone did everything. Everyone helped everyone else. It was like a family. Even Cries and Whispers was produced on a $300,000 to $400,000 budget. I learned so much about composition, staging and the infinite varieties of light from Ingmar.”

Nykvist and Bergman nurtured a natural style of visual story-telling reminiscent of silent movies. Faces of beautiful woman were the heart and soul of many of Bergman’s films. Liv Ullman played a leading role in Bergman’s films

“The truth always lies in the character’s eyes,” Nykvist says. “It is very important to light so the audience can see what’s behind each character’s eyes.”

Nykvist says that in the beginning of his relationship with Bergman, he focused on a seminal idea. “I learned that there are types of lighting you can use to create an ambiance, “he says. “There’s a single sentence in The Magic Lantern (Bergman’s book) which expresses that concept: ‘Light: the gentle, bare, dreamlike, living, dead, clear, misty, hot, violent, sudden, dark, spring-like, falling, straight, slanting, sensual, subdued, limited, poisonous, calming pale light. Light.’ There are so many ways you can use light to tell a story. I think anyone who wants to understand light should read this book.”

When you talk with Nykvist, he emphasizes simplicity and aesthetic values over imaging technology. Don’t let that fool you. He is a meticulous master of the craft as well as the art. Here’s one example: When Nykvist was preparing to shoot The Unbearable Lightness of Being with Kauffman, they studied black and white documentary footage of what it looked and felt like when the Russian army poured into Prague and crushed a civilian revolt. Nykvist replicated that ambiance by shooting those scenes for the movie in 16 mm black and white. That made the images a little grainy. Next, he made a duplicate negative which closely matched the contrast of the actual documentary film. It was only a few minutes of film on the screen, but when the editor wove it into the fabric of the dramatic story, it gave the audience an emotional sense of place and time.

There are subtleties that the audience feels rather than sees in every Nykvist film. In the Unbearable Lightness of Being, for example, he used the architecture of the buildings in Prague as more than background. They were like silent characters -- almost like works of art, while the city was being violated.

But it inevitably comes down to faces and eyes, and that holds true whether Nykvist is shooting a serious drama directed by Bergman, or more light hearted entertainment. There is always a story to tell, and its heart and soul resides in the characters and how they relate. Nykvist notes that it takes time for a cinematographer to really learn a face, and to interpolate what is happening behind the character’s eyes.

“That’s a problem today,” he says. “You are always working with new actors. You can’t always tell immediately how their faces will take light. The truth of the character is in their eyes. That’s how the audience gets to know them as human beings. It opens up their souls. When I was working with Ingmar and Liv Ullman, there were a few other actors who were always in his films. I can see it looking back on those movies now. I knew everything about photographing them. I learned to know their faces.”

Nykvist also talks about the importance of consistency. He says that his preference during staging is to plan for very long six to eight minute takes because that way you don’t breakup the actors’ performances. It’s more natural, he says.

“Good actors will react to the lighting,” he says. “When you do complex staging, you have remember that you aren’t lighting for exposure. You are creating an ambiance, and you have to figure out how you are going to get light into the actor’s eyes, or when appropriate, mask them. I have no preference for hard or soft light or any other style or technique. You should use the light that’s right.”

That could be one of any number of cinematographers talking today. Keep in mind though, Nykvist developed and mastered this way of thinking during the 1960s and ‘70s, starting with black and white film, and the special challenges that genre imposed.

Nykvist points out that there is never any one path to follow which is suitable for everyone in all situations. He tends not to concern himself with such niceties as the symbolic use of color as an element in visual story-telling, but he also doesn’t deride it.

“I worry less about being symbolic than some other cinematographers,” he says. “Everyone has their own way of thinking. My tendency is to use bounce or indirect light. Harsher light can distort the story that’s written on the actor’s face.”

En 1986 Nykvist éclairait "Le Sacrifice" de Andrei Tarkovsky.
Photos du tournage.

Nykvist has a tendency to use smaller lighting units, whenever possible. Why? “It feels cleaner,” he says. “Smaller units give you more control. You can create more precise moods and atmosphere. this is something I learned. When I shot my first feature in 1945, we used lots of lights. Sometimes I spent a whole day lighting. I wanted to shoot a beautiful picture, but every scene looked the same. Now, when I see some of my old pictures on television, I can see everything I did wrong. I’m interested in film about people, how they behave and why. What motivates them.”

Nykvist says that advances in imaging technology provide some creative latitude. “If you are shooting a night interior scene, there might be a lot of sources,” he says. But, if you are shooting a daylight exterior, there is only one source, the sun. The question is usually how much should I fill, so it doesn’t get too dark in the shadows.

We asked Nykvist to verbally dissect Bergman’s eloquent statement about the variable nature of light in layman terms. He responded, “Gentle light is what you might use if you were photographing a woman, and you wanted her to look very beautiful and soft. Dream-like light is also very soft. I achieve this with light rather than low-contrast filters. But that’s just my preference. Living light has more contrast and vitality, while dead light is very flat with no shadows. Clear light is more contrasty, but not too much.”

How much is too much? Nykvist shrugs as if to say there is no answer. It is a matter of individual taste. That’s what makes cinematography an art. There is an instinctive ability and a learned capacity for choosing the right type of light.

Nykvist continues, “Misty light could involve the use of smoke or fog filters. Violent light is more contrasty than living. It is a subtle distinction that influences how the audience perceives and reacts to the images on the screen. Spring-like light is a little warmer, and falling light is when the angle is very low and you get elongated shadows. Sensual light is for love scenes... it is difficult to put it into words, because film is a visual language. That’s the role I play as a cinematographer in understanding the script and the director’s intentions, and translating it into images that express the ideas.”

Nykvist generally knew exactly what Bergman had mind without having to parse the script page by page. He says that unless the director of photography understands the artistic intentions of the director, there is no way he or she can perform their mission.

“I need to understand their intentions,” he says, “because every picture defines its own look, and that definition begins with the director’s intentions for the script. Some directors have their own ideas about staging, lighting and composition. Others are mainly interested in the actors. You must be able to form a relationship with both types of directors, and also establish a feeling of trust between the cast and crew. I always tell the actors what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.”

With some 120 picture and 50 years of cinematography behind him, Nykvist says that every new film is still a learning experience. He says that he learns from the directors, actors and crew he works with, and that’s a two-way street.

“If I am open to hearing and discussing their ideas, they are more likely to listen to me,” he says. “That’s human nature.”

Another interesting observation is that with all of the international boundaries that Nykvist has crossed making movies, he has never experienced unsolvable language or other communications barriers. His approach to pre-visualizing is traditional. He reads the script, thinks about it and develops some ideas.

“I like to watch rehearsals without the camera,” he says. “I watch what happens. Sometimes an actor feels that he has to move when they say a line. You discuss this with the director, and ask if he or she wants us to follow the move or track in the opposite direction. There are so many ways you can cover the same move with tracks, on a crane, and all of them affect the pace of the action. There are always choices regarding light, movement and focal length. Those decisions come from inside.”

Then, he looks through the lens and places his lights. “I put up one light and see if it feels right,” he says. “Sometimes you have to say to yourself, I made a mistake and try something else. There are so many different people, the producer, director, art director and, of course, the cast involved in making a movie. When you take too long to light, you can feel their eyes in your back. Everything is different everyday, even your own moods. Some days everything is right. Other days everything is impossible.”

Nykvist claims that he isn’t technically oriented. He reduces his approach to shooting to a few basic principals. He trusts his eye and his instincts. He looks through the lens, and if it looks right, he shoots. If not, he adds more light.

“It’s an unusual occupation,” he says. “It’s both an art and a craft. Every time I start a picture, the first day is like I am starting all over again. I love it. You can always learn something new. Sometimes it is about manipulating light. Other times it is about finding another angle into the human soul. That’s what keeps this work so interesting. Until I find something I like better, I’ll probably do this work forever.”

Portrait NB © Bengt Wanselius