Award-winning filmmaker David Fincher has directed well-received and relevant pictures such as “Se7en,” “Zodiac,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Social Network.” He is known for a very specific visual style, which includes heavy contrast, dark lighting and a gritty look. While the visual style of his films comes from a close collaboration with his directors of photography, art directors and production designers, an independent filmmaker can achieve a Fincher-like look by emulating key elements of his process.
The key to Fincher’s style is being able to collaborate with the people who shoot and design his film. While he has years of experience behind the camera, Fincher relies on a director of photography who knows how light will expose on the medium he is using.
Experiment with lighting and shooting. Both the director and the director of photography must be familiar with the camera being used and the lighting conditions before beginning production. This involves performing exposure tests with the camera you will shoot with, the lights you will use and the materials on set you will shoot.
Use low lighting and practical light sources. The distinct look that can be found in Fincher’s films results from shooting scenes in what would be considered non-ideal lighting conditions. This results in a dark and claustrophobic feel. Practical lighting and on-set lighting can be used, including the use of fluorescent and hardware lights rather than professional-grade lighting equipment. This technique will also increase the number of shadows and the depth of field, which Fincher utilizes for characters to move in and out of focus.
Use a high-end digital video camera. Fincher started his career working on film, but ever since he shot “Zodiac” on the Viper digital camera, this is his preferred medium.
In 2010, Fincher moved to the affordable RED One camera to shoot “The Social Network.” Digital video helps Fincher shoot in tight spots and to move quickly. Additionally, these high-end video cameras work well in low-light conditions and expose ambient light differently than film does.
Apply post-production manipulation. Many of Fincher’s films have a color tint to them, be it green (in “Fight Club”), yellow (in “Se7en”) or blue (in “The Social Network”). This is applied in post production as well as achieved during the shooting of the movie. However, considering the need to manipulate exposure and clean up digital noise, post-production knowledge is necessary.
More information on the manipulation of the images in Fincher’s films can be found on DVD and Blu-ray supplementals of his films, including “The Social Network.”
Love her look!
great exercise to practice your depth of field focussing
I compose by what feels right. I might shoot several versions of a scene, sometimes dozens, and I also think about timing. Within the frame, things need to be composed as they happen. Everything is moving about until you take the shot and stop it, and you can’t control these things in another way (I think this is great, or I would have become a studio photographer instead!). The only thing you can do is to take the picture at the right moment, composed in a way that seems right.
Sometimes you really do need a significant foreground to make an image work, but it should not take over the entire image. Variety is the key, rather than repeating the same idea over and over again. I also try to avoid shooting from the same wide-angle view, which soon become tedious – as does shooting every scene from the same height.
Gather a lot of varied experiences. Read a lot of books, travel, talk to strangers, anything to open your mind to new ideas and ways of thinking.
Create a frame of topic. Addressing questions like: what is it you’re trying to do, and where should your focus be?
Ask a lot of…