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MAGAZINE
STUDIO
SCHOOL

The Camera Diagram

Lesson 1
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Lesson 2
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Lesson 3
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Lesson 4
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Lesson 5
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Lesson 6
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Lesson 7
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Lesson 8
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Lesson 9
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Lesson 10
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Contributed By Glen Berry

IMPORTANT CONCEPTS
  1. Camera Diagram refines our Visualization
  2. Know the Physical Space
  3. The Camera Diagram Finds Redundancy
  4. Identify Your Camera Positions

On our sample diagram, Camera Position 2 and 3 are angle and reverse angle on a set of four shots: MS and CU on Joe and MS and CU on Mary. We can capture the MS and CU from the same camera position. Once we have set Camera 2, we automatically know Camera 3 is on the opposite side at the same angle as Camera 2.

Camera Position 4 is right up on the table to capture the ECU of the document being passed from Joe to Mary. Please note that all camera positions are located on one side of the actor’s eye line (the orange line).

As we lay out this camera diagram, we see exactly where the camera will be placed before we start production. This is the responsibility of the director. It would be strongly advised to go over this camera diagram with the Director of Photography. If you know the physical space and the actual distance between objects, the Director of Photography will be able to use this camera diagram for lens selection.

This diagram will also tell your Production Designer where the table will be located in the scene and how the actors will move through it. It will also tell the Production Designer what will be on camera so they will know what to set decorate.

As you would imagine, going through this exercise will change your shot list and storyboards. This is another level of refinement of that visualization. As a director, you will realize that the actor will need to move left instead of right, that the table will need to be biased to the East inside the location. You will know all the camera positions and all the movements of actors in the scene. You would know from the location of the plate glass windows that you do not want to shoot back against them if they are a lighting source or if the background is undesirable. If something can be seen out of the window that is critical to part of the scene, then you know to position your elements in the space around those windows as a backdrop.

This step in the planning is critical to refine your shot list and storyboard and adapt it to the actual physical space you will be working in. This exercise will help you consolidate your set-ups into the fewest number possible and eliminate redundant shots. The camera diagram will also tell you camera positions in advance and give the other members of your crew critical information on how the scene will play out and how to prepare for the shoot.

Most importantly, it will solidify your visualization in your mind. When you walk on set as a director, you have to have answers to every question and know every single detail of what is supposed to happen. If you go to this level of preparation, you will have all the answers. You will still need to adapt to variables in production but with this level of planning, you will be well equipped to make the minor adjustments necessary.

SUMMARY

  • The camera diagram helps us see our shots, the movements of the actors and the physical space in a new way.
  • It is critical that we know the properties of the physical space we will be working in to design the camera diagram.
  • Seeing our camera placements laid out on the diagram helps us see which shots are similar and which ones can be eliminated.
  • The camera diagram helps us identify where each set-up will be made in advance. It is critical that the director know each position before production begins.
LESSON
The Storyboard
An intro into storyboarding and why it is helpful in preproduction.
Storyboards are not Art
An interview with Martin Scorcese and Michael Chapman, the Director and Director of Photography of Taxi Driver on Storyboarding.
Taxi Driver Storyboard Example
A sample storyboard from Taxi Driver with matching shots from the finished product.
Murder Storyboard Analysis
An examination of the script, shot list, storyboard and final product for the "How to Get Away With Murder" project.
The Camera Diagram
The importance of the camera diagram as a tool to refine the director's visualization, as well as the importance of eye lines and the 180 degree rule.