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The Art Of The DP Back to Reports & survey Listing

Tim Palmer
Doctor Who, Being Human, Ashes to Ashes, Life on Mars, Bedlam, Cold Feet



As far as hierarchy goes, the director is the most important person on set. The DP has ultimate responsibility for ensuring the director’s vision is translated into an effective image on screen, so tends to be held to account the most on set as he or she has to deliver the goods on schedule. Some DPs are much more technical than others. I wouldn’t consider myself very technical and will always bow to the greater experience of the focus puller and grip when dealing with complex pieces of camera equipment. Less is more when it comes to lighting. The simpler you can light, the better. Time is the most precious commodity and if you can make one lamp do the job of three you have saved half an hour.

DPs have to be able to light a set and a face very well in any conceivable situation, compose a frame properly and shoot quickly.

The Digital Revolution
The first 15 years of my career were spent on film, for which I am very grateful. However, I love digital. It’s very intuitive, extremely quick, looks great and there are no problems with hairs in the gate, damaged rushes or film run outs on short magazines. There will always be a demand for film but not really in television any more and for feature film production I think it will become (if it hasn’t already) a niché. My favourite camera right now is the Arri Alexa, but they are all good. I like the Alexa because it’s well designed and is the first digital camera to make me feel like I’ve stepped back into my favourite pair of old slippers. There’s not a great deal of difference in cost between cameras so it comes down to size and ergonomics.

The Career Path
The traditional path to becoming a DP is through the camera department: trainee, clapper loader, focus puller, camera operator, DP, but those lines have been blurred over the last 30 years with the advent of film schools and high quality digital cameras. Most people can now purchase a broadcast standard camera for relatively little money and deliver a great looking image without needing a great deal of technical knowhow. However, time spent working one’s way up through the ranks teaches a person how to work with a crew and deal with production, which are invaluable skills when it comes to becoming a successful DP. I started in cameras as a trainee then clapper loader but then went to film school and came out three years later as a fully fledged DP, so in a way I had the best of both worlds. Having said that, I often think my ‘range’ might well be greater had I spent many more years as an assistant on other people’s films and learning skills from the great DPs. I do miss that.

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