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Lessons from a professional DOP


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There are many professional DOPs out there and I believe there is much we can learn from studying their work.
However, it can be difficult to gain insights if you can only study their work when each project has been created in partnership with a different team of people each time - lighting, shot design, camera and lens choices, grading, etc are all aspects that the DOP doesn't have full control over and makes it hard to 'see through' to the commonalities that the DOP provides.

There is one notable exception to this, and that is Philip Bloom, who regularly creates videos as a one-man operation and shares them on YouTube.  I'm not suggesting that he's the best DOP in the world, or that we should copy him, or anything like that, but he is a career professional, and I'm not afraid to admit that he knows more about this stuff than I will ever know, so I believe there is a lot we can learn.  He recently published his annual Best Camera Gear video, and I made a number of interesting observations from watching it.  

Here are a bunch of frame-grabs from the video.

A7RIII with SLR Magic



A7III with Sony 55mm


Parrot Anafi drone


DJI Magic Pro




Fuji X-H1



EOS-R (ungraded)


Insta360 One X


Osmo Pocket (ungraded)



Kinefinity Terra 4K






Kinefinity Mavo LF


Here are some observations from the above shots:

  • There is a look that is relatively consistent across the shots.  It's not applied so heavily that every shot looks the same, but people familiar with his work would have a good chance of recognising that these were shot by him.  
    Something that is worth noting is that he's managed to get this consistency from a hugely varied selection of equipment, including different brands, different focal-lengths, different apertures, hugely different price ranges, and from different levels of image quality and codecs, across different locations within different countries, at different times of day, in different seasons, and shooting different things.  
  • He's not able to get that look in all cases.  One notable exception is the Insta One X that doesn't seem to fit the look, everyone has limits on what they can achieve.  Equipment doesn't matter as much as the skill of the operator, but it still matters to a certain degree, and especially if the equipment is below a certain level of quality or capability.
  • The look that he's creating is quite pleasing.  It won't be liked by everyone (no looks are universal) but on the whole he manages to get good looking results from whatever equipment he's using.  Anyone who has picked up an even half-decent camera and not been able to get good results from it knows that this is not something that just happens - you have to know what you're doing.

So, what are the ingredients of this look? (note that not every shot includes every ingredient, but the more you can include the more consistent your results will be)

  • The images have a warm colour balance.
    There are two main contributors to this that I see, the first is the grading he does which often warms the images overall, pushing greens towards yellow, pushing blues towards aquas.  The second is that he's very often shooting into the sun in golden hour.  The shots also tend to have fewer hues in each shot - making them more likely to be harmonious and pleasing.
  • The images have a kind of controlled level of contrast to them.  You don't look at them and find them flat looking, but they don't look super contrasty either.  This look probably comes from paying attention to the blacks and almost blacks, which are slightly lifted and don't ever appear to hit absolute black, let alone crushed.  This look seems to come from shooting directly into the light and having camera flare lift the blacks, but is also controlled in grading.
  • His images have a kind of controlled level of saturation to them.  Colours are bold but not electric, skin tones are very well controlled looking soft but not desaturated and are neither too yellow nor too pink.  Considering all the talk about colour science and skin tones, this is noteworthy.
  • His compositions are strong.  I chose nice frames for these frame-grabs but there were no shortage of frames to choose from.  Composition is hugely important and is free with every camera - even with the Insta360 which struggles in most other ways.
  • He uses great lenses.
    This is perhaps something that people easily mis-interpret.  Great lenses is a relative term, and is about the combination of the lens, the subject, the conditions, and the desired end result.  It's tempting to think that you'll get great results from super expensive cinema lenses that he often uses, but the smooth rendering and polished look of these lenses is a terrible choice if you want to shoot something that needs a more realistic / edgy / gritty image, and besides, if it was all about cost, then how do we account for the image that he gets out of the Osmo Pocket with its fixed budget lens, or the Parrot and DJI drone shots?  The answer is that he uses high quality glass when he can, and when the glass has limitations he adjusts the subject and the conditions to get the best out of that lens. 
    In a sense, these videos are cheating.  He is able to shoot whatever will look good and not include the shots that don't.  If you don't believe me then go have a look at the lovely images he got from the iPhone 5s at 120fps and notice that he only shot images looking straight into the sun near sunset, this is because a camera with bad ISO performance, a small sensor, in HFR modes needs a huge amount of light to get good results, then see that he tended to shoot with things very close to the camera which is the only way to give some defocussing and depth, and shooting into the warm setting sun also makes sure that the colours will be nice and the colour range will be simpler.
    He uses great glass by making sure that he only shoots what the available glass is great at.
  • Not visible in the frame-grabs, but he also shoots a lot of slow-motion.  It is totally cheating and is completely over-used, but these shots are about making nice images, so why not.

Im sure there is lots more, but this is what stands out to me.  Let me know what I missed.

As there is a graded shot of the BMPCC4K in the video and he posted the RAW file from the same shot earlier in the year, it gives a unique opportunity to try and copy the grade and see what is actually going on, so if I get time I might try and reverse-engineer the grade.  If so, I'll share the results.

Thanks to Philip Bloom for continuing to share with us.

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44 minutes ago, webrunner5 said:

He is not afraid of grain or noise in his stuff either. I think he actually takes advantage of it. He is a wiz at grading, editing no doubt. I think one of his strong points is he seems to always be willing to take his time to get it right. He is meticulous.

You've reminded me of something else I noticed - he quite often doesn't bother with the 180 degree shutter rule.  The X-H1 image above contains a bird and if I compare the blur to the movement of the bird I estimate he's getting something like 30-60 degrees of shutter.  It's not like he can't afford enough NDs, I think he just doesn't care enough to dial that in each time.

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When I took up doing a bit of video about 18 months ago, one of the first things I did was to watch a 10 hour video called something like 'The Phillip Bloom Master Class'.

One of the things that really struck me was how little video grading he did. Basically he applies 'Film Convert' plugin to his video and tweaks it a bit.I guess this gives him a consistent look across cameras because the camera and profile are inputs for the plugin. It also tends to add grain although I vaguely remember that he tended to dial it back.

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1 hour ago, Robert Collins said:

When I took up doing a bit of video about 18 months ago, one of the first things I did was to watch a 10 hour video called something like 'The Phillip Bloom Master Class'.

One of the things that really struck me was how little video grading he did. Basically he applies 'Film Convert' plugin to his video and tweaks it a bit.I guess this gives him a consistent look across cameras because the camera and profile are inputs for the plugin. It also tends to add grain although I vaguely remember that he tended to dial it back.

From a couple of mentions by Juan Melara I think that Film Convert is actually a really sophisticated colour engine and has all sorts of film profiles built-in, so while Philip may only apply it in a subtle way, I think the "it" that he's applying is complex and sophisticated.  That's why I'm interested in trying to replicate it.

Of course, the Osmo and EOS-R shots above were ungraded and they still have a lot of his look, so it doesn't look like he's heavily relying on it.

I was in the train once and noticed that a woman was putting on her makeup and I'd noticed just as she started.  Over the course of about 5 minutes she did about a dozen different things and ended up looking quite made-up.  The interesting thing about it was that each time she'd pull something out and start applying it, it had such a subtle effect that I couldn't tell at first if it was doing anything.  Her overall look was created through applying many subtle and almost imperceptible changes, and her final look was obviously something she'd spent a long time crafting such that each of the elements all worked together in the end.
I think this is what quality film-making is about - pushing and pulling things very subtly all through the process in such a way that the end result is really great but nothing stands out as being the single reason behind that result.  I think this is why we can watch 100 award winning films and still not be that aware of how to make one ourselves!

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