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Common Director of Photography Terminology

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/27/2010

Learn exactly what the DP means when he says some of the common terms.

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    Learning Some Director of Photography Terms

    The Director of Photography, also known as the Cinematographer, is possibly the most important production position below the Producer and Director. It is the Director of Photography that arranges and decides upon the images that are being captured for the film project. The Director of Photography ends up as the visual artist for the production who tries to take the Director's vision and create an actual film out of it with images that are expressive and work in context. The professional world for the Director of Photography includes just as much lingo and jargon as anything else in the professional film industry, so here are a few of the most common terms that you will hear in the camera department being led by the DP.

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    Cowboy Shot

    The Cowboy Shot is a medium long shot that positions the middle of the leg up to the head. This essentially frames the whole body in a standard shot but cuts off before the knee. The term Cowboy Shot comes from the use of this framing in spaghetti Westerns where the cowboy was framed so you could see his low riding guns.

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    Buzz

    If there is just a very quick moment where an object or subject lacks perfect focus they may call this a Buzz. What happens here is during a scene or camera movement the subject may become temporarily soft, so this will be announced as there was a Buzz in a particular set up.

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    Hollywood It

    You will often here a Director of Photography telling the lighting department to "Hollywood it." To Hollywood a light means that a light is to be hand held on a subject instead of positioned in a secure location for the scene. This will often happen if a subject is going to move around and a small light is needed to stay on them at all times.

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    Hot Seat

    When using a crane shot there needs to be a camera operator seated in the seat for that crane. This is always called the Hot Seat.

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    Martini

    When you are done filming for the day the very last shot is usually called the Martini. This comes from an old joke about receiving a martini at the end of a shoot.

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    Dolly Shots

    A Dolly Shot is one where the camera is placed on a moving "dolly," which is a platform with wheels on it. This is essentially a moving shot where the camera remains stable on the dolly platform. A Fishbowl is a dolly shot where the track for the dolly has a curve to it so that it will encircle as subject.

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    Stacking it Up

    If you want to make the space of a shot look larger and you are doing this by using a longer lens this can be called Stacking it Up. This is because you are adding more things in depth.

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    Film Magazine Terms

    Often times the Second Assistant Camera person will load film magazines ahead of time so they will be ready to go. If a film magazine is not going to get shot that day the film has to be put away. This process is called Recanning because the film must be returned to the can it came from. If you hear something called a French Film it rarely indicates a foreign produced picture. Instead it means that there is a fake, or absent, roll of film in the magazine. Accordionnated means that the film stock in a magazine has become bunched up and is not circulating correctly, usually because there was a problem when it was loaded.

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    OTS and POV

    An OTS means an over the shoulder shot where you can see the back of one person's shoulder but the focus is on the other person's face. A dirty OTS is an over the shoulder shot that allows you to see a little more of the back of the shoulder holder. A POV shot is a shot that indicates a character's point of view (you can learn more about POV shots here).

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    Magic Hour

    The term Magic Hour refers to a short period of natural light in the morning and evening. The Magic Hour is in the area of sunset or sunrise where the light kind of explodes in the sky. The Magic Hour is usually the best period of time for natural light. The Magic Hour is a heavily sought after time period in professional filmmaking and you will find Director's of Photography either rushing or waiting to get into the Magic Hour.

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    Tail Slate

    A Tail Slate refers to a situation when you would put the normal slate at the end of a shot instead of the beginning. A Tail Slate is usually a safeguard for a situation when you just could not get the slate at the beginning.