6 Great Spielberg Shots

“Munich” (2005)

(Dir. S. Spielberg; DP J. Kaminski)

Shot from Spielberg's 'Munich'

The color scheme in this shot is absolutely gorgeous.  The warm/cold combination of color temperatures is nothing new, but the blue hue of the light in the background is particularly beautiful and delicate. The colorist undoubtedly deserves some credit.

Classic foreground texture by Steven Spielberg and exquisite lighting by the greatest cinematographer of all time, Janusz Kaminski.

“Amistad” (1997)

(Dir. S. Spielberg; DP J. Kaminski)

Moody silhouette shot from Spielberg's 'Amistad'

Cinquè, played by Djimon Hounsou, is not a happy man in this shot.

Spielberg loves to use moody silhouette shots to highlight moments of high drama.

With their extreme contrast, silhouette shots are the ultimate use of low-key lighting.

A fairly long lens was used in this shot, to enhance the dominance of the fire in the background.

Filmmaking tipsWide lenses make the foreground dominate over the background; long lenses have the opposite effect.

“Catch Me if You Can” (2002)

(Dir. S. Spielberg; DP J. Kaminski)

Moody silhouette shot from Spielberg's 'Catch me if you can'

Another example of the use of a high-contrast silhouette shot to punctuate high drama.  In this shot Frank William Abagnale, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is disturbed by the fact that his father refuses to discourage him from quitting his fraudulent lifestyle.

Notice that the hue of the background light has a hint of blue in it, further evoking a sense of alienation.

“Munich” (2005)

(Dir. S. Spielberg; DP J. Kaminski)

Window reflection shot from Spielberg's 'Munich'

This shot combines two Spielberg hallmarks: the use of window reflections and the coverage of a scene in a single uncut master shot. The droplets of water on the window are another classic Spielberg technique; in the commentary of the “A.I.” DVD it is made clear that he does it to add texture.  Can you imagine the texture of this shot without the droplets of water on the window?  It would be bland and dull — one might even say dry.

I don’t have to remind you that almost any other director would have shot this scene with at least two set-ups. Spielberg’s single-shot approach is smooth, satisfying and a timesaver in production — a win-win deal if I ever saw one.

Filmmaking tipsIf you ever decide to attempt similar window reflection shots, remember that it takes a lot of light to achieve correct exposure for a subject reflected in a window.

In the example above, the light thrown on the reflected subjects was massively brighter than the light on Eric Bana. This is to compensate for the fact that a transparent piece of glass only reflects a fraction of the light that hits it.

“The Color Purple” (1985)

(Dir. S. Spielberg; DP Allen Daviau)

Long lens crane shot from Spielberg's 'The Color Purple'

Filmmaking tipsThis crane shot used a lens of moderately long focal length. 

Part of the significance of the long focal length in this shot is that it makes the two girls larger in the frame — relative to the foreground flowers — than they would have been with a wide lens.  But the main point of using that focal length in this shot is that it compresses the visual planes and makes the entry of objects in the frame a lot more progressive and gentle than if a wide lens had been used.

Filmmaking tipsIf the distinction between long and wide lenses is meaningless to you, it’s because you haven’t done your homework.

Those with a bit of shooting experience will know that shots framed with long lenses are intrinsically less steady than those framed with wider lenses, as a result of the magnification effect of long lenses; this is why handheld and Steadicam shots are typically filmed with wider lenses.  Walk around with a camcorder fully zoomed in and you will see what I mean.

However, awesome tracking and crane shots can be filmed with long lenses if the camera is on a rock-solid support and is maneuvered with a geared head instead of a regular fluid head with a pan handle.

Geared heads are operated by two separate handles that control the panning and tilting axes.  It takes a lot more practice to operate a geared head than a fluid head, but the results are vastly superior, and when filming a crane shot with a long lens as in the shot above, the difference will become apparent.

“Munich” (2005)

(Dir. S. Spielberg; DP J. Kaminski)

Crane master shot from Spielberg's 'Munich'

Another prime example of an uncut master shot from Steven Spielberg.

We start with a wide view of the vault, we then track in over the safety deposit boxes as he opens them one by one, and then the camera cranes up and tilts down to give us an overhead wide shot of all the boxes.

With this technique Spielberg makes us see the right thing at the right time, framed in the right way. It’s brilliant.

Filmmaking tipsThe significance of this technique is not to impress viewers with Spielberg’s directorial brilliance.  The point is that a mini-story is told in a single uncut shot. This shot has a beginning, a middle and an end — just like screenplays!

Watch it repeatedly and learn from it — it’s an excellent use of bandwidth!


I hope that, in addition to feasting your eyes on some show-stopping Steven Spielberg cinematic eye candy, you have also picked up a few technical tips that you can add to your filmmaking toolbox and implement on your next project. Good luck! 🙂

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