There are many movies portraying professional photographers. The characters in the movies make their living taking pictures, and you would expect them to be skilled in the use of a camera. It would be nice if the actors appeared to be similarly adept; but that doesn’t often happen.
Here’s my analysis of a few films.
Blood Diamond. Jennifer Connelly has a nicely-worn M-series Leica with a moderate wide-angle lens for most of the show. She holds it with her fingertips. When she shoots through a chain-link fence, she lines up the rangefinder window with the opening in the links, leaving the lens pointed at the chain. It’s not her fault, but the foley folks’ problem that when she releases the shutter, it sounds like an SLR, not a RF camera. When the picture she “took” is flashed on the screen, it’s been made with a moderate telephoto. Late in the picture, she changes to a Nikon SLR with a longish zoom, which she holds more credibly, but she looks through the camera with both eyes open, not something you would do with a lens that long.
Ghandi. Candace Bergen starts out with a Graphic 4×5 press camera, and manages to pull the dark slide at appropriate moments. Later, she switches to a Rolleiflex, and sort of waves it around as she takes pictures.
The Bridges of Madison County. I cringed a bit when, in his first scene with a camera, Clint Eastwood fumbled around setting up his tripod, but that turned out to be an aberration. For the rest of the film, he handled the camera skillfully and convincingly. There’s a slightly confusing little detail: Eastwood’s character’s Nikon F has the add-on motor drive, but he always advances the film manually.
The Weight of Water. Catherine McCormack, playing a photojournalist, starts out holding her M-series Leica with her fingertips, but in a later scene manages to hang on a little tighter. She never quite figures out that you have to stop moving the camera when you depress the shutter. She does a bit better with a Nikon SLR. She handles a Hasselblad, but never takes a picture with it. Probably just as well.
Salvador. James Woods wields a Nikon F quite credibly. He does hold the camera still for a very short time at the instant of exposure, but he plays a pretty hyper guy, and maybe he’s a quick focuser and is using a fast shutter speed.
Deep End of the Ocean. Michelle Pfeiffer gets a solid B for her Nikon handling, and an A+ for rapid lens changing. When it comes to swapping lenses, she’s much faster than I’ll ever be, but then again I probably care more about not dinging the camera or the lens in the process. She hand-holds a Hasselblad really strangely, wrapping her right hand around the body with her index finger reaching down to depress the shutter release. That lets her focus with her left hand. We never get to see her take a picture this way. If we did, we’d see that her method requires her to juggle the camera, grabbing it with her left hand to free up her right to advance the film.
Delirious. Steve Buscemi playing a sleazy paparazzo, gets a C in camera handling. He holds his Nikon DSLR with his fingertips, focuses an AF lens the same way, and rests his long lens on the shoulder of an excited assistant to steady it. When the time comes to line up the money shot he is really slow; by the time he has things lined up, a real photographer would have filled the buffer and been on to the next subject.
The Killing Fields. John Malkovich’s photojournalist has a weird thumb on the bottom focusing style. Every time we see him tripping the shutter he’s running, dodging, or tripping. There’s never an unforced shot, and most of the time he’s concentrating on staying alive, so we don’t get to see much photographic style.
High Society. Nothing in this movie is realistic, so the photographic portrayal is no surprise. Celeste Holm plays a magazine photographer who accompanies Frank Sinatra’s character on a story. She pulls out her Nikon S2, and does a fairly good job of holding it still when the shutter goes off (the foley effects are dead-on), However, she holds the camera symmetrically, with the index finger of both hands along the top of the body, rather than putting the palm of the left hand on the bottom of the camera, as you’d expect a real photographer to do, even if they were focusing with their right index finger, as you can on the S2. Holm holds her incident light meter in front of her with the dome pointing at her body, rather than at the light source. Later, after Grace Kelly has knocked her Nikon off a table and broken it, she produces a Rolleiflex TLR. She only takes one picture with it, a no-focus, barely-glancing-at-the-waist-level-finder exposure of a moving person indoors from three feet away. An impossible shot, even without considering the reversal of left and right that occurs in the finder.
The Caller. Elliot Gould plays a private eye who specializes in photographing his subjects in compromising positions. His camera is a Nikon D80, which is a surprise; maybe his clients don’t pay very well. The name and model number are blacked out on the neck strap — a nice touch. He uses the Nikon 80-400mm zoom, zoomed all the way out most of the time. Pretty tough to get much quality if you shoot that rig while walking, but he does. In one scene he quite properly braces the lens by putting his elbows on a table.
In all of these movies, the consistent winners are the props people. The cameras are mostly classics, period-correct, and appropriately well-used/beat-up.
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