Cinematography is one of those things with many technical sounding names for things that are relatively simple. You always hear filmmakers (or film buffs) throwing around terms like “pullback zoom” or “rack focus” or “jump cut”, and to those who don’t know much about filmmaking, those things sound complicated. Setting Up Your Shots is a book that breaks down the seemingly complex world of cinematography and makes it understandable to anyone, film student and novice alike. First printed in 2000, this latest 2008 edition features many more techniques, along with many updated film references and new illustrations.
The book is incredibly easy to understand and written in layman’s terms. It begins with basic cinematic concepts (pan, zoom, medium shot, extreme close-up, etc.) and goes on to explain more involved techniques (POV, dollies/cranes, layering, etc.) throughout the book. Each technique is defined, and then its purpose is explained, along with what it looks like. Next, Mr. Vineyard lists several films that give examples of the specific technique. In addition, illustrator Jose Cruz gives visual examples of the different shots/scenes with his excellent storyboard drawings.
Depth of Information
The amount of information packed into the book is impressive and covers most of the major shots used in filmmaking. Vineyard explains frame composition, crane and camera techniques, movement, perspective, editing, and much more. He gives excellent examples of movies that further showcase the different concepts, including classic, modern, indie, and foreign films.
However, some of the information needs more balance. Many of the techniques gave far too many film examples (i.e. six or more), while others had none at all. For instance, in the “Screens” and “Broken Wall” techniques, Vineyard mentions around 12 different films! In my opinion, a maximum of five references would suffice, otherwise it becomes overmuch. On the other hand, other techniques, such as “Tilt”, “Mechanical”, and “Look At”, have no examples, when they could easily have at least two or three. Also, when explaining shots that are more complicated (the “180° Rule”) or shots which involve mechanical devices (cranes, subjective shots, etc.), it would be helpful to have a basic diagram or drawing of the concept/device, to give the reader a better visual understanding of what the author is describing. Such illustrations would be especially helpful since this book was written to include those readers who may have no previous knowledge about filmmaking.
Vineyard is succinct in his descriptions and explanations, and his laidback writing style makes Setting Up Your Shots a relatively quick and very enjoyable read. Because this book is for people with little-to-no previous knowledge of cinematography, it reads more like an instructional “how-to” guide, instead of an involved technical manual. In addition, with the concepts and chapters broken down into logical sections, it is easy to pick up wherever you left off.
If you are interested in learning more about shot/scene composition, Setting Up Your Shots is an excellent reference book. The techniques described are used extensively in filmmaking and the explanations detailed, yet simple. Together, these aspects make this a book that you will definitely keep coming back to.
Value vs. Cost
Given the amount of valuable information contained in this book, as well as the long-term use, this book is definitely worth the price.
This book is excellent for anyone who wants to learn more about the art of visual composition in filmmaking. The explanations of the various shots are simple and direct, and the accompanying illustrations are both helpful and well drawn. Vineyard covers several dozen cinematic shots in the book and gives excellent film references for them. However, the references need to be more balanced, as some techniques have too many and others have none. It would also be helpful to have a few additional diagrams or drawings to illustrate some of the more involved techniques. The book is engaging and straightforward without being overly technical. The nature of the topic and the simple-yet-informative approach make this a book you will keep referring to as a filmmaker. Setting Up Your Shots is definitely a must-have for the aspiring filmmaker/cinematographer.