For decades, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro has imbued the cinematic universes of Guillermo del Toro, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and more with their distinctive light, shadow and color palettes.
Here are Navarro’s golden rules for navigating a moviemaking career, responding to the moving parts of your set’s environment and finding those shots that’ll make audiences’ collective jaw hit the floor.
Experiment with commercials.
I have shot commercials between features since the beginning of my career. They can be experimental, both technically and in the visual language, which contributes to telling stories. I once shot a commercial in the Yukon Mountains where dusk lasted for hours. That gave us an extraordinary opportunity to dig deeper and explore the photographic variables of the location.
You have to reach in and find out what’s beneath the surface of the story and manipulate the film to get those images.
In Pan’s Labyrinth, I pushed the film three to four stops while shooting day-for-night scenes at dusk in natural light to get the looks we wanted. We finished timing in DI (digital intermediate) where we made the sky light or darker in different scenes.
You have to be sensitive to what the space around the actors is telling you.
Many times it’s not about adding light-it’s about taking light away and deciding what to reveal and conceal from the audience. You can also reveal and conceal things with composition, camera movement and your choice and use of lenses.
There are a million ways to approach any shot.
One of the beauties of what we do is that the possibilities are so vast that there is room for everything and for everyone to do things differently.
I have been continuously learning since I took my first still picture.
I’m not searching for the sake of finding new things, I’m searching for the energy that I think suits the story. I am not interested in shooting pretty pictures and impressing people with aesthetics. The images are a language for storytelling.
There is no recipe for success.
If you want to become an engineer, you can go to school and prepare for a career in that field. It’s not that simple with filmmaking, because it’s an art form. People who are interested in filmmaking should read novels. Another thing I suggest is that if you want to become a filmmaker, be prepared to be completely immersed in your work. MM