May 11, 2021
4 min read
Growing up in Italy, cinematographer Valentina Caniglia, AIC was nine when her father bought her a Kodak camera. But shooting film at a young age was expensive so she learned how to meticulously choose the right frame and not to waste shots. Her father also encouraged her to look at paintings and she became inspired by works by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Vermeer - especially how the artists used lighting to express emotions.
While studying film at Westminster College in London and NYU, she was influenced by the work of cinematographers Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC and Robby Müller, NSC, BVK. Like a great painter, she admired how Storaro explored color and had a unique ideology behind each color. “Robby Müller took a different approach to lighting,” revealed Caniglia. “It was simpler with a more naturalistic effect in his use of available light.”
After film school, Caniglia started off working as a camera loader, eventually moving up to camera operator. According to Caniglia, watching DPs work was a valuable experience, as well as getting lighting advice from gaffers. “I was always on their backs asking what kind of lighting units they were using, or what kind of gels,” explained Caniglia. “I really focused on lighting because I wanted to be a cinematographer."
Shot on VariCam
As a DP, Caniglia has gone on to shoot a number of creative projects with both VariCam LT and AU-EVA1 cinema cameras. One of the first projects she worked with the VariCam on was the 2017 Netflix series, Gypsy, in which she shot 2nd unit. The series was lensed by DP Bobby Bukowski and according to Caniglia, he was very detailed on the look he was going for, but gave her a lot of freedom to explore with the VariCam LT.
Netflix's Gypsy - Featurette
According to Caniglia, one of the main reasons they went with VariCam LT was because Netflix demanded 4K native resolution. “We had these Panavision Primos lenses and it was very interesting to see how the camera could balance highlight and shadow detail," she explained.
For a dimly lit scene in a restaurant, Caniglia lit with soft light and practical lights on tables. “I was really impressed with VariCam’s color,” said Caniglia. “I was using a lot of CTS (Straw) gels to accentuate the colors in the restaurant.” She also was impressed at how the VariCam LT held highlights when shooting outdoors recreating a backlit “sun” with a 10K HMI at 320 ISO.
One of her most challenging recent projects is Accidents Can Happen: The Women of Three Mile Island, which Caniglia shot with the VariCam LT and Sigma zoom lenses. The 90-minute documentary tells the story of three mothers who lived within five miles of the nuclear power plant at the time of its meltdown. According to Caniglia, the doc was a run-and-gun shoot with minimal crew. “I liked the fact that I was very mobile with the camera,” said Caniglia. “We interviewed a lot of women and we went to places where I couldn’t light at all.”
Even though she was shooting in dark locations, Caniglia still kept her ISO settings consistent at 800. Instead of relying on VariCam’s Dual Native ISOs (800 and 5,000), she likes keeping her image a little underexposed and creates contrast using backlight. “As a cinematographer, I tell the camera what to do,” said Caniglia. “For this documentary, I sometimes shot stopped down to a T-8 because I wanted to see the town, or the nuclear tower, in the background since the ambiance was one of the main characters. As a DP, I really just go with the story and the emotions behind it.”
Shot on EVA1
A recent project Caniglia is especially proud of is Soyka, which she shot with the EVA1. The fifteen-minute short film tells the story of a Belarusian emigrant, Anna, who takes desperate measures to pursue her creative dreams in New York, while misrepresenting her life to impress her grandmother back home. “I related to this story since I’m also an immigrant in this country,” revealed Caniglia. “We see this woman going through a lot of obstacles and then by the end, we see whether or not she can make it here as an artist. I really wanted to explore what this woman was feeling through lighting and color.”
For her work on Soyka, Caniglia often gelled her lights, employed vintage Russian lenses rehoused by Richard Gale Optics in the UK, and used a large prism in front of her lens to obtain an interesting color spectrum.
"My colorist at HARBOR, Roman Hankewycz, was happy we didn’t have to do a lot of color correction,” revealed Caniglia. "We crushed the blacks a little. The color was really easy to work with since it held up so well. There was a scene in a pool at night time where I lit it in a reflection of blue light with the contrast of how she’s dressed in pink. The blue and pink reflected really well. I would have probably had to knock the colors down a bit if I had used another camera. Color was an important element to this story and the EVA1 really captured the emotions that the character was feeling.”
For more information on the VariCam LT and EVA1, click through here.
Visit Valentina Caniglia, AIC’s personal website at www.valentinacaniglia.com.