LOOKING BACK: Vintage advice

Norman Alley. Hired 1914 for Hearst International Newsreel. Later would film on the west coast for "CBS: See It Now" and "CBS Reports" during the 50s and 60s. Retired 1968.
Norman Alley. Hired 1914 for Hearst International Newsreel. Later would film on the west coast for “CBS: See It Now” and “CBS Reports” during the 50s and 60s. Retired 1968.

Ninety-nine years ago, Paul Hugon of Pathe News wrote a booklet called “Hints to Newsfilm Cameramen” for distribution to his growing army of news photographers. That little sixteen page tome would be the first one ever written for practitioners of the then nascent craft of news photography.

Here’s a look back to a few excerpts of the advice Hugon gave to those early pioneers…some of whom would go on and blaze trails for television a few decades later, intermingled with links to similar advice being given today.

“…The object of motion pictures is to show motion. Only things in which there is motion are worthy of the cameraman’s attention…”

(BOPSA makes for boring footage) “…THERE IS NO DEMAND for pictures of the ordinary activities of boy scouts, local parades, lodge meetings, unveilings of statues or tablets (except when attended by the President), posed groups of delegates to conventions, or similar line-ups of persons much embarrassed by the camera…

“…A good general rule to follow is this: Never send pictures that do not tell their own story. Pictures that require lengthy explanatory titles never can be interesting…”

Sam Greenwald. Hired 1915 for Gaumont News. Retired from KCBS in the late 60s.
Sam Greenwald. Hired 1915 for Gaumont News. Retired from KCBS in the late 60s.

“…MAKE SURE YOU GET THE NEWS IN YOUR PICTURE. To every event there is one and one only; if a man has invented a new engine, we want to see the man and his engine in the same picture. If in doubt, write out the story in two lines, then take the picture showing just what you had in those two lines. If you cannot do that, you have missed the story…”

“…GET LOCAL COLOR IN YOUR PICTURES. There are many scenes that you never look at, and never would photograph, because you see them every day; but people in other cities want to see them, just because they are different from their own surroundings…”

(Wide, medium and tight) “…First from a fair distance, to give a general view of the object and its surroundings. Secondly from as close a range as possible to give detail. Most positions taken by cameramen are intermediate between these two, and therefore wrong. If you will reflect for a moment, you will see that the way of viewing a subject is to get a general view as you approach it, after which it is important to get up just as close as possible, and inspect the subject minutely. If you cannot get close up, you can sometimes use a six-inch lens with the same effect. Every cameraman going out on a difficult job should always carry a six-inch lens with him…”

(Check your focus) “…You cannot be too particular about crisp focus. Whenever you are able to do so, carry a newspaper with big headlines, and have someone hold it upside down for you at the exact distance at which the person to be photographed will stand, and focus on it…”

Joe Rucker. Hired 1912 for Pathe News. Retired from NBC News in 1957. While with NBC, ran a successful one-man-campaign to change the California State Legislature rules to allow TV cameras into the capitol building.
Joe Rucker. Hired 1912 for Pathe News. Retired from NBC News in 1957. While with NBC, ran a successful one-man-campaign to change the California State Legislature rules to allow TV cameras into the capitol building.

(learn and use a tripod) “…It is essential, to preserve the illusion which is the basis of the film business, that the pictures should be absolutely steady. A very large number of pictures are rejected owing to unsteadiness, which is due in many cases to defective screwing up of tripod or tilting platform…”

(Don’t pan if you can help it) “…There should never be a panoram, either vertical or horizontal, unless it is absolutely essential to obtain a photographic effect, and in any case the panoram should be, not from the main subject to others, but from others to the main subject, where the attention will finally rest. It is very much better to take two scenes than one panorammed scene. Panoraming is the lazy man’s remedy…”

(Hugon’s golden rule and utilize your time) “…The Golden Rule: Make as good a picture for others as you would like others to make for you Nothing but the very best is good enough. Think, and think hard, how you can make the best picture. Put it all down in writing; plan your scenes; first I shall stand there, to get the best general view. Then I shall walk around the crowd to this spot, which will be held for me by my friend So-and-So, and make a closeup. I shall want my two-inch lens for this scene and the six-inch for the other. The event will take place at such and such an hour: therefore the sun will be there, and I must turn my camera that way to get the best composition. That tree would nicely mask the sky. I must take my position so as to include that branch in the picture. I will have everything ready to ship the film, etc. There is plenty of room at the top of your profession, but you will not get there by standing about or just grinding away…”

Hugon’s booklet due to demand was republished in the May 20, 1916 issue of Moving Picture World and can be read in its entirely at this link.