Award-winning cinematographer, director, producer, writer, film academy professor, developer of film technology ... Christian Berger has a storied career in film that spans over 40 years and continues to go from strength to strength. Here he talks about the importance of lighting, the wide-ranging effects of digital cameras, and how Cooke lenses have enhanced his most recent films, including Haneke’s The White Ribbon – for which he was Oscar-nominated and received, beside many other awards, from the ASC (American Society of Cinematographers) Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography 2010 – and the latest work, coming in 2013, (working title) The Notebook by director Janos Zsasz.
I had not worked with the director Janos Szasz before but we worked closely together from the beginning and I was able to suggest ideas about how to shoot and how to light the film. We shot the film on the ARRI ALEXA using ARRIRAW 1:2.35 CinemaScope because we wanted to keep the twin boys in the frame together nearly all the time.
As with all my films in the last 10 years, I used the Cine Reflect Lighting System (CRLS) that I developed with Christian Bartenbach - it simplifies the lighting process, whether shooting into strong light sources or dealing with shadows and darkness. I like to use natural light sources like candles, torches and so on in the frame and Cooke lenses are unsurpassed in their anti-flare qualities, therefore the Cooke S4 lenses were perfect for this project. I like to work mainly with the so-called ‘normal lenses’ – 32/35/40mm – but we had the complete set so that we could use others if it was necessary or made sense.
I also used S4 lenses for The White Ribbon, directed by Michael Haneke. We wanted to achieve a special black-and-white look and, after a serious test phase to compare other lenses, the Cooke lenses were the winners. Besides the well-known anti-flare quality, they were just the best for me – the Cookes are sharp but less ‘hard’ than other lenses, which makes all the difference. Shooting digitally with cameras that are so light-sensitive, I think that T1.4 is not so important any more – aside from the greater focus problems in the digital field with any open lens, T2.0 and the chip sensitivity is more than enough. And you pay the price with too much light: it makes me sad when I have to put a piece of gray glass in front of a high class lens to reduce the incoming light – that makes no lens better.
I believe we need a new way of thinking about light for digital image acquisition; the very fine and precise control of contrast and light distribution is essential, even more than for film in my opinion, if you really want to use the given high dynamic range to its best ability - from the most tender to the most rough lighting style.