Depth of Modulation and the Dawn of Electronic Cinematography

As a DP at the dawn of electronic cinematography, I was fortunate to work with a company in New Hampshire called VideoTroupe.  Now known as “The Troupe”, it was founded by a talented engineer, Fred Conners Sr..  Patient with this young upstart, he schooled him in the business of production, and helped him to discover value in work.  Most importantly though, he introduced him to a most impressive and poignant term:

Depth of Modulation

I was astounded, more so as I knew at that moment a term yet unknown to my peers.  In engineering parlance it refers to the maximum deviation from an unmodulated carrier (going negative, if you will…).  Alone, a term of no qualitative inclination, in video however, it denotes the maximum attainable contrast range of an image acquired by a camera system; full scale.  Bounded by saturation on the high end and the noise floor on the low, this term soon came to imply more than my initial understanding.

Depth of Modulation…a range of usefulness, fidelity, a well rounded repertoire.

More and more I find myself adopting the sound recordist mode of acquisition; capture in full dynamic range, clean, with maximum potential for post manipulation.  Use the complete set of bits available, do not waste, expose to the right (another time…).  Aghast!  How do you put your mark on it…what will name your style?  Can I not accomplish that with composition, movement and lighting?  In truth, what I preserve is simply the ability to cleanly flex contrast and color tone.

Depth of Modulation…a life balanced…the yin and yang of it all.

I can only hope to capture the vision presented to me.  In the end, the only valid style I impart is in the integrity of my execution of that endeavor; how I work with others, how I perceive the project and my place within it, how I behave; all this informed by the breadth of a life.

Sine Yin Yang

There is a Zen reference to protecting the senses.  Imagine a life (a film…) filled with a barrage on your senses.  Not too hard, eh?   No matter how bright and shiny, this is a life of shallow depth of modulation, no dynamics…as the senses adjust, eventually all becomes monotone.  Make room for the silence, the return to one, a zero crossing.

How will you improve your depth of modulation today?

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