Film & TV

Camera: Cinematography

Werner Herzog

Lesson time 17:42 min

Learn how to paint with light, work with cinematographers, and bring your vision to life with extraordinary images.

Werner Herzog
Teaches Filmmaking
In 6 hours of video lessons, Werner Herzog teaches his uncompromising approach to documentary and feature filmmaking.
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Today I see it very often that young filmmakers at film school, they keep demanding, we need the state of the art camera, this Sony camera. So, yeah, that was great three years ago. But there's a new one, we have to have it. I think that's a silly idea. You have to be capable to make a photo with a shoebox, a needle to drill a hole into it, and a plate of celluloid at the end, a pinhole camera. Before you ask for the state-of-the-art camera, show me a photo that you have done with a pinhole camera. And the same thing, by the way, with cinematographers. I do not allow them a viewfinder. I do not like it. They better know what the projection lines of your 150 millimeter lens is. I think it is part of the professional caliber that they don't need it. You just don't need it. You know what is in frame with this or that lens. And of course, you establish the distance of your camera to the characters or to your scene in a certain point. Or here this camera, where, no, it's shifting, it's moving. And it will not lose me out of sight, but it will lose my hand out of sight if I grab over here. So I don't even know which lens you have at the moment. But I assume that I have to be cautious with this lens. I know that with this camera it's probably a wider lens. And I can even stand up. And I would be head to toe. And it's interesting, filmmaker Jean Rouch, who made one of the finest films, documentaries I have ever seen, Les Maitres Fous, The Mad Masters, shot in Africa in Guyana, I think in 1953 or '54, before the independence of Ghana. It was the Gold Coast still. And still a British colony. And he shot the entire film with, I think it was a camera, where you have this hand cranking sort of thing to it because it doesn't have batteries. So the longest shot he could take was something like 24 seconds or 25 seconds in one lens. And he made one of the finest films ever made. It's about street workers who lay asphalt in Accra, in the capital city. And on the weekends, they go out in the mountains and they drug themselves with I think the bark of a . And they stagger around and they reenact the arrival of the British High Commissioner. It's just unbelievable intensity in it and kind of insight, crazy, completely stark mad, insight into colonialism. Very, very advisable for young filmmakers to see. One camera, hand cranked, no batteries, one lens. Hold the camera. Operate with it. Don't look at the flip screen, look through it. You have to look through it. You have to know what you're doing. And I will get up because I will show a few things. What I do when I do camera myself, which I've done in quite a few films, and when I do handheld, number one, I grab the camera and I have my elbows solidly tucked to my body. And I look through the camera. And everything, it's not that I op...

Capture the spectacular

When the legendary director Werner Herzog was 19, he stole a camera and made his first movie. 70 films and 50 awards later, Werner is teaching documentary and feature filmmaking. In this film class, you’ll learn storytelling, cinematography, location scouting, self-financing, documentary interview techniques, and how to bring your ideas to life. By the end, you’ll make uncompromising movies.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Great second class, He's so approachable and humble. I have watched older films before but now I am really excited to dive in deeper.

have not yet, but will complete and watch again and again, excellent

His thoughts and ideas and most important, his experiences.It's great! But more detailed breakdown of his work would make this much valuable.

I have always found Herzog to be such an inspiration. I look forward to learning from the man himself. This is going to be enlightening.


A fellow student

Excellent and inspiring lesson, particularly liked his point on getting close and personal, on getting deeply involved with the subject at hand: one of the greatest film makers out there for sure!


I love the idea of momentum. It applies to most arts, perhaps all. However, on movies sets, I have seen the opposite: technology rules, "hurry up and wait," etc. In all of this the moment is lost. The worst thing is many people (including directors) seem not to notice as long as the light is right or whatever. This is a brilliant lesson. Mr Herzog has made me want to go back and look at all the films from which he draws examples.

A fellow student

Does anyone else find themselves wondering- "Who edits these lessons?" Do Herzog and Scorsese have final cut over their Masterclasses?

Nik S.

I think today it is rare to find photographers and cinematographers who take momentum over style. With the technological possibilities today it will look unprofessional. So, during the shot it is all about preparing everything to perfectionism, and in addition there is talk about what they are going to fix in post. I love imperfections in photos, and I hate photoshop. The perfectionism kills the momentum and the emotion. That's why I prefere pictures from past. Great lesson.

Ali A.

Man.. I've always loved this guy.. and watching this was just a treat. This is what a master filmmaker is. I could just watch this for days. This lesson is pretty much all you need to know about film making, even though it's technically a cinematography lesson. Thank you Werner for sharing!


This man is such a great artist. He listens to his guts and goes with it all the way. Thank you.

Charles B.

If you shoot as a he describes as a great camera person, will you make a film that engages millions of viewers?

Eric G.

The more he speaks, the more we find the "heart and soul" of Werner's success. I love his disdain comment about "artsy-fartsy" esthetics. He is right in so much as shooting only based on aesthetics is not going to allow a proper natural creative process to occur, only an artificial one. Even choice of locations can affect the idea of aesthetics, so it remains incumbent on the director to assure open natural creativity, otherwise, just shoot everything on a sound stage and use CGI to make it "real." I really liked this lesson. Will have to revisit it after finishing Scorsese and Sorkin, then compare him to Howard.

Rane M.

Lots to think and rethink about in this lesson. And can I say how much I'm loving Masterclass as well as reading the comments of filmmakers from around the world.

Sonya S.

I work full time as a lawyer so my first documentary has actually taken me 3 years, not because I laboured over the filming, etc. but just because I made it organically and I also kept finding people whom I wanted to include in my documentary. I am about to start editing next month (October '18) and I am happy I listened to this lesson and the previous one -- what I take from these talks is that we don't have to be perfectionists, we just have to take action and do if my first documentary is not perfectly edited, it's OK, it's the content, the story that counts...also, I will eschew the advice that I got from another director friend in favor of Werner's advice to not take years in edit... Also, regarding the brevity of shooting...I have to film my feature film soon in NYC as it's been on my back burner for way too long - I found it heartening that he only took 8 hours of footage for the Bolivian film...I'm going to start experimenting with lighting and look at art for inspiration and see if I can recreate this kind of lighting on my Canon Mark III - for those of you who don't know me, I had a bad experience making my first short and got walked all over by my younger crew - and the actor was terrible - everyone thought they knew better than me! So this has helped a great deal. Thank you, Mr. Herzog.