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Categories: Interviews

The director of photography and photographer shares advice on collaborating with directors, working with lighting and building confidence.


Diana Olifirova is a London-based cinematographer and photographer who is quickly building an impressive portfolio of credits in a variety of projects, from award-winning shorts to promos, commercials, and experimental films. Born in Ukraine, Diana started studying film and photography at the age of 16, eventually completing a BA in cinematography in Kyiv before moving to London to get her MA at the NFTS.

While at the NFTS, Diana worked on many projects with the great directors she studied alongside, including Eva Riley, Thordur Palsson and Phil Sheerin. Among her other notable projects is the Ukrainian short, Not Today, by director Christina Sivolap, which won the main prize at couple of festivals including the Trieste Film Festival and Wiz-Art 2015. She has also been a member of BAFTA Crew since 2015. Diana caught up with The Spread to talk about her work as a cinematographer, and some of the best advice she has for others trying to make it in her field.

How do you, as a cinematographer, help get across each director’s view of the story while still making sure to bring your own unique touch to the film?

I like to get a sense of each director’s personality, approach and tastes, then I adapt my mindset to it, and try to think in similar directions, sometimes digressing from it to bring something new and unexpected – so we keep exploring and getting inspired and challenged.

not today

A scene from Christina Sivolap’s “Not Today”

I have my sense of composition – that is something I can’t lose; being raised on the old Ukrainian master of cinema, Sergey Lisetsky, I couldn’t escape from lots of classical art being thrown my direction to study. I am very thankful for that.

I like to work on different kind of projects – jumping from polished commercials to an experimental, rough art film to naturalistic drama – opportunities in London are such a great scale for a cinematographer to develop their style and grow high and wide.

What are some of the things you keep in mind when working with other members of the crew, such as the production designer?

I really like to be collaborative and active on set. I constantly move around, between the director-gaffer-1AD-1AC-DIT-etc and of course, production designer. It’s so crucial to have that collaboration lined up well.

Understanding of the kind of image and style we are going for makes you united and satisfied and lifts up the atmosphere on set.

The best feeling is when you look at frame and think: “hmm, I think this element doesn’t fit the composition or a style or colour palette we are going for.” You turn around to discuss it with a designer, and don’t find him around because he has felt the same and replaced that element with something else.


A shot from the fashion film “HOF”, directed by Harry Reavley

You’re also an avid photographer. How does this interest balance and feed your work as a cinematographer?

Photography and the world around me is one of my main sources of inspiration. I can’t turn off my constant search for an image; my hands automatically reach for the camera, when I see something, whatever I do or wherever I am.

It is so different from moving image; the frame should say so much more in order to hold the audience.

I also use photographs as references – I take pictures in unexpected lighting situations, explore the composition options and grading and colour ideas. It helps me to be quick and flexible on set, in preproduction and in postproduction.

It is such an important part of my profession for me, it keeps me going and growing.


What are some important things to keep in mind in regards to lighting?

I think the first thing you have to think of is the genre, the style and the director’s idea. Then depending on all of it and the story you build your lighting ideas, not just purely for the aesthetics but first for the story. It’s good to make a little set of rules and a plan that you and your team will follow.

Nevertheless, it’s always good to be up for any change of plan and breaking the rules. That’s how the best images appear.

If it’s an experimental or art piece you can afford to be a lot more loose and flexible with lighting and get inspired from set dressing, or a little sparkle of light in the actor’s eye at a certain position, and change everything in a moment. It’s good to not be afraid. As long as it looks good – it is good!


A shot from the music video “Pish”, directed by Browzan

In addition, I think it’s very important to trust the crew that you’ve chosen to work with.

Every gaffer and spark have their own experience and ways of doing things, which are quite often left behind when you start telling people what to do.

It’s very useful to have a gaffer who understands your style and taste in the same way you understand the director’s points of view. Building these relationships and experimenting while maintaining the quality of your work are very important in my opinion.

Do you have any important tips for up-and-coming cinematographers?

I always follow one idea – do what you want to do!

It’s important to be in control of everything on set, so it’s important to be confident, and you are confident only when you are doing what you want to do, right?

Only in that situation do you bring the director’s vision to life as well as deliver the best of the best out of your experience and imagination.

Find out more about Diana’s work at dianaolifirova.com.

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

Posted on May 17, 2016

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