Cinematographer Johanna Coelho, A Visual Psychologist

One of the most captivating things about a film, or rather, a good film, is the compelling nature of its imagery. The way a single shot can effect our emotions as an audience provides cinematographers with the powerful tool to create a visual language that runs along with the film’s story.

French cinematographer Johanna Coelho falls into the group of cinematographers who are known for making films that draw viewers in with their film’s visually stimulating imagery and leaves them with an emotional experience.

Coelho explains, “Images have always been a passion for me. From an early age onward I was very interested in understanding how we can visually transmit feelings and emotions.”

What separates the best cinematographers from the mediocre is their ability to shift the mood and style of the images in a way that is cohesive to the ever-changing elements of the story— but more importantly, they need to accomplish this without the audience noticing.

If viewers become preoccupied with the images in a film to the point of overshadowing the story, then the purpose of film as a medium for expression has been lost.

This subtle balance is something that Johanna Coelho, and the rest of the world’s most renowned cinematographers, recognize and execute on a daily basis in their work.

“My job is to create images that represent the vision of the director in the film,” said Johanna Coelho. “I have to be able to interpret emotions visually and create the story’s various atmospheres in the best possible way. I like to say cinematographers are visual psychologists.”

Coelho, who is originally from France, has worked on an impressive list of projects that not only show her diversity when it comes to choosing what images strike the perfect balance in the way of what’s appropriate for contrasting genres, but also display her unparalleled abilities to propel the overall energy of the story to a place that visually impacts viewers’ on an emotional level.

As the cinematographer, also known as the director of photography, of the film Scaremonger, which debuted earlier this year, Coelho was in charge of creating a juxtaposition of imagery that had elements of both realism and fantasy. The film centers on the story of a mother worried for her son who is being bullied by the neighborhood kids.

“The director wanted to treat this social issue as a dark fairytale,” said Coelho. “I had to create this magical atmosphere for the mom’s nightmares versus a pretty realistic look for the day scenes. We created gigantic shadows representing monsters appearing on the walls, we tried to make them happen as much as we could on set, and for some of them we had to use VFX. It was very interesting to see what the limits of what we could achieve on set with the resources we had were.”

The outcome of the film serves as a testament to Johanna Coelho’s extraordinary creativity and skill as a cinematographer. The film did astonishingly well on the festival circuit where it received the awards for Best Narrative Film at the 2014 California International Shorts Festival and Best LGBT Film at the 2014 Fulbright Film Festival, as well as was an Official Selection at the IFS Film Festival, Serbia’s Cinema City Festival, Costa Rica’s International Film Festival, and the renowned Montreal World Film Festival.

Poster from the film Scaremonger
Poster from the film Scaremonger
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