teaching & curriculum development


lighting & camera

"Technical and artistic propensities are sometimes considered diametrically opposed. In cinematography, they are inextricably intertwined."

From one-page "On Teaching Narrative Cinematography". Click here to view.

Cinematographers take a rational approach that permits aesthetic choice, and enables production of desired imagery, at will and with consistency. For example…

The thumbnail image series shown is an example of teaching this approach, from a class on motivated lighting. The two "highlighted" images, with red arrows, are the frames that represent how the scene will look. The image series progressively reveals the function and effect of each lighting instrument in the final scene.

I teach lighting by presenting four "levers" of control: Direction, Quality, Intensity and Color. Manipulating DQIC for each instrument enables creative control. In this example, it leads to generalized characteristics of "movie day" - everything not shadowed has light; and of "movie night" - everything not lit is shadowed. 

Like most tasks that involve tools and instruments, abstract knowledge is not be confused with skill. The scaffold of abstraction, plus the "serious play" of hands-on practice, are mutually reinforcing and produce the fastest learning. 

I am not bound by what was learned in film school, since my film school was on the job. I teach what I found to be actually useful in the field, and have developed my own base principles for structuring thought and inquiry. Some sample handouts are below (clickable).

Prelighting and waveform analysis.

Prelighting and waveform analysis.

Discrete luminaire functions in motivated lighting setups. The two images with red arrows show the final scene. Click to enlarge.

To help students grasp use of waveform monitors, I made my own test chart to show a  "stairstep" of luminance, and RGB/CMY grads that show as curved lines. Click image to enlarge. Click here for hi-rez, printable version. TEACHING AID ONLY - NOT FOR CALIBRATION PURPOSES. I recommend charts from DSC Labs for professional use.

Leading formal Projects

Commonwealth shakespeare company


The video shown here was a Practicum for the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, (Artistic Director, Steve Maler). This was to promote the series and its significance in the metro-Boston area, not any specific performance. 

We shot on large chip Sony FS100, in addition to EX1's and a student's 7D. There were some fun shots from a snorkel lift, and the students learned about staying in a bucket until intermission! Great people, great group to support.

For daytime interviews, I rigged an overhead diffusion of light grid cloth, and used HMI's kindly donated by High Output to bring some directionality while keeping exposure and color temperature balanced for the background stage. 



I led a series of Practicums at Children's Hospital, Boston in 2006 and 2007. The videos were used as orientation and education for the parents of kids entering the oncology floors at 6 West and 6 North. Please see the Hospital Representative's recommendation on pdf.

In addition to 5 minute pieces introducing the floor, services and personnel, we included more than a half hour of extended interview segments with key medical and social staff. I structured the pieces, supervised research, and directed all shooting. 

These were difficult but rewarding projects. Patient confidentiality prevents showing clips.

commercial projects

The series of short film clips is indicative of student work under my direction. The two shown here are from a commercial project cycle, and represent the interests of the clients. I helped them structure the writing and shooting plans, supervised the shoots, advising on lighting and camera, as well as client coordination. 

In respect for commercial interests, these video clips require you load the same password as you did for this site. I apologize for the inconvenience. 

For a series of classroom exercise and project segments under my direction, please go to vimeo.com/robotham, show All, sort Alphabetical. Out of respect for students and volunteer actors, many of these are password protected. Please use the same password as for this site. 

consulting director of filmmaking Program, BU-CDIA (now defunct)

From 2010 to 2014 I was responsible for the total filmmaking program, revising the structure from atomized elements into a series of progressive project-based cycles. This provided a context for all modules, in keeping with professional norms.

Prior to that, I developed a signature curriculum module (Smith&Jones) for new students. This plunges new students into the world of filmmaking through a guided, immersive and fun project. 

See the Smith & Jones project pdf. See the Instructor Guide to the Smith and Jones project. (please download pdf's if they are not displaying fully within browser)

"Tom Robotham has been the Consulting Director of our Filmmaking Program since 2010. In that time he has revitalized the program through a new structure based on project cycles, filmmaking vocabulary, and periodic proficiency assessments. Tom has been one of the best program directors and instructors we've ever had at our school."

Bob Daniels, Executive Director, CDIA, Boston University

Consulting Director of Filmmaking 2010-2014, revising total program to project-based model, responsible for all curriculum and final evaluations. Lead instructor and curriculum developer in cinematography and lighting 2005-2010. 

Camera instructor 2005, 2009, 2010.


Continuing Ed. Camera & Filmmaking 2006-2008

"Tom ranks among the very best teachers I've ever had in any school."

What students say, verbatim quotes

Please contact for access to Work in development relating to the filmmaking process