August 19, 2015

Here Are 129 Reminders of How Beautifully Powerful Cinematography Can Be

Gregg Toland, Gordon Willis, Kazuo Miyagawa, Chivo Lubezki, Roger Deakins, Robert Yeoman, Reed Morano...

These cinematographers' work is brilliant, powerful, inspiring, and all too often thankless. They, as well as many others, have taken the bare bones of a film and dressed it in dazzling aesthetic energy, have taken light and shaped it in ways never before seen, have taken a lens and captured not only stunning images, but our imaginations as well.

I believe some celebration is in order, don't you?

Buzzfeed, in rare form, has shared a fantastic (albeit limited) collection of 129 iconic stills from some of cinema's finest films that will help you do just that, reminding you of the great beauty and importance of expert cinematography. Here are a few of our favorites from the list:

Pulp Fiction: DP Andrzej Sekula (1994)
Pulp Fiction: DP Andrzej Sekula (1994)
Life of Pi: DP Claudio Miranda (2012)
Life of Pi: DP Claudio Miranda (2012)
Mother of George: DP Bradford Young (2013)
Mother of George: DP Bradford Young (2013)
Romeo + Juliet: DP Donald McAlpine (1996)
Romeo + Juliet: DP Donald McAlpine (1996)
Melancholia: DP Manuel Alberto Claro (2011)
Melancholia: DP Manuel Alberto Claro (2011)
Barry Lyndon: DP John Alcott (1975)
Barry Lyndon: DP John Alcott (1975)
Jurassic Park: DP Dean Cundey (1993)
Jurassic Park: DP Dean Cundey (1993)
Chinatown: DP John A. Alonzo (1974)
Chinatown: DP John A. Alonzo (1974)
Children of Men: DP Emmanuel Lubezki (2006)
Children of Men: DP Emmanuel Lubezki (2006)
The Graduate: DP Robert Surtees (1967)
The Graduate: DP Robert Surtees (1967)

Like I said, the list is endless; there isn't enough time in the world to gather every single composition that left us all in awe. (Manuel Alberto Claro's work in particular leaves me pretty breathless.) However, this collection reminds us of, yes, how beautiful an image can be, but, more than that, how huge of an impact lighting and composition can have on a film's narrative. Would that iconic deep focus scene from Citizen Kane made as much sense if Gregg Toland decided to narrow his depth of field? Would we still be talking about Rear Window if Robert Burks decided to take a more conventional approach instead of immersing the audience using POV shots?

Make sure to take a look at the rest of the stills on the list. Celebrate them! Study them! Print them out and pin them to a cork board for reference! 

Which stills do you think should've been on the list? Which cinematographer's work inspired you to become a cinematographer? Let us know in the comments!      

Your Comment

19 Comments

August 19, 2015 at 9:44AM, Edited August 19, 9:44AM

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LOL

August 21, 2015 at 5:11PM

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SO much inspiration in these images. One could probably create an entire course around studying only a few of those images and walk away with so much, yet still not being able to completely study them. Thanks V Renee.

August 19, 2015 at 10:25AM

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Bryan Tosh
Director of Photography
565

OK so I'm a bit of a noob but there seemed to be a fair bit of CGI in there. Is that really cinematography? Particularly if you're referencing the work of a DP, who I presume is unlikely to be solely responsible for the ultimate image. Sincere question, I don't know.

August 19, 2015 at 11:30AM

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Even 3D animated movies have a DOP dude (who usually supervise the layout artists). They may not create the scene but they direct the photography.

August 19, 2015 at 12:26PM, Edited August 19, 12:28PM

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But it's not cinematography. It's a different art form so I am of the opinion it should not be included in cinematography categories. Animation and shots that are primarily CGI aren't the same. Not discounting them, because I love animation just as much as the next person, but creating something in a computer with no restraints on lighting or camera movement is not the same thing as working on location with equipment.

August 19, 2015 at 4:16PM

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Jen White
Director of Photography
213

What about Immanuel Lubezki in Gravity? Would you say the same about that?

August 21, 2015 at 6:51AM

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it's a fair question. I agree that CGI is not cinematography. Neither is computer animation. I think something like The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was shot stop-motion and lit and used a camera is a fair contender, but not Finding Nemo, and a shot of a boat in a water tank against a green screen is a stretch, for sure.

August 19, 2015 at 4:18PM, Edited August 19, 4:18PM

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Jen White
Director of Photography
213

Especially not Claudio Miranda in that case because not he, nor the director acknowledged the hard work of the people who actually crafted 99% of that movie...

August 19, 2015 at 4:45PM, Edited August 19, 4:45PM

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Interesting point of view. Whilst it's true that you wouldn't observe the lighting in a Rembrandt painting in a gallery and comment on the 'cinematography', in the case of animation or live action CGI, although the medium is different and the process varies to an extent, you are still lighting and framing a shot in the context of cinema, which is.. Cinematography..

August 20, 2015 at 3:27AM

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Marc Adamson
Director, matte painter, concept artist.
152

I think it's kind of naive to say that if there's CG involved it ain't cinematography. Quite frankly, these days there wouldn't be much cinematography left at all.

I think it comes down to what you define as cinematography. The technical definition is motion photography which would mean as long as there's a camera involved you can have as much CG as you want.

But if you look at animation, a DP does the same job as he/she would, working with celluloid: setting the lighting, working with colors, camera movement, composition, etc. It's a different way of capturing a story, but the job is essentially the same. While I don't particularly enjoy heavy CGI-dependent imagery, I won't deny the importance the technology can have on telling stories.

August 22, 2015 at 7:53AM, Edited August 22, 7:54AM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
495

What about The Da Vinci Code (or countless others) where the CGI has to match what the DOP or Director shot live and imagined in their composition?

August 24, 2015 at 4:13PM

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Tom Montvila
TVProduction supervisor
182

I believe that even if a shot is entirely CGi, it's still cinematography. But in the case of the 'Life of Pi' image above. The DP may or may not have decided on the composition of the shot and placement of the boat and Pi Patel but that's it.. what makes the image what it is is the post production work so crediting the 'cinematography' to the DP here is slightly erroneous in my opinion. I've worked in feature film vfx for a while and in post production concept artists or other vfx artist come up with the composition, lighting and look of heavily vfx shots, the director then signs it off. The DP usually has no part in that process..

August 20, 2015 at 2:48AM

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Marc Adamson
Director, matte painter, concept artist.
152

Has anyone else noticed the sequencing at play here? Whoever did this didn't just order these images randomly, there are lots of thematic threads leading from image to image. Color, geometry, mood, even eye trace between images. Its kind of a super-cut.

August 19, 2015 at 5:41PM, Edited August 19, 5:41PM

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Nathan Taylor
Jack of all trades, master of none
182

Oh wow, yes. Great spot! I noticed the flow on the first couple of images but it's all the way through, like each frame is passing the baton onto the next frame. Incredible work.

August 20, 2015 at 5:44AM

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James Fisher
Videographer
171

It's been a few years since I sat around with a bunch of stoned, pretentious film school students waxing orgasmic about cinematography-- Am I missing something here? Granted, there are a few shots from some good films that are somewhat compelling... but for the most part these images tend to be shots where the DP mounted a wide lens, shot into the backlight and let the characters fall into silhouette. Tasteful? yes. but the fawning and "breathless awe"? I think our slobbering adoration might be a bit overblown.

August 20, 2015 at 3:14AM

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Jeffrey Norman
Director / Editor
102

Thankless? Most of the listed cinematographers are members of an invitation-only society, the ASC, and get paid very well for everything they do. When they choose to shoot a commercial, they can earn what most of your readers would consider the budget for a feature.

Furthermore, they have the luxuries of time and budget. They shoot with some of the best crews in the world, usually with whatever gear they want. And they have time to plan, experiment, and test, in order to get the shots they want.

When things go well, they get nominated for an Oscar. Hardly thankless.

Above all, they get the opportunity to work at that level. Hopefully, they are thankful.

August 20, 2015 at 7:51PM, Edited August 20, 7:51PM

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Charlie K
1082

Some of the selection of shots here is very poor considering what's in the rest of the movie.

August 21, 2015 at 1:11AM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1115

I like how all the shots, in the Buzzfeed link, are in colour order. Scroll down the page fast.

August 21, 2015 at 11:22AM

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Dan Keeble
Video Editor + Cameraman
194

Even though it's a comp, the Life of Pi shot featured here is one of my favourites from that film, so powerfully emotive.

August 28, 2015 at 4:27PM

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Jamie Brightmore
Independent Filmmaker
74