Masterclass in Cinematography from Legendary DP Christopher Doyle

Christopher DoyleOftentimes, Youtube can be a dark and desolate place, leading even the most focused of viewers on hour-long journeys through series of absurd cat videos that, by all accounts, are too ridiculous to even exist. However, sometimes the myriad links to the right of your videos can send you in the direction of some fantastic content. That's what happened to me today as I stumbled upon an old segment from the BBC Culture Show about Christopher Doyle, the legendary cinematographer who is most famous for his work on the films of Wong Kar-Wai. So without any further ado, here is the segment in all of its low-resolution glory:

What I find most interesting about Doyle's approach to cinematography is that it's at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the Hollywood cinematographic conventions. Instead of building any and all sets needed for production, Doyle makes a point of using the city's unique culture and settings to create visual poetry that just can't be faked. It's this visual poetry, this interplay of story, setting, and camera that make of Doyle's work some of the most beautiful cinematography that I've ever seen.

Doyle's style, in regards to his extraordinary use of locations, is similar to the way in which Beasts of the Southern Wild was shot, with a sense of culture and exploration built directly into the cinematography. The difference, however, is that Beasts was born of an independent spirit, whereas Doyle and the directors with whom he works are at the highest levels of the Asian film industry. Doyle has the ability to create images that are incredibly subtle and artful as a result of this approach, yet he does so without alienating the audience. It's something to note for all aspiring cinematographers; just because things are done a certain way in the States does not mean that more effective and artful approaches don't exist and shouldn't be tried.

Doyle's comments about his theories on camera movement are equally interesting:

What happens with camera movement is what I call "the dance" between the actors and the camera. And I think that the dance is what really engages people. And how well we dance is really what camera movement is about. I always felt that the camera is in a very intimate relationship with the actors. They take me somewhere, and I go with them. And that's what gives the actors their flexibility.

For those of you who haven't seen Chunking Express, here's a quick example of the style to which Doyle is referring:

Video is no longer available:

What do you guys think? What's your take on Doyle's poetic use of location shooting? What about his theories on camera movement? Let us know in the comments!


You Might Also Like

Your Comment


Reminds me of the repost culture on 9Gag.

July 4, 2013 at 9:12AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


240p we meet again

July 4, 2013 at 9:38AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


great content nevertheless

July 4, 2013 at 9:46AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


The best.

July 4, 2013 at 10:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Great profile of an incredibly talented cinematographer! Anyone know where we can see the whole thing?

Also, just wanted to comment on the great DIY camera stabilizer he came up with: a giant pillow strapped around his midsection with a belt! Looks goofy but you can't argue with the results :)

July 4, 2013 at 12:07PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


You can see more of it here:

July 4, 2013 at 1:36PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


marginally better quality :

July 4, 2013 at 4:02PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


This is a good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere.
Short but very accurate info… Appreciate your sharing this one.
A must read article!

July 4, 2013 at 7:45PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


thanks for this, what a great discovery for me ... watched everything i could about doyle, just from your post ... thanks much!

July 4, 2013 at 8:19PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Doyle's camera movement is top rate because it doesn't overwhelm the actors, unlike - as an example - a Baz Luhrman or even a Martin Scorsese sequence. Also his "little touches" are sublime.

Overall, this is a welcome change from wide shot-close up - intercut - close up - intercut- close up sequence that one finds in most US films and, especially, 1-hr scripted TV shows.

July 4, 2013 at 9:01PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Huge fan of Doyle's work, especially 2046. The guy is a visual master.

July 5, 2013 at 1:57AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


From an interview he did in 2005:

"Anybody who works with me knows what shit they're in for," he says. "They know he's had a beer for breakfast. They know he doesn't give a shit about certain technical aspects. They know he's a little bit out of synch, and he'll probably throw a spanner in the works. Or why would you bother calling me?"

July 5, 2013 at 1:59AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I like him because he's crazy. Relatively speaking of course. ;)

July 5, 2013 at 4:42PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Doyle (rightfully) crapping on Life of Pi's Cinematography Oscar:

"...since 97 per cent of the film is not under his control, what the fuck are you talking about cinematography, sorry. I’m sorry. I have to be blunt and I don’t care, you can write it. I think it’s a fucking insult to cinematography."

Love him!

July 5, 2013 at 5:18PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Great stuff, thank you for this!

July 13, 2013 at 2:31AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM