How Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema Made 'Her' Beautiful

A057C003_120515_R2C5.0137578.tifIt seems as though people can't stop talking about Spike Jonze's newest movie Her -- and rightfully so. The film's story overflows with a certain humanity and honesty that may be expected from Jonze, but not as much from a contemporary love story. With such a great narrative, the visual storytelling should certainly echo its sentiments -- a task given to cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, who has worked on films such as Let the Right One InThe Fighterand Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy. In an in-depth piece, the International Cinematographers Guild plunges head first into the beautifully lonely world of Her and asks Van Hoytema how he built it.

First, here's the trailer for the film:

Video is no longer available:

Creating the world of Her, meant creating something that resonated with the worlds inside protagonist Theodore Twombly's mind and heart. According to Van Hoytema, Jonze wanted an L.A. set in the not so distant future -- a "world that was tactile and pleasant: the very opposite of a dystopian future." In the ICG article, Van Hoytema explains:

[Production designer] K.K. Barrett brought in a book by the Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi, whose work is mainly large [6×6] format. The images are pristine moments from everyday life -- serene, feminine, and quite soulful. As the movie progressed, we did add more color and more clearly designed elements. But the overall theme was a future that was soft and intimate.


The filmmakers chose to go digital and used an ARRI ALEXA, a decision that Van Hoytema says helped shoot interiors because of its latitude.

I love everything about film, and I know exactly what I can achieve, texture- and feeling-wise. But we chose digital specifically for those night sequences in his apartment, where the city outside the windows is so vibrant and bright. We didn’t want to do a lot of augmenting in post, and with the Alexa we could use extremely low-level light sources [for the interior] that were still controllable.

Van Hoytema used an array of glass that would allow him to capture the intimacy of the characters' relationship, as well as the physicality of light, something the cinematographer says was integral to the character Samantha's experiences of seeing things for the first time.  He utilized coating-less Cooke lenses, high-speed Zeiss lenses, and Canon zoom lenses from the 1970s, one of which was a Swedish f2.8 20mm–110mm Canon zoom that was used on one of Ingmar Bergman's films.

The high-speed 35mm and 50mm Zeiss lenses allowed Van Hoytema to get close when he went handheld for the more intimate scenes, whereas the coating-less lenses allowed him to capture beautiful flares and artifacts, giving the film that romantic, nostalgic-but-not-too-nostalgic look.



Thanks to the latitude of the ALEXA and the speed of the lenses, Van Hoytema was able to use minimal lighting during filming:

I mostly used small LEDs, like the shot near the end where he’s standing in front of the windows -- I hung an LED light box for an overall ambience, that we could also color exactly as the city appears outside. The [light] registers we worked at were so incredibly low and subtle, which were enabled by the camera and high-speed lenses.

He also used LEDs to add color into certain scenes, something that was integral to the look and feel of the film. Different shades of red were used throughout filming -- on clothes, walls, furniture, and ambient lighting.



In this video shared by Filmmaker IQ, Spike Jonze and co-editor Jeff Buchanan talk mostly about the five-year conceptualization process of Her, however around the 3:45 mark, Buchanan talks about how they approached filming a movie that was essentially a one-person romance -- a love story where one person never shows up on-screen:

Even though Her has been out for nearly a month, there still might be some of you that haven't seen it. Do yourself a favor -- go see it. And if you just so happen to see it at an Alamo Drafthouse theater, you'll most likely see this very fitting PSA on the screen, starring none other than Siri, that tells you to shut up and turn off your phone during the movie or else she'll "become self-aware and ruin your life."

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What are your thoughts on the cinematographic choices in Her? If you've seen the film, do you think the filmmakers achieved the intimate and nostalgic tone they were going for? Let us know in the comments below.

Link: The Way She Haunts My Dreams -- ICG

[via Filmmaker IQ]

Your Comment


There are a few grammar issues here.

January 11, 2014 at 8:22AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


That's nice.

January 12, 2014 at 7:43PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Mr. E

Huge fan of HVH. I watch Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on a fairly regular basis. Thanks. Glad he shot on Alexa... another example that good, current films don't have to be shot 4K.

January 11, 2014 at 9:15AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM



January 17, 2014 at 1:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I would welcome more articles on this sort of topic! Would have been nice if you guys had a longer interview with more in depth examples BTS shots.. Still can't wait to see this picture

January 11, 2014 at 9:29AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


This movie is gorgeous. I knew 2 minutes into it I was going to love it just based on the production design and lighting choices. One of the most pleasant looking sci-fi movies I've ever seen.

January 11, 2014 at 11:46AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I am curious about this vintage zoom they mentioned, I tried looking it up but couldn't find anything on it. Does anyone have any links to info on it?

January 11, 2014 at 5:24PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Naturally also I was blown away by the film.

January 11, 2014 at 5:24PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


It was probably the Canon K35 macro 25-120 cause that's the one that Bergmans company in the 60's used to own and wich was since given to Sven Nykvist on his 60th birthay. Upon Nykvist's death that lens with an Arriflex was auctioned out on Bukoskis in Sweden and I would'nt be surprised if Hoyte bought it as he's known for being a real gear nostalgic. Check out "Upp till kamp", a swedish miniseries that takes places in the 60's and 70's that Hoyte shot on time typical cameras and filmstock, some of his best work I think.

January 13, 2014 at 5:45AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Best movie ive seen in years. Acting cinematography art direction everything

January 11, 2014 at 7:52PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I'm impressed that they "mostly used small LEDs" for this film and yet it holds so well. I'm thinking I'll just invest in my own set, anyone have any suggestions?

January 11, 2014 at 8:38PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Check these out. They are engineered by the same designer who gave us LEDz, but, they are next generation units. The bi-color units, in particular, are 95 CRI 3200-5600K controllable and bright!

January 12, 2014 at 8:56AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Because every plebeian uses an iPhone.

January 13, 2014 at 12:28AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


loved this film. though it was all around near perfect. such a beautiful atmosphere and essence throughout. great performances and beautiful design and cinematography.

the ending is also open, yet bittersweet. a brilliant achievement for everyone involved.

January 13, 2014 at 1:08PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


HVH is one of the best DP's these days. Let the Right One in was gorgeous as was Tinker Taylor, and Her was great. (All the films having their own very individual look.)

I'm curious to see what his work on the next Nolan film is gonna look like now that Pfister has hit the director's chair. I know it will look better than the last film Nolan did without Pfister (that he shot himself.)

January 15, 2014 at 8:32PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Daniel Mimura

For the record, 6x6 is medium format

February 10, 2014 at 4:37PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


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May 18, 2014 at 7:54PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


i want to know about the lensing of this film 'her', i have noticed that maximum sequences are shot by the standard lens. if i m right, then i want to know the exact philosophy/pre-thinking for this lensing.

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September 4, 2014 at 3:54AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Beautiful movie few minutes into the movie, I knew I will love it what I call a perfect movie, just based on the production design and lighting choices, I like how they used different shades of red throughout the filming. Excited to find out Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema used Zeiss lenses and canon zoom lenses the picture looks great. One of the most pleasant looking sci-fi movies I've ever seen. I like how it portrays the future to be a warm and calm place.

August 3, 2016 at 3:08AM

Mark Ayabei
Director of Photography / Director / Producer