Live & Die By Your Images: Bradford Young on What It Means to Be a Cinematographer

Bradford Young Arri Alexa
In a crowded market of emerging cinematographers, Bradford Young stands alone.

If you're unfamiliar with Young and his work, you only need to glance at his IMDb page to know that he's the real deal. In the past five years, Young has lensed some of the most stunningly beautiful indie features to hit the mainstream, including Ain't Them Bodies Saints, A Most Violent Year, and most recently, Oscar-winner Selma.

In an interview with the Spanish cinematography school EFTI (the same folks who brought us the goofy "being a cinematographer" video, which spawned this hilarious parody), Young chatted about all sorts of topics related to the craft. First up, the TLDR version. Here's a brief montage of Young's answer to the "what does it mean to be a cinematographer" question:

And here's the full interview, in which Young chats about all sorts of topics, ranging from how his childhood years in and around funeral homes enhanced his understanding of aesthetics, how culture and personal experience inform the way he creates images, the film vs. digital debate, and tons more:

Even though the idea that we need to figure out what it means to be a cinematographer is a bit of a strange one — you might as well ask what it means to be an accountant or plumber— there's quite a bit that we can take away from this interview. The most important bit however, is Young's attitude towards what he does. He puts his everything into every image that he creates, and attempts to make those images as valuable and meaningful as possible. There is no phoning it in. No showing up on set, creating some mediocre work, then collecting a paycheck. It's not only something that he feels compelled to do, but something that he feels compelled to pour his soul into, day in and day out.

The other important aspect of all of this is how you define your voice as a cinematographer. This is perhaps the hardest part of working your way into any artistic profession because it's intangible and uniquely personal in many ways. There is no guidebook to finding your voice. It's simply (or not so simply) a matter of living and developing perspective. But as Young alludes to, if you're able to internalize your journey and your culture, and then use those things to create images that are unique and which resonate with you, then you're well on your way towards a meaningful career as a cinematographer.     

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Your Comment


As soon as I saw Brad's name in the title I had to click. This guy is SUCH a magician with light and composition. This post was so inspirational for me and I'm sure it is for a bunch of other cinematographers. I cannot wait to see what he shoots next. Great find Robert!!

August 18, 2015 at 6:29PM, Edited August 18, 6:29PM


It is comforting to hear that I am not the only one who has a hard time defining what being a Cinematographer means to them.

August 18, 2015 at 9:10PM

Mack Calistan

Love this!! As a aspiring cinematographer and african-American he is a true inspiration.

August 19, 2015 at 1:21PM

Von Ware
Director of photography

My favorite cinematographer at this moment. Gotta love his perspective on the craft. "It's not a competition".

Boy, if only more people took that to heart.

August 20, 2015 at 8:49AM

Budding Cinematographer

MAJOR inspiration and have kept my eye on Brad for a few years now. Great to see another man of Color brought into the prestigious ASC Club. He shares A LOT of views that I do, especially the "all or nothing" motive behind every shot. Very happy to see him get recognized finally.

August 20, 2015 at 9:45AM, Edited August 20, 9:45AM


Such a solid post.

August 20, 2015 at 12:52PM

Ben Meredith

Well Put. Thanks Robert for the article. I can take a lot away from this, Young is a very inspirational individual.

August 22, 2015 at 7:57AM, Edited August 22, 7:57AM

Director of Photography

August 23, 2015 at 4:10PM

Joshua Bowen