A Closer Look at the Incredible Cinematography of 'The Dark Knight'

Story is everything, even when it comes to cinematography. 

Films are made up of many parts, from the screenplay to the final edit, but all of them should have one important goal: serving the story. Case in point: DP Wally Pfister's work in The Dark Knight wasn't just incredibly beautiful, it also helped tell the film's deeply disturbing tale about the anarchistic mastermind, The Joker, who seeks to destroy the legacy of Gotham's own protector, Batman—all just to watch the world burn.

To shed some light on how cinematography can be used as a storytelling device, Darious Britt explains many of the techniques Pfister uses in the second instalment of Christopher Nolan's trilogy in the video below:

The video covers a lot of different camera techniques one can use to 1.) make shots look awesome, and 2.) tell better stories, but let's highlight a few fundamentals that aren't unique to The Dark Knight's narrative and can be used in your own work.

Highlighting your character with—lights

This is lighting 101: use rim lights to separate your characters from the background. If you don't, they'll blend in with it, resulting in an image that doesn't pull your focus to the character as easily.

Let camera movement convey emotion

Camera movement speaks a language, and you can alter the tone of a scene simply by changing the way you move it. Take Britt's rooftop scene example: the camera circles around the three characters as they argue and try to figure out a plan. The stakes are high, and so are the tensions. Aesthetic theory tells us that the kinetic energy of the camera moving around the stationary characters creates a sense of confusion, even suspicion.

When something important is said, get close

Again, aesthetic theory says that there's a correlation between the size of a subject within the frame and its importance. In other words, bigger things tend to be more important, while little things are not. That's why when a character says or does something that is crucial to the narrative, a DP will capture it in a medium close-up or close-up—or they dolly in—or if they're from the 60s or 70s or are Wes Anderson, they use a crash zoom.

Pay attention to eyeline

Okay, not in the way you think—like in a Shot/Reverse Shot kind of way. I'm talking about this in the context of dialog and how you can communicate reversals or tone changes in the conversation by crossing the eyeline, or line of action. You see this demonstrated when Britt explains the epic "Interrogation Room" scene.

So, there you go—a few cinematographic techniques you can use to tell better stories. If you have any advice on how to serve the narrative with the camera, let us know in the comments below.     

Your Comment


Good cinematography. Too bad we can't appreciate it with that horrible Blu-Ray.

August 1, 2016 at 8:45PM

Henry Barnill
Director of Photography

Sorry, but if anything, this video (somewhat hilariously) just highlights that the film WAY over uses the circling steadicam shot, which is something that has always bugged me about The Dark Knight.
It doesn't help that Darious (whose videos I usually love) doesn't give much of anything when it comes to analysing these shots. It's basically "The scene is really dynamic so they do this dynamic thing with the camera and then it stops for the big moment. And it looks cool." Riveting.

August 2, 2016 at 12:00AM

Daniel King
Videographer, Editor

Dude lost me at Glasses.

August 2, 2016 at 6:24AM


Is the guy in the video wearing glasses that don't have any glass in?

August 2, 2016 at 12:53PM

JC Monaghan

Of course, Dark Knight was one of the beautiful movies I have watched. I think it was one of those perfect movies you get to watch once in a while. The techniques that are used in this film has made the film very much interesting.
paris private tour

March 12, 2018 at 9:26PM

Alex Paul