Hot and Cold: Exploring the Cinematography of 'Arrival' DP Bradford Young

How does Arrival DP Bradford Young create the mesmerizing atmospheres in his work?

Bradford Young is one of the most talented DPs working today, having collaborated with iconic directors like Ava DuVernay (Selma) and most recently Denis Villeneuve (Arrival). Through his keen sense of lighting and use of color, he manages to create his signature hot/cold atmospheres, which is one aspect of Young's approach to cinematography wolfcrow's Sareesh Sudhakaran explores in his latest cinematography breaksdown. Check it out below:

Despite his extensive work on feature films, Young has also showcased his skill in documentaries, commercials, and music videos for MGMT, Nora Jones, and Beck. Perhaps it is from this freedom to explore, experiment, and take chances that he is able to embrace his unique visual style as, what Sudhakaran calls, a truly "modern cinematographer."

And part of being a modern cinematographer means embracing digital cameras, which Young certainly has done. This has affected his work in many ways, like his affinity for shallow depth of field, his handheld camera work, and his fearlessness of keeping his subjects in the shadows.

One aspect I find extremely interesting about Young's work is his brilliant use of color, particularly how he combines warm and cool colors within the same shot. You can see examples of this in almost all of his films, from Ain't Them Bodies Saints to Mother of George.

'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' (2013)
'Mother of George' (2013)
'Selma' (2014)

Of course, Young is a like other professional DPs and caters his work to the director's vision. You can see this especially when comparing the work he did on smaller independent features like Mother of George, which had a tiny budget of (reportedly) $750K, and larger semi-indie features like Arrival, which had a much higher budget of $45 million. However, he certainly has a unique visual style that anyone could pinpoint, whether or not he's working with big name directors and Hollywood stars.

If you want to learn more about Young, I highly suggest you look at his body of work, especially the films mentioned in this article.     

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Your Comment


I'm so sick of orange and blue lights.

And I know its all the vogue, but honestly, its everywhere and its old.

January 1, 2017 at 9:54AM, Edited January 1, 9:57AM


Is it just me or did that video seem to contradict itself every 10 seconds when talking about his lighting?

January 1, 2017 at 5:56PM, Edited January 1, 5:56PM

Matthew Macar

2 things.... having problems seeing what that destinctive style is...
And... a lot of DPs use teal orange or the likes, some very contrasty some less...

So yes, I probably wouldnt be able to pick him out of a line of DPs.

January 1, 2017 at 11:36PM

Torben Greve

True, the teal oarnge pallete is overused, but he dosent use it often if you watch his other works. Also, i love Bradford's use of low light and tight framing in bedroom scenes. His use of color on african american skin is very distinct.

January 10, 2017 at 2:54PM


To me the most distinctive and innovative about his style is not over-lighting darker-skinned faces. Most Hollywood DPs have a tendency to do that. Young lets the color brown be brown, while making sure that there's enough exposure to perceive it as such. To me, that's what makes so many of his images striking.

January 2, 2017 at 8:19AM

Raafi Rivero