Watch: Why DP Rachel Morrison Deserves the Oscar for 'Mudbound'

Before her next lensed film, Marvel's Black Panther, opens in two weeks, study the work of master cinematographer Rachel Morrison.

When you watch a film shot by Rachel Morrison, you easily feel transported to another world. Except, that’s just it: you haven't been. The strength of her cinematography is and has always been what makes you feel as if you’re in the midst of daily life, with all the wonder and blazing color that implies, along with what Morrison once called its “banality.” Morrison is the first woman to ever receive an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography—being heralded for her work on Dee Rees' Mudboundand in honor of that, Nelson Carvajal has put together a video essay that shows her wide-ranging skills. If you look carefully, you’ll find a lot to emulate.

The light

As she has noted elsewhere regarding the Mudbound shoot,"I feel that when the lighting gets too stylized, it takes me out of the story, unless it's a sci-fi film or something, where it's built into the nature of the world. But when the world of your film is real, I think the lighting should be a reflection of that. So I used a lot of lighting to make it look like it wasn't lit." For the tans and grays on display in the late-1940s rural setting, Morrison chose to take viewers back in time. making it harder to look away from her intense tableaux.

The grain

On Fruitvale Station: "Ultimately we decided that the visible grain trumped the depth of field. It was also a benefit to have a camera that was very small and easy to maneuver with. We knew that we wanted it to be largely hand-held, to have an exploratory approach with a single camera, close to the actors, moving through space as they do." Those actors stand out. At times you can feel the material in their clothes or smell the sweat on their skin. In a film like Fruitvale Station, the closer the viewer's experience is to the experience of the onscreen figures, the better. 

Elegant movement

Morrison's frame is not a busy one. In the shots Carvajal has spliced together with his usual aplomb, notice how the movement often comes to us in the form of one figure or object, moving in a vast canvas: a wagon, a robot, a woman in a building ledge, etc.. The relationship between the figure and everything that surrounds it is always the same. When watching these films, you enter Morrison's cinematography at the same time that it enters you. A tough standard to match, but a rewarding one to study.     

Mudbound is currently available to stream on Netflix.

Your Comment


Lol against Deakins? Worlds apart. Kudos for her nom though

February 1, 2018 at 9:55AM

scott K

I think Roger Deakins has shot more academy award nominated features than Rachel Morrison has shot features.

February 1, 2018 at 5:01PM


NFS titles are getting more and more click baity, if the name of the article is "Why DP Rachel Morrison Deserves the Oscar for 'Mudbound," then maybe talk a little about why she deserves the Oscar!

February 1, 2018 at 2:18PM, Edited February 1, 2:19PM

Indie Guy

this is a video montage. not an essay.

February 5, 2018 at 7:48AM


I'm not a hater, Rachel Morrison is clearly a talented DoP. However, I challenge anyone to watch that montage with the sound off, focus on the imagery, then tell me how outstanding her work is. I still don't see a reason why she should win the Oscar. A lot of talented DoP's out there, but to win an Oscar should require truly special work. I don't get it. But, I'd put lot's of money on her winning. Is what it is.

February 16, 2018 at 7:28PM

Andrew Lewis

Let’s be honest. While I will say she has an amazing eye and is a great photographer, most of her shots are done with available light. It’s not that hard if you have a decent eye and have the time to wait for the right lighting in some cases. Her ability to actually light is fairly standard from someone doing Hollywood movies. Her Black Panther stuff was ok but not as good compared to other Marvel Films such as what Trent did in Winter Soldier.

March 1, 2018 at 6:39PM, Edited March 1, 6:44PM


As I have stated before, I have never been so aware of lighting and contrast as I was while watching this movie. It demands your attention in most of the scenes and detracts from the movie. I found this movie to be almost unwatchable in many places because of the contrast and lack of shadow detail. I felt the way I feel about a movie with bad audio. It may be creative, but the lighting did not blend in. It was a huge distraction and not in a good way. IMO

March 1, 2018 at 7:07PM, Edited March 1, 7:08PM


Sorry. This is ridiculous. The shots I've seen in that montage looked like mediocre stuff I see any other day from YouTube vloggers. I fear she was picked to get the first nomination and maybe the first Oscar because she is a woman and not because of her outstanding work. When the hell will people learn that sexism won't go away by belittling women? Because that's what I'm seeing here when comparing her work with that of the other nominees.

March 1, 2018 at 11:00PM