Many cinematographers are known for a distinct style of shooting, but not many can work in multiple genres and formats the way Lawrence Sher has over the course of his career. 

He's shot movies like The Hangover, Paul, Garden State, and Joker

Each of these films uses camera, lighting, and color to create something evocative and important. 

Today, we're going to watch as Sher explains how hue, saturation, and light affect the mood, style, and story of a film. 

Let's speak after the jump! 

Joker Cinematographer Describes Color in Film

First things first, let's talk about the technical aspects of how color is achieved in film. 

The first term to learn is Log. Log is the digital negative, the flat and desaturated images that get manipulated to bring in color later. 


Log not only preserves your images' tonality and dynamic range, but it also retains a wide range of colors seen by the sensor, which an editor or colorist can manipulate later. They manipulate them based on the overall look of the movie, of the emotions scene to scene, and on the color scheme decided before shooting. 

The colorist on Joker was Jill Bogdanowicz. She worked in tandem with Sher to create the look and feel of each scene. 


Some basic terms can be found in our guide to color


Hue is one of the main properties of a color, defined as "the degree to which a stimulus can be described as similar to or different from stimuli that are described as red, green, blue, and yellow." What it actually means is that hue refers to what color you're looking at. Or the color itself. 


Saturation is another color property that describes how intense of a color we're getting. It's the deepness of the color at hand. 


The value of a color describes whether or not a color is dark or light. A dark blue would have a higher value. A light blue, a lower value.

What about color temperature

The color temp of as scene can give you a distinct look and feel. 

Usually, each scene tries to mimic a gradual feeling over the course of an entire film. 


Image tonality 

Image tonality takes the shadows, light, and darkness into account and grades them. If you use colored light or color grade on a specific scale, you can manipulate these things. 


How to create depth with color 

Colors that are complementary, or on opposite ends of the color wheel, usually work together to create depth.  

Sher is inspired by the works of famed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. 

Storaro was bold and took big color swings to get what he wanted out of each scene. 

Color is subjective 

Sher knows that a lot of color theory is subjective. but he doesn't care. 

He loves using color in his films and enjoys collaborating with directors like Todd Phillips who embrace color at every level. 

Sher met Todd Phillips on The Hangover and they have contributed their collaboration over the years. 

So when it came time to tackle Joker, they knew color would play a big part. 


How color is used in Joker

In Joker, color helps be evocative of mood, depth, impending doom, and range. 

Take a look at how the color in this scene makes every detail pop. 


We understand Arthur slowly because the color moves us forward. 

As his mission gets more and more important, the colors get more and more vibrant. 

But we still need the shadows to show his intentions and ill-will. 

The 'Joker' Ending Explained

Sher uses all the technical aspects above to take us on a full journey. 

But he knows the technical babble is not for everyone. 

His advice? 

His main takeaway? 

Don't worry about technical stuff. Feel the scene and let your emotions guide the color. 

Take risks and let the story guide you. 

Joker Technical Specifications

Aspect Ratio:

  •  1.85 : 1


  • Arri Alexa 65, Hasselblad Prime DNA Lenses
  • Arri Alexa LF, Hasselblad Prime DNA Lenses
  • Arri Alexa Mini, Hasselblad Prime DNA Lenses

Negative Format:

  • 35 mm (titles)

Cinematographic Process:

  • ARRIRAW (3.4K) (4.5K) (5.1K) (source format)
  • Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format)

Printed Film Format:

  • 35 mm (spherical) (Kodak Vision 2383)
  • 70 mm (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema

What's next? Learn Film Color Theory

Film color palettes might be one of the most underutilized parts of your filmmaking process. It can be the difference between immersing your audience in a world or boring them to tears. 

Learn how!