Roger Deakins is widely known by many as one of the greatest living cinematographers. If you ask people what exactly makes a cinematographer great, you might hear that they create beautiful images. But as we should know, it's more than that.  

Deakins wants us to know that "this is the problem with most cinematography," that beautifully filmed images that stand out on their own are not always the best choice to support the story. 

Check out our video below for more.

“People confuse pretty with good cinematography. [The late cinematographer] Freddie Francis said there is good cinematography and bad cinematography, and then there’s the cinematography that’s right for the movie,” he said. “I often feel that if reviewers don’t mention your work, it’s probably better than if they do.”

Many of us who aspire to work in feature film cinematography pursue the dream of creating beautiful images, without thinking about why we’re creating them.

Deakins says that cinematography should never stand out on its own, and if it does, you have failed as a cinematographer. Judging “good cinematography” should then be more about how appropriately did the cinematographer use their tools, framing/composition, and lighting to deliver and make the story great?

What makes Deakins stand out as one of the best is because he has a habit of doing some of the following:

  • His cinematography is deeply motivated by the story
  • He adapts his style to the script
  • He uses extremely simple, yet effective camera and lighting work that is motivated by the story
  • He creates a sense of reality with his lighting, and the light is always motivated
  • He plans extremely well but also adapts accordingly
  • He thinks about how he wants the audience to feel with his cinematography and doesn’t try to stand out on his own

So the next time you're thinking about your shot, it may not need to be the most alluring to tell the story.

Do you have a favorite Deakins film or shot? Let us know in the comments below. 

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