5 Best Cinematographers That Every Filmmaker Should Know (2023 Update)
The sports world has legends like Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali. Steve Jobs made waves in technology. Similarly, the world of filmmaking also has standout participants. The most renowned modern-day cinematographers all learned filmmaking as beginners.
Do you aspire to create a phenomenal film one day? In order to become like the greats, it’s essential to know who some of the best cinematographers are. These five cinematographers have paved their way in the world of film, and learning from their style will help you define yours.
1) Linus Sandgren
Linus Sandgren is a renowned cinematographer from Stockholm, Sweden. Sandgren studied graphic design and illustration at the Berghs School of Communication and then went on to study film at the Stockholm Film School.
Like most other filmmakers, he began working on film sets as a production assistant (PA). He moved up on sets, working as a gaffer and camera assistant.
Eventually, he began as a cinematographer in 1999 and released his debut feature film Storm in 2004. He moved to Los Angeles two years later, where his career took off.
- Notable films: American Hustle, La La Land, First Man, Battle of the Sexes, No Time to Die, Joy, Don’t Look Up
- Visual style: Gritty 35mm film, rich colors, and textures that carry a through-line of the story
- Awards: Academy Award for Best Cinematography for La La Land. 28 other wins and 40 nominations
2) Roger Deakins
One of the most respected cinematographers in film is the incomparable Roger Deakins. With an impressive 40 year career in film, almost everyone has seen a film on which Deakins was the director of photography (DP).
Hailing from England, Deakins was rejected admission to film school on his first attempt. Ultimately, he was accepted into the National Film School in Buckinghamshire. His tenacity and perseverance should inspire every aspiring filmmaker.
- Notable films: Blade Runner 2049, 1917, Skyfall, True Grit, Doubt, No Country for Old Men, The Shawshank Redemption, A Beautiful Mind, Fargo
- Visual style: Seamless camerawork, flattering natural light, and bold color palettes
- Awards: 2 Academy Awards for 1917 and Blade Runner 2049. 178 other wins and 161 nominations
3) Robert Richardson
Robert Richardson was originally from Massachusetts. He received his bachelor’s degree in Film, Animation, and Video from Rhode Island School of Design and went on to get a master’s degree from AFI Conservatory in Los Angeles.
Richardson began his film career as a camera operator and cinematographer on television documentaries. His work on television allowed him to meet the director and producer Oliver Stone, who hired him to shoot his first feature-length film, Salvador, in1986.
After working on Salvador, Richardson’s career took off. He quickly earned his first Oscar nomination the following year.
- Notable films: Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill, A Few Good Men, Shutter Island
- Visual style: Instinctual with large light sources, signature stark high back-light
- Awards: 3 Academy Awards for Hugo, The Aviator, and JFK. 22 other wins and 133 nominations
4) Hoyte van Hoytema
Some of the most acclaimed space and war films have been shot by the phenomenal Hoyte van Hoytema. But van Hoytema’s impressive credits extend far beyond those two genres.
From Zurich, Switzerland, van Hoytema studied film at the Leon Schiller National Film School. After his schooling, he began shooting television series, documentaries, and feature films. He has been sought out as a collaborator with film directors like Christopher Nolan, Spike Jonze, and Tomas Alfredson.
- Notable films: Her, Dunkirk, Interstellar, The Fighter, Spectre, Tenant
- Visual style: Subtlety with light and color, characters never get overexposed
- Awards: 1 Academy Award nomination. 21 other wins and 108 nominations
5) Emmanuel Lubezki
Emmanuel Lubezki is a powerhouse cinematographer originally from Mexico City, Mexico. Lubezki studied film at Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos in Mexico, where he met another (eventual) acclaimed Mexican filmmaker— Alfonso Cuarón.
Lubezki began his film career in Mexican film and television, and he shot his first international film in 1993. Lubezki has collaborated withAlfonso Cuarón on six feature films.
As of 2022, Lubezki is the only person to win the Oscar for Best Cinematography three years in a row.
- Notable films: The Revenant, Gravity, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Children of Men, Burn After Reading
- Visual style: Natural lighting and continuous uninterrupted camera movements
- Awards: 3 consecutive Academy Awards for Gravity, Birdman, and The Revenant. 147 other wins and 82 nominations
Every Cinematographer Started Somewhere
Even the most legendary and best cinematographers all started as beginners. The best way to make waves in film is to be eager to learn and grab any opportunity you can. These five cinematographers offer heaps of inspiration to grab a camera and get started.
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