Roger Deakins

In common belief, the only job of a Director of Photography is to shoot accurately whatever happens in front of the camera.

That is an unfair assumption. One of the main figures in a production―and not just for technical knowledge―the DP usually works with the director in order to transform all nonverbal components of a narrative into visual elements. That, in fact, is the rationale behind the name cinematographer (from its Greek roots, “the one who writes with motion”).

The main functions of the cinematographer are lighting, coloring, framing, adjusting the exposure and moving the camera. These elements create a visual environment which helps the audience better apprehend the characters and the story.

Although combined with aspects such as set and wardrobe―every element in film is essential―it is the cinematographer’s job to create the atmosphere demanded by the narrative. Therefore, it is usual for a director to team up with a specific cinematographer who collaborates in the pursuit of shared intentions and a given style.

The history of film is very recent in comparison to that of other forms of art, and its aesthetics have undergone many changes due to the development of new technologies. The cinematographers listed below in alphabetical order were the best in their time, those who best used the instruments available at the moment to shoot beautiful films.

1. John Alcott (1931 – 1986)

Barry Lyndon

John Alcott’s partnership with Stanley Kubrick was probably one of the greatest gifts film lovers have ever gotten. Having studied lighting and its naturalistic possibilities, he first got the director’s attention while shooting 2001: A Space Odyssey and was then promoted to lighting cameraman. They would later be responsible for the development of innovative techniques that would transform filmmaking.

Alcott’s feature film as a DP was A Clockwork Orange (1971). Four years later, he would work with Kubrick again in the audacious Barry Lyndon (1975), which might have been, in an aesthetic perspective, the highest point of his career. During its three hundred days of shooting, there was almost no use of electric light―what was even harder then due to technical limitations―and therefore a special lens (F/0.7) was designed and produced by NASA exclusively for the film.

Five years later, John Alcott’s use of the Steadicam in The Shining (1980) would innovate camera movements and perpetuate his deserved recognition among the greatest cinematographers.

2. Nestor Almendros (1930 – 1992)


Nestor Almendros was born in Spain and moved to Cuba when he was eighteen to live with his exiled anti-Franco father. In Havana, he was the co-founder of the first cinema club in the country and wrote film reviews. Still in Cuba, he started to work as a filmmaker. He was however frustrated with the Cuban Revolution and moved to Paris, where he would become an important figure of the Nouvelle Vague.

During the sixties, he had a prosperous partnership with Eric Rohmer which began with his first feature film as a cinematographer, The Collector (1967). They would later work together in some of the most important films from the era, among them My Night With Maud (1969), Claire’s Knee (1970) and Chloe in the Afternoon (1972). He also worked with other important directors from the french movement, including François Truffaut (The Man Who Loved Women [1978], Love on the Run [1979]).

In the late seventies, Almendros had already photographed outstanding movies. But that was when his career in Hollywood started, and he would prove himself to be one of the best cinematographers the world has had. Almendros worked continuously until his death in 1992, and among the films he photographed in Hollywood are Mallick’s Days of Heaven (1978)―for which he won an oscar―Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) and the stunning Sophie’s Choice (1982).

Almendros was strongly influenced by film noir and therefore a master in lighting. Even though his technical skills are undeniable, he believed that the two most important characteristics in a cinematographer are sensibility and the ability to work “as depository or transmitter of progress or discoveries in what has been called ‘cinematographic language’”. His filmography shows he succeeded.

3. Robert Burks (1909 – 1968)

Vertigo (1958)

The Californian Robert Burks was Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite director of photography. They worked together in more than ten movies, including the successes Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1968) and The Birds (1963).

He is commonly referred to as a chameleon due to his flexibility and facility to adapt according to the film and the director. Hitchcock was one among the few directors who survived the advent of colored movies, and probably one of the main reasons for that was having Burks by his side when the transition happened in the mid-50s (Vertigo was his first coloured movie).

The cinematographer would later do very audacious coloring experiences―probably very influenced by Hitchcock―that sealed the reputation of his big range of styles. The highest point was in the feverish contrasts in the palette of Marnie (1964).

Burks won the cinematography Academy Awards for Best Cinematography in 1955 for his work on To Catch a Thief. Although he worked in other great productions such as The Spirit of St. Louis (1957) and The Music Man (1962), his ongoing reputation relies on the outstanding work he did with the master Alfred Hitchcock.

4. Jack Cardiff (1914 – 2009)

Black Narcissus

The British Jack Cardiff was the first director of photography to win, in 2001, an Honorary Oscar in the history of the Academy Awards. The rationale behind it is that his outstanding career started with primordial silent movies and lasted until the 21st century, containing around a hundred movies.

Michael Powell described him as “a genius, a daydreamer, a baby. He should have been a painter instead of being the best colour cameraman in the world.” Although his most known work is for his cinematography, he also directed many movies and worked in almost all departments of film production: art direction, editing, visual effects and even acting (for the first time at the age of four).

Cardiff won his first Academy Award for Best Cinematography with his beautiful Technicolor work on Black Narcissus (1947). He then won again with War and Peace (1956) and for the third time with Fanny (1961). Among the greatest directors he worked with are Alfred Hitchcock (Under Capricorn [1949]), the partners Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes [1948]) and John Irvin (Ghost Story [1981] and The Dogs of War [1981]).

A documentary called Cameraman – The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010) dives into the trajectory of this remarkable artist in a very poetic way and is highly recommended.

5. Michael Chapman (1935 – )


Michael Chapman was one of the most prominent filmmakers of the 70s and 80s. He started his career as a camera operator in very well known films like The Godfather (1972) and Jaws (1975). Later, he would become Martin Scorsese’s favorite cinematographer for a decade, in which they produced very important movies, such as the remarkable Taxi Driver (1976), the documentary The Last Waltz (1978) and Raging Bull (1980), which was their last production together.

In Richard Schickel’s Conversations with Scorsese (2010), the director says he considers Raging Bull one of his best photographed films. He briefly tells Richard about a disagreement he and Chapman had, and that it took him fourteen years to know that the cinematographer did not really like how the movie turned out. However, there is no certainty of why their partnership finished then.

After his collaboration with Scorsese, Chapman directed three movies during the eighties, being the most famous one All Right Moves (1983), which starred Tom Cruise in a breakthrough role. He retired after shooting Bridge to Terabithia (2007), stating that he was not updated with the new technologies and did not really want to shoot anything in digital. Therefore he considered it better to retire after shooting one last beautiful film.

6. Raoul Coutard (1924 – )


Raoul Coutard is one of the most known figures of the French Nouvelle Vague. His interest in photography started when he was sent to the French Indochina War and spent eleven years in Vietnam working as a war photographer.

A witty story tells his first work as a cinematographer: he was invited by the director Pierre Schoendoerffer to photograph his film The Devil’s Pass (1958). However, Coutard believed that he was going to shoot production stills and, never having used a film camera before, accepted. Thereafter, he never stopped.

Coutard’s most acclaimed work was shot with the director Jean-Luc Godard. Their collaboration started with the film against the director’s will in the film Breathless (1960). Godard had already settled with another cinematographer, but the producer hired Coutard instead. He would later photograph almost all of Godard films during the Nouvelle Vague, such as My Life to Live (1962), Alphaville (1965) and Pierrot le Fou (1965). They worked together only once more after 1967, in First Name Carmen (1983).

He also had a shorter but significant partnership with François Truffaut, which resulted in memorable films like Jules and Jim (1962) and The Bride Wore Black (1967)―their last work together, and rumors say they argued heavily during its shoot. Coutard’s cinematography marks the aesthetics of one important era of film production and therefore is highly recommended.

7. Roger Deakins (1949 – )

Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The British Roger Deakins is known for his affection for realistic and simple aesthetics. He once said that “there is nothing worse than an ostentatious shot”, and his rather tasteful modesty has made him one of the most appreciated cinematographers among film lovers.

In his adolescence, Deakins wanted to be a painter. He studied graphic design in the Bath School of Art and Design, where he discovered his passion for photography. Probably his ability for composing fascinating shots come from this primordial interest, showing how related cinematography is to painting.

Although simplicity is one of his most powerful characteristics, he has worked with distinct glorious directors, such as Sam Mendes and Martin Scorsese. He has also had an impressive twenty-five years old partnership with the Coen Brothers, which had a six years break, but luckily is coming back in 2016 with the release of their new film Hail, Caesar!

Known for his British caution and perfectionism, Deakins has won uncountable meaningful prizes and was nominated for twelve Oscars in the Best Cinematography category.

He is responsible for some of the most beautiful-looking movies of the last thirty years, such as Shawshank Redemption (1994), Fargo (1996) A Beautiful Mind (2001), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and Skyfall (2013). Hence a journey through his productions is highly recommended for those who love film.

  1. Tonino Delli Colli (1923 – 2005)

the good the bad the ugly

Tonino Delli Colli’s career began almost simultaneously to Italian film, one year after the opening of the Cineccità in Rome. He was then only sixteen years old and was asked whether he wanted to work in the sound or in the camera department. “Life is always a matter of luck”―as he once said―because he picked the second one not really knowing what it meant. Lucky him and lucky us.

He would later become the most notorious italian cinematographer of all times. He worked with some of the greatest directors in Italy, such as Federico Fellini, Sergio Leone and Pasolini (with whom he collaborated most); and also with acclaimed non-italians like Roman Polanski and Jean-Jacques Annaud. These names show how fascinating was the range of styles he was able to work with.

His versatility made him responsible for some of the most important moments in film history: he was in the heart of the Italian Neorealism; he shot the first italian colored movie (Toto in Color [1951]); his work with Leone made him a big figure of the “Western Spaghetti”; and his fruitful collaboration with Pasolini made him a reference among intellectuals.

The last film he shot was the heartbreaking Life is Beautiful (1997) by Roberto Benigni. He died of a heart attack in 2005, a few months after being awarded the American Society of Cinematographers’ International Achievement Award.

  1. Christopher Doyle (1952 –)

In The Mood For Love

At only sixty-three, australian Christopher Doyle has been credited in approximately one-hundred movies and has won awards in important film festivals, such as Cannes and Venice.

In his twenties, Doyle moved to China, where he learnt the language and travelled around Asia working in different things, as a doctor of Chinese Medicine in Thailand, for example. His interest for photography started in the late seventies, but it was only in 1983 that he became a cinematographer. According to him, it happened by accident.

Doyle has worked with many important directors, but his most acclaimed and noteworthy work was done during his partnership with Wong Kar Wai, which lasted fifteen years. Doyle was responsible for the fascinating colors and framings achieved in the director’s most remarkable films, such as Days of Being Wild (1991), Ashes of Time (1994), Chungking Express (1994), In the Mood for Love (2000) and 2046 (2004).

In the last decade, important films he was a cinematographer for include Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park (2007) and Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control (2009). With an average of four movies a year, Doyle is tracing his path to become one of the most important figures in film history.

  1. Gunnar Fischer (1910 – 2011)

The Seventh Seal film

If one takes a careful look through this list, they will realize that cinematographers usually live long. Swedish Gunnar Fischer, however, beats them all: in 2011, he died a few months before his 101st birthday.

Before his debut as a Director of Photography, Fischer was a camera assistant in almost twenty pictures and trained under Julius Jaenzon, the cinematographer of the greatest swedish silent films. That was when he developed some of the techniques he would improve later on: high contrast and an expressionistic approach to lighting.

Fischer is mostly known for his partnership with Ingmar Bergman. They collaborated in some of the directors best known films, such as Summer with Monika (1953), Wild Strawberries (1957), The Seventh Seal (1957) and The Devil’s Eye (1960), which was their last work together. He was great in monochromatic shooting and gave Bergman’s films the expressionistic looks and the contrasts which intensified the psychological world within the images.

Gunnar once said that his work with Bergman allowed him to enrich his pictorial expression, what would bring him to work with Walt Disney in the television film Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates and refuse to work with Bergman in his following film, The Silence (1963). This was when their partnership ended, and Bergman replaced Fischer for Sven Nykvist.

Fischer received the Ingmar Bergman Award in 1992 and an honorary Guldbagge Award for lifetime achievement in 2002.

  1. Tak Fujimoto (1939 –)

the silence of the lambs

Tak Fujimoto was born a japanese-american in 1939 and spent his early years interned at the Poston War Relocation Center. Later he would move to England, where he graduated from London Film School and started his career as a cinematographer.

He has worked with many famous directors, such as John Hughes and Terrence Mallick. Among the remarkable films he has shot, one will find Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), the outstanding Gladiator (1992) and The Sixth Sense (1999). He also worked in the second unit of the first Star Wars film.

As many others cinematographers in this list, Tak is already in an advanced age and still working and renewing himself. In 2011, for example, he shot the pilot of the TV Show A Gifted Man. Although never having won an Academy Award, Tak got significant prizes, as the National Society of Film Critics (NSFC) Award for Best Cinematography in 1995 and certainly deserves a place among the best cinematographers of all time.

  1. Conrad L. Hall (1926 – 2003)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Conrad Lafcadio Hall was a polynesian named after writers Joseph Conrad and Lafcadio Hearn. Even though he attempted to start a writing career as a journalism student in the University of Southern California, he drifted to the film department of the same university, where he learned a different way of storytelling. Fifty years later, in 2003, he would be considered one of the ten most influential cinematographers of all time by the International Cinematographers Guild.

His work as a cinematographer spanned almost half a century and therefore faced uncountable changes and styles. One thing, however, can be seen in his entire production: his ability to catch unexpected magical moments.

Differently from meticulous planners, Hall had a more organic and improvised attitude behind the cameras. “I’m looking for the accident, the joyous happenstance that comes with filmmaking, rather than going through some tortured manufacturing of the image”, he declared after shooting Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993).

He had two very prosperous moments in his career: during the sixties and seventies, and then again from the nineties until his death in 2003. Some remarkable movies from the first moment are In Cold Blood (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)―for which he won his first oscar―and The Day of the Locust (1975).

In the nineties, he worked in the touching Searching for Bobby Fischer and Without Limits (1998). The two last full-length fiction movies in which he was a Director of Photography were shot in collaboration with Sam Mendes: American Beauty (1999)―which guaranteed him a second oscar―and Road to Perdition (2002).

The poetic and yet extremely real and dark atmosphere created in these two outstanding films show what Hall really mastered on doing: telling stories of life as it is, with its beauties and perditions.

  1. James Wong Howe (1899 – 1976)

A still from Joel Frankenheimer's 1966 film "Seconds."

James Wong Howe was born in 1899 in China, but his family migrated to the United States that same year. His career as a cinematographer―which consists of more than a hundred films―began in his early twenties and lasted until his death in 1976.

He was responsible for numerous technical innovations, being the earliest one the use of black velvet in order to emphasize blue eyes in the kind of film stock mostly used in still photography until the twenties. This gave him recognition and allowed his way to cinematography.

Already in film, he was nicknamed as “Low-Key” due to his ability to use shadows―associated with film noir, of which Howe was one the main figures. In Transatlantic (1931), he was the first cinematographer to use a large depth of field (called deep-focus, in which the fore and background of the image are focused). In the early years of cinema, film stocks were not very sensitive to light, therefore these achievements were real challenges.

Howe was nominated for ten Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, having won twice: with The Rose Tattoo (1955) and Hud (1963). Among other remarkable movies there are The Thin Man (1934) and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938). He was considered one of the ten most influential cinematographers of all time by the International Cinematographers Guild.

  1. Slawomir Idziak (1945 –)


Slawomir Idziak is a polish cinematographer. Photography ran in his blood: his grandfather was Józef Holas, a well-known photographer from before WWI, and both his parents also worked with photography. Idziak joined the Łódź Film School in 1963, when life in Poland was very hard due to the communism.

Idziak recalls the place as a way of escaping the dark atmosphere and “felt that the School was a bridge between Poland and the West”. Probably due to this background, Idziak believes film is a way of translating the world and allowing people to reflect on the realities.

In his first years as a cinematographer, Idziak collaborated with remarkable Polish directors. He considers his partnership with Krzysztof Zanussi among the most important artistic meetings of his life. They worked together in numerous films, such as The Contract (1980), From a Far Country (1981) and the touching A Year of a Quiet Sun (1984).

His most known and acclaimed partnership, however, was with Krzysztof Kieślowski, whose first movie, The Underground Passage (1973), he photographed. They also worked together in some other early films, but their reencounter years later brought some of the most outstanding visual films of all time: A Short Film About Killing (1987)―fifth episode of “The Decalogue”―The Double Life of Verónique (1991) and Three Colors: Blue (1993).

In the last twenty years, Idziak has photographed many mainstream movies, such as Gattaca (1997), Black Hawk Down (2001) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), which shows the variety of style this great cinematographer is able to work with.

  1. Janusz Kaminski (1959 –)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Native from Poland, Janusz Kaminski achieved international recognition with Schindler’s List (1993), which has given him seven awards, an oscar included, for Best Cinematography. The film also marked the beginning of his ongoing partnership with Steven Spielberg, whose following fifteen movies―two yet to finish―had Kaminski as a cinematographer.

Among the masterpieces this duo has given us, one that demands special attention is Saving Private Ryan (1998). They landed once again in the subversive world of WWII, with an outstanding opening scene of the invasion in Normandy.

The references for the aesthetic choices while shooting the battle were original films made by the Army during the war. Kaminski then used techniques rarely seen in film, such as having old lenses restored in order to achieve a more foggy and grainy―and therefore realistic―image.

Although his most remarkable works were shot with Spielberg, Kaminski was also in smaller productions, such as the touching The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007). Its dreamlike aesthetics as the audience dives into the psychological world of a man show―contrasting the realistic Saving Private Ryan―the versatility of this incredible cinematographer.

  1. Robert Krasker (1913 – 1981)

the third man cinematography

Robert Krasker was an Oscar-winning Australian cinematographer. He started his career in film when he moved to London in the mid-thirties and got a job as a cameraman.

Krasker’s debut as a Director of Photography was in the epic Henry V (1944), directed by Laurence Olivier. Although he did not have a lot of experience with Technicolor, he shot stunning images which merged film and theatre and achieved very claustrophobic effects which would later be widely used by him. In the next year, he worked in the acclaimed Brief Encounter (1945).

His most important work, however, was done in his collaboration with Carol Reed. In The Third Man (1949), Krasker, highly influenced by film noir and german expressionism, used contrasted lighting and oblique camera angles to capture the decadent atmosphere in postwar Vienna, a fitting stage for a corrupt and isolated life. The effectiveness of the aesthetic choices in the film gave Krasker his Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

Other important films he was a Director of Photography for include El Cid (1961), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) and The Collector (1965). Krasker was also one of the three photographers to work with the renowned italian director Luchino Visconti in Senso (1954).

  1. Ellen Kuras (1959 –)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Ellen Kuras’ place in this list represent an important change in film business: a field in which only men used to work slowly opening its doors to women.

Kuras is among the most important filmmakers of the last two decades, working as a cinematographer and a director. She has worked with numerous renowned directors and won significant awards. Her debut as a director, the documentary The Betrayal (2008) was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary Feature category.

She has worked with directors Michel Gondry (The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind [2004], Be Kind Rewind [2008]) and Spike Lee (4 Little Girls [1997], Bamboozled [2000]) many times. Gondry’s stunning The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (2004) might be the greatest aesthetic achievement of her career.

Kuras was also the cinematographer for important music films. The first one was Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005), and she would later work in the documentaries Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006) and Lou Reed’s Berlin: Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse (2007). Her entire filmography is noteworthy, but other recomendable films are the hilarious Analyse That (2002) and Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes (2003).

Kuras’ talent should be an example for the future of film: it is very hard for a woman to get in film business, but in cinematography it is even harder. This fantastic cinematographer shows that this conception must be left behind and that each day more doors should open for talented women.

  1. Emmanuel Lubeszki (1964 –)

The Tree of Life

In this decade, the mexican Emmanuel Lubeszki won two consecutive oscar for Best Cinematography (Gravity in 2014; and Birdman (Or The Virtue of Ignorance) in 2015). He is now among the biggest names among the new generation of cinematographers.

His first notorious film – for which he was also nominated for the Academy Awards – was the touching A Little Princess (1998), when his ongoing partnership with the director Alfonso Cuarón started.

He has worked with many other great directors, such as Tim Burton, the Coen Brothers and Terrence Mallick. Among his productions is the stunning The Tree of Life (2012), whose special effects supervisor was Douglas Trumbull (2001: a Space Odyssey) and aesthetics is very particular and experimental.

Until 2014, Lubeszki’s work was seen as underestimated, especially after he shot Children of Men (2006). Luckily, his recognition came soon enough and and might only grow throughout the years.

  1. Kazuo Miyagawal (1908 – 1999)


Kazuo Miyagawa was Japan’s preeminent cinematographer, having started his career in the thirties. He collaborated with the country’s greatest directors, such as Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujiro Ozu.

Before he became a cinematographer, Miyagawa studied japanese ink painting. He used to say that his fundamentals in art thought him how to see and that his chemistry knowledge taught him the basics of filmmaking. From this background and his passion for expressionist german films, he inherited the subtle shadings widely used in his black-and-white films.

He is known for his long track shots, specially in Rashomon (1950), his first of three productions with Kurosawa. His delicate camera movements were very effective in creating suspenseful and dramatic atmospheres, and also widely explored by Mizoguchi in films like Ugetsu (1953) and Sansho the Bailiff (1954).

Although he only worked with Ozu in the fascinating Floating Weeds (1959), this was one of the highest points of the director’s career. The striking pictorial effects and specific color tones in the film show the cinematographer’s talented mind and his technical abilities.

Miyagawa died in 1999 at ninety-one and will always be remembered among the definers of japanese films’ aesthetics which brought international recognition the country’s productions.

  1. Robby Müller (1940 –)

Paris, Texas (1984)

Robby Müller is a Dutch cinematographer who is best known for his partnership with german director Wim Wenders. It started when both worked in their first feature film, Summer in the City (1970). They would later work together in many other productions, such as The American Friend (1977) and the splendidly shot Paris, Texas (1984).

Müller’s work, however, is much more extensive than what he produced with Wim Wenders. He had a preference for offbeat projects and therefore worked with directors like Lars von Trier, Pieter Bogdanovich and Jim Jarmusch, whose experimentalism would give him the opportunity to create and try new things.

A close look at his filmography will lead one to realize that Müller is one of those filmmakers who are truly passionate about film, and who had tried many different styles and travelled all over the world in order to refine his work.

  1. Sven Nykvist (1922 – 2006)

Cries and Whispers

Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist is mostly known for his collaboration with the director Ingmar Bergman, which lasted twenty-five years. He pioneered the use of natural light in film, and is heavily acclaimed for his ability to give it a naturalistic look; and as well for his close-up shots that emphasized the psychological movements of the characters, to which Bergman gave priority.

Sven first worked with Bergman when he shot the interior scenes of Sawdust and Tinsel (1953). Bergman is rumored to have said he wanted Sven to photograph all his following films after an impressive 180-degree pan shot he made. That was when Sven replaced the also splendid Gunnar Fischer as Bergman’s main cinematographer.

They worked together in some of the most outstanding films in history, such as the Faith Trilogy―Through a Glass Darkly (1961), The Silence (1963) and Winter Light (1963)―Persona (1966), Cries and Whispers (1973) and Fanny and Alexander (1982).

When Bergman stopped directing theatrical full-length movies, Sven went to the United States. There he worked with Woody Allen―an assumed Bergman fan―in Another Woman (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and in his hilarious segment from New York Stories (1989).

Sven also worked with Roman Polanski and Andrei Tarkovsky. He died in 2006, after having devoted half a century of his life for filmmaking and having won uncountable prizes, including two Academy Awards (for Cries and Whispers and Fanny and Alexander).

  1. Robert Richardson (1955 – )

The Aviator (2004)

Throughout the thirty-three years he has worked as a cinematographer, Robert Richardson made remarkable partnerships with very important directors, such as Oliver Stone (Platoon, JFK, Natural Born Killers), Martin Scorsese (The Aviator, Shutter Island, Hugo) and Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained). He has won uncountable significant prizes, among them three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography: in 1991 with JFK; in 2005 with The Aviator; and in 2012 with Hugo.

The first masterpiece he shot was Platoon (1986), still considered one of the best war movies of all times. Thirty years later, he is still working greatly and introducing new technologies to his productions, and therefore it is fascinating to realize that the same man shot a phantasy 3D movie three years ago and worked with Tarantino in his most recent films. Richardson’s capacity to adapt and renew himself has certainly guaranteed his name among the most important ones in film’s history.

  1. Vittorio Storaro (1940 –)

The Conformist

Storaro describes his own life as an equilibrium between the passion of red and the reason of blue, and therefore he is certain that the cinematographer should write with light and darkness; white and black; the sun and the moon. Having won three Academy Awards and many other prizes for Best Cinematography, the italian cinematographer has until this year signed fifty-eight movies.

His most impressive productions are from the time he partnered up with Bernardo Bertolucci (1970-1993), aside Coppola’s Apocalypse Now! (1979)―for which he won his first oscar. The opposing elements he talks about can be observed overall in his photography. Conflict between natural and artificial energy sources, the use of opposing colors and its correspondence to emotions of the characters create a subtle contrast that reveals the differences―and similarities―between reality and film.

Since the nineties, he also partnered up with Carlos Saura and Alfonso Arau. In 2013, he was considered to be among the ten most influential cinematographers of all times by the International Cinematographers Guild, and it is certainly a title he deserves.

  1. Gregg Toland (1904 – 1948)

Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane (1941) has always been among the top five in all the respected Best Films of All Time lists, and usually in the first position. Toland is partly responsible for that―in the credits, Orson Welles’ own card is shared with him―due to the magnificent and innovative visual he created.

His geniality, however, dates from before Citizen Kane and transcends it. During the early 30s, he was the youngest cameraman in Hollywood, and between 1936 and 1942 he was nominated for six Academy Awards for Best Cinematography (Les Misérables [1935], Dead End [1937], Intermezzo: A Love Story [1939], Wuthering Heights [1939], The Long Voyage Home [1940] and Citizen Kane). He won it in 1940 for Wuthering Heights.

He was among the first cinematographers to use the deep-focus technique, in which the front and the background are all in focus. The focus is usually what guides the viewer’s eyes through the image, and when this technique is used composition and movement will be responsible to determine where the eye looks first.

Toland is the cinematographer in this list who died at a youngest age, only forty-four, but his skills perpetuated his name among the best cinematographers of all time.

  1. Sergey Urusevsky (1908 – 1974)


Sergey Urusevsky was one of the most influential soviet filmmakers. His interest for graphic design and photography started very early in his life, and before WWII he studied under many constructivism artists in Moscow. During the war, he was a combat photographer. Characteristics of constructivism would later have an important place in his production as a cinematographer.

In his first years as a Director of Photography, he worked with Yuli Raizman, Vsevolod Pudovkin and Grigoriy Chukhrai, among others. His most known picture from that time is Chukhrai’s The Forty-First (1956). In that same period he worked in his first collaboration with director Mikhail Kalatozov, The First Echelon (1955).

This partnership would enrich the cinematographers style and bring him international recognition. His admiration for the cinematic form would find its highest expression. In that time, he created a very innovative technique in which the camera narrates the film, which was widely used in Russian Cinematography, having its highest point in Sokurov’s The Russian Ark (2002).

The two most remarkable films from his collaboration with Kalatozov are The Letter Never Sent (1959)―which is known to have influenced Apocalypse Now! cinematography― and I am Cuba (1964), his last and probably most important work as a cinematographer.

  1. Haskell Wexler (1922–)

who's afraid of virginia woolf

The american Haskell Wexler was another one of the ten most influential cinematographers of all time judged by the International Cinematographers Guild. Although his most well known films are from the seventies, at the impressive age of ninety-three, he is still working as cinematographer, director, producer and writer.

His first big-budget production as a cinematographer was in Elia Kazan’s America, America (1963). Only three years after he would win his first Academy Award for Best Cinematography―the last one in Black&White―with the masterpiece Who’s Afraid of Virgnia Woolf? (1966). Thereafter he would be responsible for acclaimed and innovative films of the New Hollywood era, such as the first one to use the newly invented Steadicam―for which he won his second oscar―Bound for Glory (1976).

Among other important films he photographed are One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973). His important production was not delimited to film, but also television, for which he founded a commercial production company with Conrad L. Hall, Wexler-Hall. In the 21st century, he has already photographed more than twenty documentaries (a few directed by him), being one of them yet to be released in 2015.

  1. Gordon Willis (1931 – 2014)

The Godfather (1972)

Exactly one year ago, the film world lost one of its most important and influential people. Gordon Willis died of cancer in May, 2014.

Having born inside Hollywood―his father was a makeup man―Willis’ interests were always related to film. At first he wanted to be an actor. His actings in theatre led him backstage, where he learnt a lot about lighting. This would later help him become one of the responsible filmmakers for the aesthetics created on film during the 70s. What the directors from the era that immediately pop-up to mind (Francis Coppola, Woody Allen, Alan Pakula) had in common was this outstanding cinematographer behind them.

In his filmography, one will find many remarkable movies, among them The Godfather trilogy (1972, 1974 and 1990) and All the President’s Men (1976). However, his long-lasting partnership was with Woody Allen, and started with Annie Hall (1977). They would then release one film each year until 1985.

Among these are some of those considered Allen’s best films: Manhattan (1979), Zelig (1983) and The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). The director always says that “Gordie” taught him a lot, and that he was a true artist. A quick glance at Gordon Willis’ films’ list will confirm this assumption.

  1. Freddie Young (1902 – 1998)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Freddie Young’s career as a cinematographer started in the late twenties and lasted until the eighties. During these sixty years, he worked in more than a hundred pictures and therefore achieved a huge recognition in the film area.

His most remarkable films are the ones he worked with director David Lean: Lawrence of Arabia (1963), Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Ryan’s Daughter (1970), all three of which guaranteed him an Academy Awards. He was also responsible for the cinematography of Lord Jim (1965)―an outstanding adaptation from Joseph Conrad’s books―and Nicholas and Alexandra (1971).

Freddie was the first British cinematographer to shoot in CinemaScope―anamorphic lenses spreadly used in the fifties and sixties to create a widescreen image. He was another one of the ten chosen by the International Cinematographers Guild as most influential cinematographers of all time. He died in 1998, with ninety-six years old.

  1. Vadim Yusov (1929 – 2013)


Soviet Vadim Yusov might be the most poetic cinematographer of all time. He was the Director of Photography of four out of the most remarkable Tarkovsky’s films and is known to have had a big influence in the director’s style.

Yusov’s partnership with Tarkovsky started when he was only thirty years old. Twenty-nine years old Tarkovsky, still a student in the Russian leading film school (All-Union State Institute of Cinematography), approached him to shoot The Steamroller and the Violin (1960), his diploma film.

They would then collaborate in the director’s next three movies: Ivan’s Childhood (1962), Andrei Rublev (1966) and Solaris (1972). They would spend a couple of days preparing for a long shot that would usually be shot in only one take.

After style disagreements brought his collaboration with Tarkovsky to an end, Yusov started another fruitful partnership with Russian director and actor Sergey Bondarchuk.

Having already shot the successful film adaptation (1966) of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the director’s style was epic and objective, which diverged from the world Yusov had emerged in with Tarkovsky. He once declared that “Tarkovsky and Bondarchuk were worlds apart and it was [his] job to enter both their worlds.” Among his productions with Bondarchuk are the great They Fought Their Country (1975) and Boris Godunov (1986).

  1. Vilmos Zsigmond (1930 –)

heaven's gate pic

With more than one hundred films in his filmography, the hungarian Vilmos Zsigmond was also considered by the International Cinematographers Guild to be one of the ten most influential cinematographers of all time.

When the Hungarian Revolution took place in 1956, Vilmos and his friend Lázlo Kovács―also an incredible cinematographer―recorded images of it in thirty thousand feet of film and ran away to Austria (part of this footage is used in the documentary No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos). This story of Vilmos’ youth reveals how important it was to that young passionate filmmaker to produce something meaningful.

And so he did. Vilmos arrived in the USA in the early 60s, right before the “American New Wave” started, and he would be one of its main representative figures. Some of his most significant productions of that time were The Sugarland Express (1974), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), The Deer Hunter (1978) and Blow Out (1981).

Today, at eighty-five years old, Vilmos is still going. Since the 00s, he partnered up with Woody Allen in Melinda, Melinda (2004), Cassandra’s Dream (2007) and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010). 2015 will bring four movies by this outstanding cinematographer as he makes his way into being one of the filmmakers who more produced in film’s history.

Author Bio: Carolina Starzynski just graduated from film school in Brazil. She worked mostly in small projects as a cinematographer, but intends to study creative writing from now on.
Source : Written by Carolina Starzynski