The Best of the Best – Cinematographers

As an amateur photographer the visuals of films have high importance to me. I can forgive a lot to a film if it looks great (eg. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug). And when a film looks especially great, I can even forget to follow the story and concentrate on cinematography. When done right, it’s a breath-taking experience. And that’s why I want to celebrate cinematographers on my new The Best of the Best list (previous ones you can find here: Actresses, Actors, TV Shows, Directors, TV characters, Films of 2013 & Future Husbands).

Like always, I want to mention a few bubbling unders; and remember these are my favourites, not the masters that have taken the field necessarily forward or something like that. No, they’re my favourites, so the most of them are guys (unfortunately, only men) that are still working today actively or even guys who have just started gaining reputation. If you’re interested in the masters, here’s list of 50 best by Total Film.

Scandal in Belgravia – Sherlock

Ok, so, the bubbling unders. These guys have gotten my attention but they’re lists of accomplishments are just not that long. Yet, I hope. Fabian Wagner has shot television, most notably Game of Thrones and Sherlock Holmes of BBC. Especially the latter has some unbelievably beautiful shots and he was nominated for Emmy for his work in the series. I already mentioned Desolation of Smaug, so I have to mention Andrew Lesnie who’s Peter Jackson’s choice for cinematographer, he has shot all Jackson’s Middle barry_lyndon_1975_7Earth movies. Beautifully. John Alcott was Kubrick’s regular. His best work can be seen in Barry Lyndon where they actually shot a lot of footage in candle light! That must have been a nightmare.

Another legend: Conrad L. Hall has shot eg. American Beauty (amazing work!), Road to Perdition, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and many more. He has been nominated for the Oscar 10 times and he won three of them. He has been mentioned in all of the great cinematographers lists as well. Robert Richardson is one to mention as well. His career has been amazing and it doesn’t look like he is going to slow down anytime soon. Just ask Tarantino, Scorsese or Oliver Stone, his regular collaborators. Him and Janisz Kaminski (Spielberg’s pal; Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln) should probably be on my top-10 but like I said, it’s my favourites and these guys just didn’t make it. But they really should have, they’re amazing. And the last one outside of my top ten, who is my number 11, is Greig Fraser, who seems very much upcoming with works like Zero Dark Thirty, Snow White and the Huntsman and especially Killing Them Softly.

Schindler's List
Schindler’s List



b_DRIVE_new-DPNewton Thomas Sigel

The most notably to me he is the cinematographer of Drive. And Drive is one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen. Ever. I was in tears in the cinema while watching it and at the same time it is brutally violent. Such an unbelievably great work. He has done a lot of “whatever” films too but just because of Drive, I love him. And he has shot the new X-Men film; I have quite high hopes for that.



Hoyte Van Hoytema

I just noticed that this sucks. I hadn’t put them in order yet and it’s really hard. He could be upper on the list because even though he hasn’t done a lot yet, what he has done, is impeccable. Låt den Rätte Komma In (Let the Right One In), Her and the best so far; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. If you haven’t seen the last one, just see it because of the cinematography. It’s so good. He has also shot Nolan’s upcoming Interstellar. Can’t be bad. I’m also glad he’s totally international, born in Switzerland, origins from The Netherlands and Sweden and studied in Poland.



Bruno Delbonnel

Here’s the man who inspired me to do this list. Inside Llewyn Davis is a masterpiece when it comes to cinematography. Dark Shadows and Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince also have beautiful cinematography. Delbonnel is specialised in darker subjects, he uses a lot of darkness with a hint of light. Or a lot of colours like in Amélie. Which ever way, he does it superbly.


Emmanuel Lubezki

A long time collaborator of Alfonso Cuarón just won the Oscar for Gravity. However his best work is in Children of Men (video above, sorry about the quality), it is unbelievably. Well, just see the video. He is also doing a lot of work with Terrence Malick and has gotten a lot of praise from Tree of Life that I have not seen. Lubezki is not exactly my taste but there is no denying his talent.


Anthony Dod Mantle

Slumdog Millionaire (for which he won the Oscar), Rush (which he should have been nominated), Trance, Dredd, Antichrist and 127 Hours. This man has his own view and it works. I hated Dredd but I can’t deny that the visuals were stunning. Next up another film with Ron Howard, Heart of the Sea, set in the sea, surprisingly. That’ll be a tough shoot.


Jeff Cronenweth

Fincher and Cronenweth are the couple here. And as you might know, I’m a big fan of Fincher and I guess that means I’m a big fan of Cronenweth, who in fact is the second generation cinematographer, son of Jordan Cronenweth who was also nominated for the Oscar. He was already part of camera department in Se7en and The Game and heading it in Fight Club (tribute above), The Social Network and The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. Next installment these two are cooking is Gone Girl. Another great one, I suppose.



Wally Pfister

He’s Nolan’s trusted guy. Inception (above), The Prestige, all batmans Nolan made and even Memento. He is not shooting Interstellar because he is making his directorial debut Transcendence which is on quite many film fans “most waited of 2014” lists. And it’ll be out in a next month, we’ll see if he is as good director as he is as a cinematographer.


Darius Khondji

My top three are all so good that I should not even try to separate them. Iran born Darius Khondji is a genius who can make even films like Wimbledon look cool. He has shot visually shining films like Se7en, Evita, Panic Room (scene in the video above, watch it, it’s marvellous!), Midnight in Paris and Amour (try watch that without flinching; I couldn’t even watch it all the times). Damn, he’s good! Upcoming is Magic in the Moonlight, again with Woody Allen, shot in France. Can’t be ugly.


Seamus McGarvey

Another video but look at that scene! It’s amazing. It makes me cry every time I see it. (And that remind me of that I should do a list of composers too, Dario Marianelli made brilliant work in that film too). McGarvey is regular collaborator with Joe Wright who is one of my favourite directors. His films are always so  beautiful and beside Atonement McGarvey has shot Anna Karenina, that is staged on the stage. But it works. And McGarvey has also shot We Need to Talk About Kevin that is full of visual storytelling. And The Avengers! Though that one I don’t know, I’m more of a “real” cinematography kind a girl instead of CGI. Next up is Godzilla, 50 Shades of Grey (that is probably rubbish but the name says that there is room for interesting visuals) and Pan with Wright again. Can’t wait!


Roger Deakins

The greatest cinematographer alive. 11 Oscar nominations, no win. He’s basically nominated every year and for a good reason. He’s the best. I though he did the best in Skyfall but take your pick: True Grit, Revolutionary Road, Doubt, Prisoners, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Village, Beautiful Mind, Fargo… and so on. Maybe next year he will finally win when his collaboration, Unbroken, with Coen bros and Angelina Jolie will be released.

bond_daniel_craigWhile writing this post and trying to find suitable photos for it, I ran into this great blog of Beautiful Stills from Beautiful Films. Check it out!

Who are your favourites?


  1. Would have only known 7 and 1 by name, but I cannot argue with any of your choices. All of the examples you cite (that I’ve seen) are fantastic. Great list!

  2. Very, very impressed you were able to make this list! It’s hard enough for me to keep track of directors, much less cinematographers. But I shall try to pay more attention from now on! I was very happy to see David Fincher on your list, and to learn about his right-hand man, Jeff Cronenweth.

    • Thanks! Like I wrote I pay a lot of attention to visual side of films and I usually always check a cinematographer’s name if I liked the way a film looked. I don’t understand anything when it comes to shooting with green screen but hopefully next year this time I’ll be wiser (I’m gonna take video courses next year in school).

      And Fincher has been my favourite director since Fight Club (although within age I’ve started to like more gentle directors) and I love the way his films always looks! It was really hard to choose video to show Cronenweth’s work, there were so many. 🙂

  3. Very enjoyable post. Great tribute to some great cinematographers, and the video clips are an added delicacy. I know you weren’t crazy about the masters, but I was hoping to read about some cinematography of classic films like Metropolis, Gone with the Wind, Black Narcissus, The Searchers etc etc…. Cinematography before advancement in modern technology.
    None the less, this was fun too. Some great films you’ve mentioned here.

  4. […] So, firstly, I really liked the sound of it. It rocked my world. And the chairs of the cinema. And I love it! That is what a proper summer blockbuster should do! Take you out of your world and suck you into its. So good. And the beginning of the film is very intensive, no need for too much explanations, just dive in to the deep side of the pool. Cool. Cool is actually good word for this one. The cinematography and the CGI. They blended perfectly together. I’m not usually a big fan of artificial computer generated images but come on! in this one they just look so pretty. There is one scene involving Jackman, McAvoy, Fassbender and Peters that just blew my mind. Perfection, especially the song. You have to see it, I don’t want to spoil it. I just realised that the cinematographer is Newton Thomas Sigel who was responsible of cinematography of Drive that is by far the best cinematography I’ve seen. I think I mentioned him already in my post of the best cinematographers.  […]

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