Top 10 Directors of Photography (Cinematographers)

When one thinks of a movie, usually there’s a strong visual image that comes to mind. It evokes a strong feeling, then links itself to another image, and another feeling…and another and another, repeatedly. Those incredible visual images that we all have wandering around in our heads when we hear the name of a movie, a director, or an actor is in no small part thanks to the Director of Photography (Cinematographer) and his camera and electric crew. The DP brings their unique “eye”, or way of looking at the world, to a movie. They can transform a story and make it something “perfect” or beyond ordinary simply by seeing a scene or shot through their point of view and sharing that with us through their choices in lighting, composition, and camera movement.

I should really be listing my Top 100 DP’s since there are so many great ones. Initially I didn’t think I could make this list. Too damn hard! But these Top 10 stand out because they not only captured my imagination with unbelievable and unforgettable images, but they did it repeatedly, 2, 3 or more times. Their imagery is iconic, epic, artistic, and just plain stunning. They bring the beauty to the story every time . It’s their marriage with a great director, a great script, and a great cast that makes a movie work to a large extent or not. We often will forgive a movie for a mediocre story or mediocre performances if we get great cinematography. But these 10 DP’s typically bring their talents to the best stories being told in cinema. They don’t just phone it in, even if the rest of the cast & crew is. Just look at my favorite movies that these DP’s have worked on, and it almost reads like a Top 100 Movie list. All of these DP’s have at least one if not more movies in my Top 100 Movies of all time. And to a large extent, that’s how I ranked them. By seeing how many times they could knock my socks off. But there’s also the power of HOW their imagery impresses me.

Honestly though, you could throw these 10 names up in the air and let them land however they land and it would be as good as any other ranking. These 10 guys…unfortunately there is not a female DP at this calibre for me YET (but I’m sure there will be someday…are all so good it’s like splitting hairs with them. Nevertheless, I split hairs and here’s my ranking for now. Of course this listing will evolve as these DP’s body of work evolves.

Other Directors of Photography considered for this list include: Slawomir Idziak, Dean Cundey, Mikael Salomon, Donald McAlpine, Oliver Wood, Douglas Slocombe, Don Burgess, and Remi Adefarasin.

Se7en (1995)


The Beach (2000)

The Interpreter (2005)

10. Darius Khondji

Se7en (1995)
The Beach (2000)
Panic Room (2002)
My Blueberry Nights (2007)
The Interpreter (2005)
Midnight In Paris (2011)

Dead Poets Society (1989)


The Mosquito Coast (1986)

Rain Man (1988)

9. John Seale

Dead Poets Society (1989)
The Mosquito Coast (1986)
Rain Man (1988)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
The English Patient (1996)
The Firm (1993)
Cold Mountain (2003)
The Perfect Storm (2000)
Witness (1985)
The American President (1995)


Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Schindler’s List (1993)


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

8. Janusz Kaminski

Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Schindler’s List (1993)
Jerry Maguire (1996)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Munich (2005)
Minority Report (2002)
Amistad (1997)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
War Horse (2011)
Funny People (2009)


The Tree of Life (2011)

Meet Joe Black (1998)

The New World (2005)

7. Emmanuel Lubezki

The Tree of Life (2011)
Meet Joe Black (1998)
The New World (2005)
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Ali (2001)
Children of Men (2006)
Y Tu Mamá También (2000)
The Birdcage (1996)

Heat (1995)

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)


The Insider (1999)

6. Dante Spinotti

Heat (1995)
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
The Insider (1999)
Public Enemies (2009)
The Quick and the Dead (1995)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
Flash of Genius (2008)

Inception (2010)


The Prestige (2006)

Memento (2000)

5. Wally Pfister

Inception (2010)
The Prestige (2006)
Insomnia (2002)
Memento (2000)
Laurel Canyon (2002)
Moneyball (2011)
The Italian Job (2003)
Batman Begins (2005)
The Dark Knight (2008)

A Few Good Men (1992)

Platoon (1986)

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

4. Robert Richardson

A Few Good Men (1992)
JFK (1991)
Platoon (1986)
Snow Falling On Cedars (1999)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Shutter Island (2010)
The Four Feathers (2002)
Wall Street (1987)
Hugo (2011)
The Aviator (2004)
The Good Shepherd (2006)
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
The Horse Whisperer (1998)
The Doors (1991)
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Casino (1995)
Nixon (1995)


Dances With Wolves (1990)


Apocalypto (2006)

Dead Calm (1989)

3. Dean Semler

Dances With Wolves (1990)
Apocalypto (2006)
Dead Calm (1989)
Secretariat (2010)
Appaloosa (2008)
We Were Soldiers (2002)
Waterworld (1995)
Dragonfly (2002)
The Alamo (2004)
2012 (2009)
The Bone Collector (1999)
Young Guns (1988)
Young Guns II (1992)
Cocktail (1988)
City Slickers (1991)


Thunderheart (1992)


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

In Time (2011)

2. Roger Deakins

Thunderheart (1992)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
True Grit (2010)
In Time (2011)
Courage Under Fire (1996)
Kundun (1997)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
No Country For Old Men (2007)
Doubt (2008)
The Company Men (2010)
The Reader (2008)
Revolutionary Road (2008)
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Fargo (1996)
A Serious Man (2009)
In the Valley of Elah (2007)
Jarhead (2005)
Dead Man Walking (1995)
Air America (1990)

The Thin Red Line (1998)


Braveheart (1995)

Legends Of The Fall (1994)

1. John Toll

The Thin Red Line (1998)
Braveheart (1995)
Legends of the Fall (1994)
The Last Samurai (2003)
Almost Famous (2000)
The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
It’s Complicated (2009)
Tropic Thunder (2008)
Elizabethtown (2005)
Vanilla Sky (2001)
The Rainmaker (1997)

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This entry was posted in Movies, Photography, Top 10 Lists by Brad Swenson. Bookmark the permalink.

About Brad Swenson

Appreciating and contributing to the art and craft of movies, television, videos, and photography is my daily mission in life. My canvas for expression is emotion. I'm driven to discover and share interesting stories about people, their actions, their thoughts, their feelings, their work, and their contributions to the web of life.

One thought on “Top 10 Directors of Photography (Cinematographers)

  1. There are so many greats. I have interviewed many of them for the British Cinematographer magazine and my book Conversations with Cinematographers. They include Douglas Slocombe, Gil Taylor, Freddie Francis, Chris Challis, Billy Williams and Oswald Morris. I am writing a second volume, which will include Seamus McGarvey, Peter Macdonald and Haris Zambaloukas.

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