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)


More Photos

I recently took a trip to Luxembourg, Belgium and Paris and took a lot of pictures. Here are some of the best:







I plan to write a post soon on the movie The Prestige… I highly recommend it if you have not seen it.

Drew A.

Top 5 Photos

Over the past few months I have been taking a lot of photos so I decided to go through them and pick out my top 5. You have probably seen most of these already but here they are:


5. This photo was taken on Mont Blanc in the Alps.


4. This photo was taken at a lake near Cincinnati, OH.


3. This photo was taken at Lake Michigan in Chicago, IL.


2. This photo was taken at a lake in Northern Michigan.


1. This photo was taken in Chamonix, France.

The Alps

For those of you who don’t know, I moved to Switzerland about 3 weeks ago. It has been fun to see some of Europe including the Alps which I visited about a week and a half ago. Here are some pictures:

Innocents – First Look


Innocents is one of the local Phoenix, Arizona independent film projects that I worked on earlier this year (in May and June 2011). Written by Jeff Houkal and directed by Joshua M. Lambeth, Innocents is a feature length dramatic film. We shot about 5 minutes worth of selected scenes from the script to create a trailer for the film to promote the work of the cast and crew and garner funding for the production of the entire feature. The director and screenwriter are hopeful that production on the entire film will be possible in the near future. The cast of Innocents includes Kasim Aslam, Gina M. D’Atri, Jeff Houkal, Xavier Christian, Cecilia Coloma, Suzanne Ziad Yacoub Yatim, Tim Valdisera, Skyla Cochrane, and Robert Jakob.

Shot entirely on location with a Canon 5d Mark II DSLR camera in 1080p HD, Lambeth served as both Director and Director of Photography, two roles he is well suited to. Lambeth has a knack for lighting and shooting detail images. He simply has that photographer’s eye and his body of work so far shows it. I previously posted a review of his short film Time. My favorite scenes from the Innocents trailer are the interrogation room scenes between writer/actor Jeff Houkal and actor Kasim Aslam. I absolutely love the lighting and cinematography. In collaboration with director Lambeth, I assisted as Production Designer for that scene, suggesting the black wall backdrop and selecting the stainless steel table the two actors sit at. So I guess you could say I am a bit partial to it. But even with my normal impartial film critic hat on, I do stand by my love of that scene for it’s writing, acting, cinematography, and production design.

My specific roles on Innocents were mostly in the sound department. I was the Boom Operator, Co-Sound Mixer, Sound Editor, and Sound Designer. And I dabbled in Production Design on the interrogation scene, and assisted Josh Lambeth with a bit of editing. The sound was recorded with a Sennheiser MKH-416 shotgun microphone (provided by Broadcast Rentals in Tempe, AZ) and a Sennheiser EW100 G3 wireless lavalier microphone. All sound was recorded onto a Zoom H4n portable digital recorder and edited/mixed/mastered in Avid Pro Tools LE 8. Sound work was a bit challenging on this project with some dynamic locations, but I think it turned out decent in the end. This was my fourth short film project where I worked on sound, and I learned a lot. I continue to improve my work and I really appreciate sound on movies like never before in my life! When I see that a film like Unstoppable (2010) had a team of 28 people in the sound department, I can see why my work, along with my fellow crew members, pales in comparison. Their is strength in numbers when it comes to good sound I think! Josh’s brother Christopher Lambeth and Max Goessing created the musical score for the trailer, lending it some emotional gravitas.

I gotta say it was a pleasure working with the cast and crew on this project and I look forward to working on the entire feature film.

Here are some still images from the Innocents trailer:


Going To New Mexico – First Look


A few weeks ago, my good friend Jackie Daum, an extremely talented singer/songwriter, came to Phoenix, Arizona to shoot a music video with me for her single “Going To New Mexico” from her debut album The Sky Inside. In the sample video clip above is a bit of raw video footage we shot while Jackie was in town. And below are a few still images from some of the other video footage we shot as well. We have about an hour of footage for this 4-5 minute video. Everything you see here was shot on my new Canon EOS 60D Digital SLR camera in full 1080p HD at 24 fps, using only the lighting available at the locations we shot at (natural and artificial). Some of it was shot handheld and some was shot on a tripod. To my surprise, the low lighting at the light rail station at night still gave us some incredible video footage. The 60D definitely has a very nice light sensor that captures a lot compared to the typical video camcorders and digital cameras out there. Of course I would have liked to have had some supplemental lighting from a light kit, but we didn’t have access to additional lights or power for them. This music video was shot “guerilla-style” with just Jackie and I…her in front of the camera and me behind the camera. Jackie was great at lip-syncing. We played her music on my iPod through my portable iPod speakers while we shot…which worked incredibly well!

I’m currently editing the music video and I hope to have it done in the next month or so for it’s worldwide debut. In the meantime, enjoy the sample video snippet and the few images here.

An extra image of Jackie while she was writing a new song at my place one afternoon:

Purchase music by Jackie at her website or through iTunes.