Every year at the Oscars there is a category that, although it doesn’t go unnoticed, it certainly doesn’t get the attention that the nominations for best actor, actress or director get, this is the category of cinematography or DOP (director of photography).
This year Roger Deakins was awarded best cinematography for ‘1917’. Nominated many times and winner of another Oscar for his work in ‘Blade Runner 2049’, Deakins is possibly one of the current cinematographers of whom authors of still photography can learn from and be inspired by.
Known for his particular use of unconventional artificial light for large Hollywood productions, his powerful compositions and his choice of focal length, Roger Deakins manages to immerse his viewers in atmospheres that hang in the balance of realism and surrealism, which in turn give his stories a forcefulness and beauty that few manage to match.
And how do I apply the photography of a film to my photography you might ask?
And you’re right to ask! It is relatively common to find comments on this topic in photography forums that often do not translate into something tangible. With that said, in this post I have synthesised Deakins’ work into 3 broad yet practical aspects that you’ll easily be able to apply to your photography:
If there is a trait that defines Deakins’, it’s the simplicity in his use of cinematographic resources. I’m not saying that his lighting sets are simple (neither in terms of assembly nor the material he uses), but rather that they are simple in their purpose. He mostly uses a single source of light with a particular color temperature and an occasional reflector that are enough to give the famous secret agent 007 and his villain the drama necessary for a film like “Skyfall.” The same can be said of “Blade Runner” or “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”
2. MORE SIMPLICITY
Another defining feature of Deakins is his use of lens.
Something that is not unknown in photography forums is the recommendation to use a single camera and a single lens. In the case of street and travel photography, it is usually 35mm or 50mm and for good reason.: With either of these these focal lengths you can practically do everything. Furthermore, it also gives you the ability to be consistent throughout your work.
Being neither too closed nor too angular allows you to capture the surroundings and at the same time get close enough to your subject so that whoever sees your photos feels that they are part of the scene.
It is not surprising then that as a general rule and for almost all his work, Deakins uses a fixed 32mm even for close-ups.
The exquisite use of backgrounds, symmetries, diagonals and lines of visual tension make Deakins’ compositions a delight to observe and a great opportunity to learn from or be inspired by for when you are out shooting.
In Deakins’ compositions nothing bothers, there is nothing of excess everything in the frame has a reason for being and they are also elements that often make the viewer travel from end to end of the screen for a total immersion in history and its atmosphere.
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