Films that light and compose faces very well

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  • #215446

      Hi Roger!

      A few months ago I asked you a question on how I could learn cinematography. You gave me what I thought was a great piece of advice which was to watch as many films as I can, study the works of as many painters and photographers and just shoot as much as I can. I’ve been doing all of those things as much as I can since I finished college in October and I can say that I’ve improved more over the past few months than I had over three years of film school so thank you for that.

      You also said in the message that it was once suggested to you that if you could light the human face that you could light anything. I’ve just been thinking over the past few weeks if you could recommend to me a few films to watch where you think that faces are lit and composed very well. I know that’s not what you meant by your answer but I thought I’d just ask anyways just to see what you thought.

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    • #215447

        I don’t know about composition, but from a lighting standpoint, “Alien” (1979) is a compendium of lighting textures on faces, from ultra hard to ultra soft. In a similar vein is “Apocalypse Now” (1979).

        In terms of composition of faces in close-up, it depends on the aspect ratio, but for scope movies, I’d look at Sergio Leone movies like “Once Upon a Time in the West”.


          Tak Fujimoto’s work with Jonathan Demme where the actors are staring straight down the barrel of the camera, Peter Suschitzky’s films with David Cronenberg and the use of short-sided framing and wide lenses to create a sense of the actor ‘leering’ into the camera, Steven Spielberg’s moving masters that frequently go from close-ups to wides and back again, would all be worth studying for composition.


            I’m not entirely sure but maybe some of Roger Deakins’ films have one or two decent shots in it 😉

            Other than that, ‘Come and See’ comes to mind, mostly (all?) natural light but rarely do films create such power with faces.



                Sorry, I wasn’t being clear.

                I meant films that Roger Deakins admires that he didn’t work on.

                Come and see is such a beautiful film. I don’t mean the subject matter but the visuals of course.


                  I remember reading an interview with either Elem Klimov or Aleksey Rodionov on the cinematography of come and see. I’m fairly sure it was mentioned that there were only one or two lights used on the films but yes it was nearly all shot with natural light.

                  Roger Deakins

                    There is a podcast of a conversation James and I had with Aleksey Rodionov about Come and See. It is definitely worth listening to. Nice man.

                    Joel Froome ACS

                      Just chiming in on this, I think a must watch is “Road to Perdition”. Conrad Hall’s work in general is always incredible but that film is spectacular when in comes to everything including film language, lighting, composition etc. I’m sure Roger would agree that watching Conrad’s films show how amazing he was.

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