So who are the best cinematographers of all time? We look at some of the most famous cinematographers of all time covering their work, career history, and awards.
Also known as the director of photography (DOP), the best people in this role have some things in common. First, they are all experts in their field and work on some of the top film sets in the world. In addition to this, they all have their own distinctive visual style.
You can find the best film cinematography throughout the last hundred years. This article looks at the most famous cinematographers in this role to date.
1. Christopher Doyle
Christopher Doyle is one of the most famous cinematographers in the world. He was born in Australia but has spent most of his life in Hong Kong. At the start of his career, he worked as a photographer but then started working in the film industry in the camera department.
Doyle’s best film cinematography is a mix of colors and strong detail. He also chooses to work on location and use natural light. In the 2000s, he worked with many famous film directors. Directors such as Wong Kar-Wai, Gus Van Sant and Alejandro Jodorowsky.
- Chungking Express (1994)
- In the Mood for Love (2000)
- 2046 (2004)
2. Dion Beebe
The best cinematographers make films in various genres. Dion Beebe is no exception with his work in science fiction and period drama. Dion made low-budget films before working on high-end studio films.
His best film cinematography uses bright colors, light, and shadow. For example, his work on the film Chicago (2002). This film has some of the most well known images in modern cinema. Beebe has worked with many famous directors, including Ang Lee and Michael Mann.
- Chicago (2002)
- Collateral (2004)
- Memoires of a Geisha (2005)
3. Ellen Kuras
The best cinematographers are still working today. One of them is Ellen Kuras, who started by making shorts and music videos before eventually moving into feature films.
Kuras is also one of the first women to have an extensive career as a DOP. Her work focuses on emotion, story, and character. Because of her unique style, she attracts some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Such as directors Martin Scorsese, Spike Jonze, Michael Gondry, and Spike Lee.
- I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)
- Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
4. Gregg Toland
Gregg Toland was one of the most famous cinematographers during the Hollywood golden age. He started his career as a PA before becoming a DOP. In the 1940s, Toland was the youngest and most sought after filmmaker in the world.
During his career, he won many awards for best film cinematography. However, what makes Toland stand out is that he also created new filming techniques. Some of his contributions to cinema include soundproof cameras, deep focus and the use of long shots.
- Wuthering Heights (1939)
- The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
- Citizen Kane (1941)
5. Kazuo Miyagawa
The early filmmakers helped to define how we see cinema today. In 1920s Japan, Kazuo Miyagawa was one of the most famous cinematographers. As a DOP, he worked on three projects with the film director Akira Kurosawa.
Miyagawa is best known for his highly stylized black and white images. For example, his work on the film Rashomon (1950). He is also known as the creator of the bleach bypass. This early color grade technique is still widely used by filmmakers today.
- Rashomon (1950)
- Yojimbo (1961)
- Lone Wolf and Cub (1972)
6. Gordon Willis
Gordon Willis is one of the best cinematographers of the 20th century. He began his career as an army photographer, which is where he learned filmmaking. After leaving the army, he started working with some of the most famous directors of the New Hollywood era.
In particular, he worked on eight Woody Allen films and all three of the Godfather series. Willis is known for his strong look, with Coppola comparing his work to Rembrandt.
- The GodFather (1972)
- Annie Hall (1977)
- Manhattan (1979)
7. Jack Cardiff
The best film cinematography stands out above all others. Jack Cardiff was a British DOP with a career from silent film to the 21st century. He started his career as a child actor in silent films before becoming a camera operator and later DOP.
Most of all, he is known for his bold color palette and attention to art design. Jack Cardiff also worked with many famous directors during his career, such as Alfred Hitchcock.
- Black Narcissus (1947)
- The Red Shoes (1948)
- The African Queen (1951)
8. Emmanuel Lubezki
The best cinematographers repeatedly win the biggest awards in the film industry. Emmanual Lubezki gained eight major award wins in a row for his work on studio films. He began his career by making low budget straight to TV feature films. Above all, he is known for his work with director Alfonso Cuaron whom he has worked with on six films.
Lubezki uses a mix of natural light and wide angle close ups. In particular, he likes to use a wide lens and long takes. For example, his six minute long take in the film Children of Men (2006). Another skill is his confidence when working with VFX and green screens.
- Children of Men (2006)
- Gravity (2013)
- The Revenant (2015)
9. Rachel Morrison
Rachel Morrison started her career as a photographer before studying film. She studied at the AFI film school and then worked in television. When she graduated, her first job was as a television DOP. Morrison then moved into independent film and later made her name in studio films.
She is known for making large scale films that bring together a wide audience. In addition, she often uses wide shots and focuses on the characters. Most of all Morrison was the first woman to receive major prizes in the film industry.
- Dope (2015)
- Mudbound (2017)
- Black Panther (2018)
10. Roger Deakins
Roger Deakins is one of the most famous cinematographers on our list. The British filmmaker worked as a cameraman before becoming a DOP. Deakins has been shooting films regularly for the past 50 years. Some of his past projects include working with the Coen Brothers, Sam Medes and Denis Villeneuve.
Deakins is known for his use of deep focus and ability to work across film genres. He also shoots on special lenses that create sharper, wider images. One of his closest partnerships is with the Coen Brothers will who has worked with on seven feature films.
- Shawshank Redemption (1994)
- Fargo (1996)
- Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Best Cinematographers – Wrapping Up
To sum up, the best film cinematography stands out above the ordinary. It takes risks, uses new technology, and isn’t afraid to challenge the audience.
To become great in this job role, you need to work hard to learn all of these skills. Many people start out as camera assistants and work up toward this role.
However, you can also start as a DOP on low-budget projects. We hope this list has inspired you to work in the film industry. Is there anyone we have missed from this list? Let us know in the comments section below.