Top 10 Movies Every Photographer Must See


Still in celebration of World Photography Day, here's a collection of movies that we've gathered from two photographers with regard to the top 10 movies that they think every photographer should see. Take this weekend as an opportunity to curl up in your couch and have a movie marathon with these films that will inspire your analog approach to photography. Enjoy!

The last movie that I got to watch on the big screen was Thor (hehe it’s been awhile) – while I’m more of a movie buff than a music fan, it’s weird that I don’t really prefer going to the cinema, it’s more about watching DVDs of random movies when I’m in the mood. And when I’m in the mood…I’m really in the mood. Haha…I can watch up to three movies in a row and when I really like one, I’m pretty much left affected by it for about a week. Anyway…what’s my point here? Well, the point is that movies, especially the really good ones, have that kind of magic. The magic to inspire you in so many different ways; whether you’re left in tears or smiling from ear to ear, watching a movie is a great way to draw some inspiration from when you need to give your creativity a boost.

So if you’re a bit on the dumps lately with your analogue photography, maybe these movie suggestions will do the trick.

From Fashion Photography Blog

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The Night Porter
This film will always be controversial. You have to see it to understand why. But for me, the lighting in it was amazing. It’s such a twisted dark story but even the main female character, Lucia, who’s name means “light” and her leading man’s guilt complex being afraid of the light just adds so much more intrigue for me as well. I have watched this movie so many times and I always see something new every time I see it. Alfio Contini lit this dark story beautifully.

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The Godfather
bq. Again, Francis Ford Coppola’s epic film will remain one of the top films ever made. The story, the actors, the art direction, they’re all amazing in this movie. But the lighting was impeccable. I remember the first time I saw this movie. The first scene had me. The lighting had me. Gordon Willis has always been one of my favorite cinematographers. He also lit my favorite Woody Allen movies, “Manhattan” and “Annie Hall”. AND he lit one of my all time favorite movies ever: “Klute”. I put Klute on as background when I’m in bed working on my computer.

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A Very Long Engagement
Another one of those movies that had me choked up the whole time because of the lighting. Bruno Delbonnel’s lighting in this sad little love story is so over the top beautiful that I immediately watched, back to back, every one of his movies after seeing “A Very Long Engagement”. Delbonnel is probably more famous for “Amelie” but I prefer “A Very Long Engagement”. Maybe it was Gaspard Ulliel who starred as the lost lover in this film that has me won over the other movie. He’s been someone I’ve wanted to photograph for a very long time!

Photo Source: Wikipedia

Don’t Look Now
Anthony B. Richmond: Genius!!! He also did The Pianist which is phenomenally lit. I go back to “Don’t Look Now” about once a year and watch this movie. Again, it’s a disturbing tale but the lighting informs us that we want to have sympathy for these characters and the grief they’re feeling with the loss of their daughter. It’s just a must-see for the whole entire movie.

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Strangers on a Train
We can’t leave Hitchcock. And there is so much to learn about photography and film making by watching his movies. I listed Stranger’s on a Train here but Robert Burks, Hitchcock’s premier cinematogapher also was the cinematographer on “Vertigo”, “Birds”, “North by Northwest”, “To catch a thief”, etc. etc. And there is much to learn from all of these films. When 4 of the films I just mentioned either won an Oscar or was nominated for one, you have to study the cinematographer earning that kind of respect. And while I don’t watch Hitchcock’s films on a regular basis, I did when I was going to Art Center and learning about lighting for the first time.

From Greg Stott

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It contains at least several dozen scenes any photographer would love to have captured digitally or on film. One minute you’re mesmerized by images of the very human-like faces of Macaque monkeys immersed in hot springs in snowy Japanese mountains and sometime later you’re watching burning-of-the-dead ceremonies on the Ganges River or Whirling Dirvishes spin in what I believe is a Syrian temple. It’s all very captivating although the film is probably best viewed in two or three viewings because there is almost too much to absorb in a single viewing.

It’s no surprise that this film was supplemented by a nicely-printed and handsome coffee-table book. It compliments the movie and photographer Mark Magidson describes the move-making process and shows the people and equipment that made the film along with a variety of images in both black and white and colour.

Photo Source: Wikipedia

Barry Lyndon (1975)
Okay, who out there has an f 0.7 lens? Well, among still photographers no one I know has such a treasure and even in the richly financed movie industry, such an extraordinary piece of glass is very rare, possibly limited to just one – the one director Stanley Kubrick used to film the lingering candlelit scenes in Barry Lyndon. For these moments, Kubrick had a 50mm lens built for NASA by the Carl Zeiss Company modified with a Kollmorgen adaptor used in still cameras. No artificial lighting was used with all the illumination coming from the candles. The warm light generated by the candles creates a compelling painterly look that is reminiscent of Thomas Gainsborough and other artists of the era in which this movie is set.

Photo Source: Wikipedia

Days of Heaven (1978)
Still Photographers are often reminded that the best times to shoot are the “magic hours”, the time around dawn and dusk. These are the times when the light is warm, low and flattering to its subject. Movie directors enjoy the magic hours too but they have significant constraints such as budget and plot and onerous schedules. It would cost a fortune to have highly-paid actors and crew waiting around just to shoot their scenes for one or two hours a day when it might not advance the plot.

Nevertheless, back in 1978, shooting a film almost exclusively in the “magic hours” is just what director Terence Malick did in a remarkable film called Days of Heaven. Telling a story about a love triangle in the early 20th century, Malick employed the talents of two of the greatest cinematographers at the time, Nestor Almendros and, to a lesser extent, Haskell Wexler. For much of the film, the decision was made to only shoot during the “magic hours” and it paid off: Days of Heaven and Almendros won Best Cinematography at the 1978 Academy Awards.

Photo Source: Wikipedia

The Last Emperor (1987)
Bernardo Bertolucci faced an enormous challenge when he decided to tackle the true story of Pu Yi, the last ruler of the 300 year old Chinese Ching Dynasty. Spanning the years 1908 to 1967, Bertolucci was successful in turning the story of Pu Yi into a compelling (and tragic) historical epic.

One of the very effective cinematic tools in the movie is the use of colour. Bertolucci and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro employed very specific colour palettes to symbolically reinforce and illustrate moods. Indeed, it’s been said the real star of the film Storaro’s cinematography and certainly such deliberate and brilliant use of colour is one of the reasons the movie won many Academy Awards including Best Cinematography. The film also serves to remind any visual artist of the power of colour to influence the response of the viewer.

Photo Source: Wikipedia

Dreams (1990)
It’s a challenge to pick one film by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa that ranks as my visual favourite. He was very prolific in his lifetime and he displayed a knack for potent cinematography but, without a doubt, Dreams remains the most haunting of his films for me. In fact, Dreams is eight short films, some quite melancholy and all born from his actual dreams and memories. The surreal, ethereal visuals in each of them is quite breathtaking.

What this movie offers still photographers is imagination. I am guilty, as many photographers are, of sometimes failing to wring the most out of my creative instincts. Going beyond the tried and true is always a challenge. Commercial and editorial mandates don’t always allow a photographer to blend illusion or fantasy or artistic licence into an image but it’s my belief that we should always try to pursue at least some personal work that displays creative flourish and imagination. We need more images that mirror, more or less, what is conceived in the mind’s eye. Kurosawa did this with a far-ranging colour palette that swings from the bland to the bold. He did it with purpose and the discretion of a master but several of his films – this one especially – illustrate the joys of constructive whimsy. For me, Dreams tells me to play in the photographic sandbox a little more.

Photo Source: Wikipedia

The Third Man (1949)
After writing elsewhere on this page about the glorious use of colour in some films, it’s comforting to be reminded that old-fashioned black and white has just as much magic – it’s just different magic. No film better illustrates this in my view than The Third Man, a thriller which, in addition to a great story, offers moody cinematography that won the film its only Academy Award (though it was nominated for three).

I saw his movie recently for the fourth time, after not seeing it for many years, and was pleased to discover that this classic hasn’t lost an ounce of appeal. If it’s not my favourite black-and-white film, it’s certainly a contender. (I’m not alone: The British Film Institute voted it the number one British Film of the 20the century.) It was the first movie I ever saw that had canted camera angles so that unsettling tilted compositions heighten the suspense of some scenes. Wide-angle distortions and shallow depth of field also contribute to an unrelenting tension and suspense but nothing grabs the viewer’s attention more than the long shadows and the striking use of light and shade that give the film its compelling visuals and slightly nightmarish intrigue.

As for me, I’m quite partial to Last Train Home. What about you guys? Which movies do you enjoy going back to when you’re seeking inspiration for your photographs?

written by ungrumpy on 2011-08-19 in #lifestyle #movies #film-photography #photography #films


  1. the_dude_abides
    the_dude_abides ·

    Rear Window is another, you'll realise how useful a good flash can be! An absolute classic!

    Pecker stars Edward Furlong (yes, the kid from Terminator 2) as a photographer shooting grainy lo-fi b&w who becomes a star of the New York art scene. I haven't watched this for years so it might be awful!

  2. stouf
    stouf ·

    Nice list. Haven't seen 'Days of heaven'... I would strongly recommend watching this
    ...and... this

  3. j_robert
    j_robert ·

    A great list! However, I think Godard should be somewhere in here. Days of Heaven is spectacular and Baraka was phenomenal. I believe a follow-up to Baraka is currently in production. Haven't seen Don't Look Now but it's on my list

  4. narkalen
    narkalen ·

    Faltó "La ciudad de los Fotógrafos"

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