Using Cinematography as a powerful visual storytelling tool
Having great visual storytelling in films is what makes the difference. Cinematography is an essential element of filmmaking, as it can help shape a film’s mood, tone, and overall impact.
As a video production company, we understand the importance of cinematography in telling a compelling story. In films, as well as in companies, storytelling can deeply benefit you.
However here we focus on visual storytelling. It comprises lighting and camera angles to composition and colour grading. Each element of cinematography contributes to the overall impact of a film. Moreover, it can be used to convey emotion, enhance a scene’s atmosphere, or even advance a film’s narrative.
In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at some examples of cinematography in recent film history. We will share outstanding visual storytelling in films ranging from war dramas to sci-fi blockbusters. By examining these films and what makes their cinematography so special, we hope to inspire and inform our fellow video production professionals and anyone who appreciates the beauty and power of great visual storytelling.
Join us as we dive into the world of film and explore some of the most impressive cinematography of recent times.
16 Best Examples
1. “Fargo” by Roger Deakins (1996)
We will start with this darkly comedic crime film, which centres on a botched kidnapping scheme that spirals out of control. Deakins’ cinematography captures the snowy Minnesota landscape in a way that enhances the film’s bleak, foreboding mood. Additionally, he uses framing and camera movement to create a sense of tension and unease.
2. “Jarhead” by Roger Deakins (2005)
We continue by explaining this war drama, which follows a group of U.S. Marines during the Gulf War. Again, Deakins’ cinematography captures the monotony and tedium of military life through its use of muted colours and long takes, while also using framing and lighting to create a sense of isolation and claustrophobia.
3. “Pride and Prejudice” by Roman Osin (2005)
Jane Austen’s novel adaptation follows the romantic trials and tribulations of the Bennet sisters. In terms of cinematography, Osin captures the beauty and grandeur of the film’s setting. He does so by using sweeping shots and vibrant colours, while also using framing and lighting to convey the characters’ emotions and the subtle social dynamics of the time period.
4. “Atonement” by Seamus McGarvey (2007)
This sweeping period drama follows the lives of two lovers (Keira Knightley and James McAvoy) whose relationship is torn apart by a false accusation. McGarvey’s cinematography captures the beauty and melancholy of the film’s WWII-era setting. At the same time, he uses striking compositions and camera movement to convey the characters’ emotions.
5. “The Dark Knight” by Wally Pfister (2008)
This superhero film sees Batman (Christian Bale) facing off against the Joker (Heath Ledger) in a battle for the soul of Gotham City. Additionally, Pfister in this film uses practical effects and IMAX cameras to create a realistic and immersive world. Furthermore, he combines it with the use of lighting and composition to convey the film’s dark and gritty tone.
6. “A Single Man” by Eduard Grau (2009)
Another great example of visual storytelling in films is “A Single Man”. This drama follows a day in the life of a gay college professor (Colin Firth) in the 1960s who is grieving the loss of his partner. Grau’s cinematography captures the film’s heightened reality and emotional intensity through its use of colour and composition, while also using framing and camera movement to convey the character’s isolation and introspection.
7. “Prisoners” by Roger Deakins (2013)
This intense crime thriller is about a man whose daughter is abducted along with her friend, and the desperate search for the kidnapper that follows. For the third and not last, we have Deakins’ cinematography in this list. In this film it is praised for its use of shadows and low light to create a sense of dread and claustrophobia, as well as its muted colour palette that adds to the film’s bleak and haunting atmosphere.
8. “Interstellar” by Hoyte Van Hoytema (2014)
Interestellar is probably one of the best visual storytelling in films out there. This epic sci-fi adventure follows a group of astronauts in search of a new home for humanity. For instance, in this film Van Hoytema captures the awe-inspiring scope of the film’s space setting through its use of vast, sweeping shots. However, he also uses lighting and color to create mood and atmosphere.
9. “Sicario” by Roger Deakins (2015)
This intense thriller about the escalating drug war along the U.S.-Mexico border is known for its tense, gripping action sequences. Again, we have Deakins’ cinematography in the list, and in this film it is all about using long takes and wide shots that convey the vastness and danger of the border landscape, while also using lighting to create mood and tension.
10. “Nocturnal Animals” by Seamus McGarvey (2016)
This psychological thriller focuses on an art gallery owner (Amy Adams) who receives a manuscript from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) that forces her to confront some dark truths. McGarvey’s cinematography is notable for its use of colour and composition to convey the film’s shifting tone and perspective, as well as its striking use of shadow and light.
11. “La La Land” by Linus Sandgren (2016)
This musical romantic comedy-drama follows a struggling actress (Emma Stone) and a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) as they pursue their dreams in Los Angeles. Sandgren’s cinematography captures the film’s whimsical and romantic quality through its use of colour and composition, while also using framing and camera movement to convey the characters’ emotions and the beauty of the city.
12. “Arrival” by Bradford Young (2016)
In this sci-fi drama a linguist (Amy Adams) is recruited by the military to communicate with extraterrestrial visitors. Therefore, Young, which is the cinematographer, captures the film’s atmospheric and otherworldly quality. He does so by using muted colours and soft lighting. But most importantly, by using framing and camera movement to convey the film’s themes of communication, connection, and the nature of time.
13. “Blade Runner 2049” by Roger Deakins (2017)
Another great visual storytelling in films is Blade Runner 2049. This sci-fi sequel follows a blade runner (Ryan Gosling). Moreover, he uncovers a long-buried secret that leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). What is more, this films differs from other Deakins’ work. For instance, this one is stunningly immersive, with its use of bold colours, striking lighting, and framing.
14. “Dunkirk” by Hoyte Van Hoytema (2017)
This war film is based on the true story of the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk during WWII. Van Hoytema uses practical effects and IMAX cameras to create a visceral, immersive experience for the audience. But he also uses framing and lighting to convey the chaos and desperation of the situation.
15. “First Reformed” by Alexander Dynan (2017)
This drama follows a Protestant minister (Ethan Hawke) who grapples with his faith and morality in the face of environmental destruction and personal tragedy. Dynan’s cinematography captures the film’s austere and contemplative mood through its use of colour and composition, while also using framing and lighting to convey the character’s internal struggles and the bleakness of the world around him.
16. “Midsommar” by Parrel Pogorzelski (2019)
In this horror film, a group of American students travel to a remote Swedish village for a midsummer festival. However, they discover that the locals have sinister plans for them. Pogorzelski captures the film’s surreal and dreamlike quality through its use of colour and composition. While also using framing and camera movement to convey the characters’ emotional states and the creeping sense of dread.
In conclusion, the films we have explored in this blog post serve as outstanding examples of the art of cinematography. From the stunning visual effects of sci-fi blockbusters to the intimate portrayal of human emotion in dramas. Thanks to all of this, each of these films showcases the power of cinematography in telling a compelling story.
And now, after having analysed their techniques, we can both learn and improve as video production professionals. We hope that this post has inspired you to explore and continue growing as a filmmaker or video enthusiast.
To learn more about cinematography, we recommend you this Film 101 from Masterclass, or even taking the whole The Art of Film course.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog,
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