Why Photographers Should Find Worth in Watching Star Wars, The Acolyte

Why Photographers Should Find Worth in Watching Star Wars, The Acolyte

As the new Star Wars series, "The Acolyte," and the latest Doctor Who hit our TV screens, there are important photography lessons we can learn from them and our other favorite productions.

To Boldly Go to a Galaxy Far, Far Away

As a child, I enjoyed watching Star Trek. Something that is often overlooked when celebrated is the cinematography. If you look at the original series now, the photographic direction of Gerald Perry Finnerman is fabulous. He also worked on other classics such as "Moonlighting," "Kojak," and "From Here to Eternity." The composition of each scene worked and complemented the bold colors of the set designs and costumes.

Then, what blew me away was the cinematography of the original Star Wars movie. I saw its first release when it was known as Star Wars, not Episode IV – A New Hope, which wasn’t added until subsequent releases. The visual spectacle of it left me feeling awestruck.

Although they have evolved, the influence of Gil Taylor’s work is still evident in the subsequent Star Wars films and TV series. He also worked on "Flash Gordon" (the version with the fabulous Queen soundtrack), the 1979 version of "Dracula" with Frank Langella and Lawrence Olivier, "The Omen," "Dr. Strangelove," and "Ice Cold in Alex."

Robert Krasker is another classic director of photography whose work I love. It encompasses "The Third Man," "Brief Encounter," "El Cid," "The Heroes of Telemark," and Lawrence Olivier’s version of "Henry V."

Leaning From the Giants by Watching It Twice

Whatever your taste in film or television, I highly recommend discovering the work of the cinematography greats. We photographers can learn much from watching well-crafted movies and TV shows. These are professionals at the top of their game. I regularly watch a good movie more than once. The first time just to be absorbed in the story, and subsequent viewings to analyze how some of the shots were taken and how they fitted with the mood of the moment.

I try enormously hard not to notice it when watching something for the first time, but sometimes it is too good and distracts from the other elements that make up the film. To prevent that, the story, characters, soundtrack, and dialogue must be up to the same standard as the cinematography and the subsequent editing. All these elements should fit together to create a coherent whole.

Dealing With Critics

There was a film I enjoyed with my then-young son when it was first released. It was widely criticized for being marred by the style of the cinematography. Critics claimed that overusing a documentary filming style with an ever-moving camera resulted in too much unstable footage. They also said it had too many close-up shots. Consequently, what should have been an enjoyable low-brow adventure became confusing and nauseating.

However, I thought it was an enjoyable escapist romp, and the unusual camerawork didn’t bother me. I have watched it again since, and I still didn’t find it problematic.

There is always subjectivity when deciding what you like and don’t like.

Despite the criticism Tom Stern received – he was the director of photography for the film – he has an admirable career record and has not been stopped by those critics. Furthermore, that movie has grossed over $408 million to date.

Remember, critics are invariably people who can’t themselves create. Therefore, those who denigrate your creative work will be untalented. Sadly, arrogant idiots exist that publicly reject others' work with uninvited negative comments. You will often see these views expressed in the comments sections of photography websites and social media groups. Although usually driven by jealousy, it's disturbing that sexism, racism, and other forms of bigotry and prejudice raise their hideous heads here. Those who do it are never very bright, so either ignore them or show them up by highlighting their ignorance.

Without Googling it, can you work out what the movie was? No spoilers in the comments, please.

The Importance of Being Different

Studying the TV series and movies we enjoy, we see that the talented directors of photography and the teams behind creating the look of productions can create their unique style. So, that is something we can work towards achieving too. Finding your style often requires taking risks and dancing to the rhythm of your drum. Not everyone will like it, but someone will and it will help you find your unique style.

How do we do that? There are a multitude of ways. It mostly involves experimenting with what is different. Choose out-of-the-ordinary lighting intensity, angles, and temperature. Pick less common camera formats and lenses. Mix up subjects and their settings. Discover what other photographers do and then mix their styles and techniques, thus creating something new. All great contemporary filmmakers developed their style by building upon those who came before.

Even if you dislike a movie, there are still important lessons to be learned. For example, just as bad effects can spoil a film, a photograph can be similarly ruined. Overblown developments can look appalling, skin smoothing to make plastic-looking complexions in portraits is disturbing, and heavy texture overlays can all detract from the subject. But, just like the careful crafting of a motion picture, done correctly, in a way that complements the photograph can be stunning.

We can also grow by analyzing what we don't like but heed what I said about critics. Keep your analysis to yourself. If you tell another creative person that you don’t rate their work, they and those who read your comment will think your words are objectionable, which reflects badly on you. If you get such comments on your work, treat them with the contempt they deserve. Rest assured theirs is a narrow-minded view. They lack the intelligence to understand what you created, and they don’t have the talent to match yours. What you are striving for is brilliant.

Putting on the Style

Most of the pictures in this article are snaps I took on various trips with my son many years ago that fit the theme of Film and TV. They don't fit with my usual photographic styles. I had not thought about style when I pressed the shutter. I captured them solely to preserve memories of events in time, which was the original aim of photography. That purpose is often lost when we think of photography as an art form.

Your approach to creating your work results in your style. Style in photography is the distinctive way photographers portray their subject matter. It is an expression of their vision. Essentially, it’s the photographer’s unique combination of techniques from shooting the image to processing it.

Style is a complex concept. I have even heard some people reject it, saying it doesn’t exist. However, I believe it does. Moreover, it evolves over the photographer’s career. Sometimes that development can change intentionally and quickly as photographers seek a new style they feel comfortable with. At other times, their photos can have a coherent look that lasts years with change only noticeable when you look at images taken a decade apart and they have evolved organically.

A distinct style has advantages. It helps with photographers' branding and gets their work recognized as theirs. Although all styles have their roots in the aesthetics of the past, finding your look is important. Don’t try to be another (insert name of famous photographer here) because they have already been that and you will be a poor copy. A unique style that doesn’t directly copy another person is worth striving for. However, the quest to discover your distinctive style is worth pursuing.

Style can and should vary greatly between photographers even within the same genre.

Adventures in Style, Time, and Space

The notion of style has long been a historian’s principal means of classifying all art, whether painting, writing, filmmaking, or photography. That’s because styles vary over time and location, changing with different periods, countries, and cultural groups. So, it is useful to consider how your style fits alongside other contemporary photographers in your country.

"Doctor Who" is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running sci-fi series and the most successful sci-fi series of all time. First broadcast on November 23, 1963, the show nearly failed because of the fateful events in America that rocked the world and dominated television everywhere on the previous day. The style of those programs evolved enormously over the years, but it has remained quintessentially British.

Similarly, photography styles evolve too. For example, my family photos dating back to the mid-1800s have a very different style from anything you see today. Also, fabulous images shot by Japanese photographers feel removed from what we in the West shoot.

Unfortunately, because of the internet and the sheer number of photographs being shot, I think individual styles are fading, replaced by generic images that look very similar. Everyone is exposed to the same things and picking up on the same cues. Consequently, we are losing aspects of our cultures. No matter where you are from, your country’s or community’s culture is important. So, researching film, TV, art, and photography from where you live can help your style cohere with and preserve your society.

What Do You Think?

Do you have a style? Do you try to break away from the norms by experimenting with things that are out of the ordinary? Or are you stuck in a rut and hoping to break free from the ordinary? Also, what photography in movies and TV shows inspired you in the past? It would be fantastic to hear your thoughts in the comments about that.

Ivor Rackham's picture

A professional photographer, website developer, and writer, Ivor lives in the North East of England. His main work is training others in photography. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being. In 2023 he accepted becoming a brand ambassador for the OM System.

Log in or register to post comments

I watched the opening scene of James Bond spectre over and over again, the camera position, the flow , the light just love it. I like the cinematography of the last James Bond films in general. Also like most things Tim Burton makes. 1917 also a masterpiece in my opinion. The things I like to bring to my images is a dark mood , it’s not in all my images but it is in the images I’m most proud of.

Good choices. James Bond films always had lots of effort put into key scenes, especially the openings. It's great how they evolved with time. I too am a fan of Tim Burton's work, and you are right about 1917.

Sven Nykvist's collaboration with Ingmar Bergman is one of cinematography's highest peaks.

Yes! Thanks.

I was also very fortunate to watch the Original Star Wars on its opening day back in 1977. I was awestruck by the costumes (Most especially the Stormtroopers), the scale models, the action, the special effects, and the heroes. It left a lasting impression on me for decades. So much so that I once fulfilled my childhood dream of wearing a (relatively) screen acurate Stormtrooper costume for a Halloween party when I was in my 40s. I'm not a total fanboy, but I have loved the way each new movie introduced us to new characters and villains... until "Solo."

Since Disney took over the franchise, the only movie that truly captured the feel of the original trilogy and the excitement and joy I felt as a kid watching them, was "Rogue One." Everything else has become progressively worse and poorly done. I tried giving the new shows a chance, but Disney has basically neutered the heroes we once looked up to and reduced them buffoons.

Han Solo was one of the most charismatic and cocky tough guys in cinematic history, but instead of becoming a general or higher ranking leader in the rebellion, he's reduced to a garbage collector. Luke Skywalker goes from becoming the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy to a hermit who rejects everything that gave him his power. Boba Fett goes from one of the most enigmatic and dangerous bounty hunters in the universe to Smiling Bob, the spineless and indecisive diplomat who recruits a band of Vespa scooter riders as part of his team.

These aren't the character arcs and fitting endings for well-written characters whose recognition and relevance has spanned over 40 years (Unlike Flash Gordon). It's basically Disney and Kathleen Kennedy taking a massive dump on the TRUE art that was originally created by George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, John Williams, and the entire ILM team.

For almost two decades now, I've been hearing people like you repeatedly bash anyone who criticizes art in any form that's mediocre at best. It's this notion that we have to forego logic and what we KNOW is the mastery of an art form, and instead focus more on the feelings the "artist" who created the garbage was experiencing when they "tried their best." Let's not encourage people to strive for the perfection of talented artists like Beethoven, Freddy Mercury, Herb Ritts, Elvis Presley, Leonardo da Vinci, Salvado Dali, Kubrick, Spielberg, Annie Liebovitz, George Orwell, or any number of people throughout history, and instead applaud wannabes like William Hung, Rebecca Black, Jaden Smith, Paris Hilton, 6ix9ine, or E.L. James.

In essence, let's aim downward but move the target down as well so more people with neither talent nor skill can feel good about themselves and believe they've got what it takes to create a masterpiece. It's the epitome of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, where someone doesn't know what they don't know, yet won't seek to improve because they think they know it all. A TRUE artist, on the other hand, knows EXACTLY what he or she doesn't know. They compare their work to the masters and tell themselves that good enough IS NOT good enough. They spend decades honing their skills, yet never truly see their work as being all that great because they're their own worst critic. Franz Kafka was so convinced that the books he wrote were so bad, that he asked his friend to burn them while he was on his death bed. His friend refused to do that though, and instead released them to a publisher after Kafka died. The books were so influential, an entire genre is now referred to as "Kafkaesque."

So, it might be easy for you to tell yourself that critics are "invariably people who can’t themselves create," and believe they're unintelligent as well as untalented. However, I'm not seeing any 4 Star reviewed images in your portfolio, and I'm not seeing anything that was picked as one of this site's more noteworthy photos. But, what do I know? I'm just one of those unintelligent, talent-less hacks who just likes to criticize terrible acting, costuming, storytelling, directing, and production that is Disney's latest gold-painted turd known as "The Acolyte."

I agree with many of the points you made here. Genuine criticism has nothing to do with the lack of talent and / or artistic impotence as Mr. Rackham suggests. Many brilliant artists were also the harshest of critics. There are many, of course, who criticise unwittingly and for the wrong reasons - but hey, it's human condition and there's little to be done about that.
However, I disagree with the point you made about Mr. Rackham's photographs; some of his abstract works - minimalist metamorphoses of birds into mysterious ideograms and stuff like that - are probably the finest photos I've seen on Fstoopers.
And to be honest, more often than not I tend to find the overprocessed photographs featured on this site completely void of anything akin to genuine artistic spirit.

The beauty of art is how subjective it is and the feelings it brings out of its audience. For example, for decades I kept hearing that J.D. Salinger's book "The Catcher in the Rye" was on the list of the best books ever written. I finally got around to reading it a few years ago and absolutely hated it.

Looking at the era it was written in and the age group it was centered around, I can see how it might have resonated with younger people. As an adult, though, with tons of life experience, the main character struck me as nothing more than an angst-filled whiner with codependency issues.

That doesn't mean it wasn't well written, though, because the author painted a word picture that I could see in my mind. Meaning, his work showed a level of skill needed for storytelling.

A Sears portrait photographer TECHNICALLY is a good photographer. Their lighting, exposure, and posing might be spot on, but how many of us LOVE the art of the photo either as much or more than the people in it?

If you compare a snapshot that the average person shoots with their cellphone, though, with harsh shadows, muddled lighting, and poor composition, a Sears portrait looks like a master work.

This is the problem with the modern push to see everything as art; if we compare the work to something worse, then we convince ourselves that it's good. If we compare our work to perfection, though, then we see where our art is falling short.

Minimalism in photography can definitely be beautiful and can require a good amount of skill and talent to be memorable. Simply taking a blurry photo of trees or birds, though, isn't enough for me to say, "Wow! I would really love to have a copy of that print hanging on my wall!"

The proof is in the ratings, the sales, and the longevity of any piece of work (especially if it didn't have the luxury of being promoted by an expensive marketing team). There's a reason why works by Mozart, Handel, and Beethoven have stood the test of time long after they died.

Think about some of the movies you saw a few years ago. How many them do you remember vividly, or quote lines from? How many would you want to rewatch, and how many have become just a droplet in an endless sea of media that's filling our devices and streaming platforms?

Star Wars came out in 1977, yet Darth Vader is as iconic today as he was back then (there was, of course, that little stumble when we got to see him as Anakin Skywalker, yelling, "Nooooooooooooo!", at the end of Episode 3, but he was redeemed in Rogue One).

Years from now, how many people do you think are going to remember "The Acolyte" for being anything more than the dumpster fire that burned a franchise completely to the ground?

Likewise, how many of the thousands of photographs we create are going to be visible to the public after we die, and how many will remain hidden away in our computer hard drives for the rest of eternity?

Personally, I want my art to live on after I'm gone. The way to that is to keep bettering my skills. I've shot tens of thousands of photos over the years, but the only ones I'll post online are the ones that have come closest to what I regard as good enough. They're not perfect, though, but they are good. That's what pushes me to do better the next time I turn on my camera.

That's far more challenging than stopping exactly where I'm at and demanding that everyone appreciate my art and not critique it because it'll hurt my feelings.

I am not bashing good quality art, nor good quality criticism. I am bashing bad-quality, uninvited criticism from people without an iota of talent who don't analyze but throw insults.

Furthermore, many works of art, be it film or otherwise, are disparaged when they are first released but opinions change over time. Take The Beatle's Magical Mystery Tour, The Shawshank Redemption, Fight Club, Blade Runner, The Big Lebowski, It's a Wonderful Life. For music The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico, Nirvana - Nevermind, both albums are far more acclaimed now than they were by the critics when released. Moby Dick met mixed reviews and James Joyce's Ulysses likewise.

Star Wars did capture people's imagination despite its appalling dialogue. The plot follows an arc that harks back to Greek mythology and is often repeated in popular fiction. Harry Potter follows, much the same storyline of a disadvantaged orphan who faces a trial to defeat evil, has a wise mentor who dies, has to overcome obstacles and threats, rescues a maiden in distress, meets a rogue who helps him, and ultimately defeats the evil entity. So the storyline is appealing.

However, it was the camera work and lighting that really captivated me. That style continues throughout the films and the TV series. Whether you like any single series or film in the franchise or not, there is a degree of continuity in the look of Star Wars that stems from Gil Taylor's original work on the first film. It's that style we can learn from.

From your article:

"Remember, critics are INVARIABLY people who can’t themselves create. Therefore, those who denigrate your creative work WILL BE UNTALENTED. Sadly, ARROGANT IDIOTS exist that publicly reject others' work with uninvited negative comments."


"Those who do it are never very bright, so either ignore them or show them up by highlighting their ignorance."


"If you get such comments on your work, treat them with the contempt they deserve. Rest assured theirs is a narrow-minded view. They lack the intelligence to understand what you created, and they don’t have the talent to match yours. What you are striving for is brilliant."

At no point did you mention anything about the quality of the critiques. Instead, you painted critics with a very, VERY broad brush and told everyone to simply ignore the comments because the critics cannot see the creativity behind work that is panned and compared to true art. You also called them idiots. Rather pompous attitude, don't you think?

Now, I'm not a gourmet cook, but I can certainly tell if a chef at a restaurant overcooked my steak or put too much salt on my salmon dish. Likewise, I'm not a filmmaker or screen writer, but I can certainly tell the difference between something like "Schindler's List" and John Travolta's pet project "Battlefield Earth."

Hell, most sports fans couldn't even play their favorite game at a college level, much less a professional level. Despite that, they'll still scream at the TV whenever someone on a professional team makes a bad play.

When I took my very first photography class in college, I shot a black and white film portrait of an Aikido master I was training under. I thought it was a good image, but when I asked a guy in the photo lab who had been shooting a lot longer than me and had far better gear what he thought of it, his reply was, "I wouldn't sign my name to it."

He then pointed out that I posed my subject in front of a seam on the mats that were mounted on the wall behind him; basically putting an antenna behind my subject's head. As disappointing as it was to hear that the image I shot of a man I deeply respected was a failure, that criticism and those words became the test for every image I've shot since then. I have to ask myself... would I sign my name to it? If the answer is no, then it doesn't matter how emotionally attached I am to the image, the event, the people in it, or how I felt the moment I shot it.

For example, I was working as an EMT and responded to a major plane crash at LAX back in 1991. I was the only person with a camera on the tarmac but didn't have a flash or a tripod. It was night time, and I tried to shoot a roll as we were staging but all of my images came out blurry. This was a national news event, and it was an opportunity for me to create a one-of-a-kind image.

I messed up, though. I didn't go out there afterward trying to convince everyone that I intended to shoot it with motion blur, or tell people they shouldn't criticize the images because they don't understand MY vision. I accepted the loss and kept learning more about photography.

Decades later, I captured an image of a lightning bolt over the Santa Monica Pier. It wasn't a Pulitzer Prize winning image, but it did make several newspapers and made a pretty good amount of money with the prints I sold.

I will agree that the original Star Wars had weak dialog and I'm well aware the story is structured off of Homer's Odyssey, but the dialog and acting weren't SO BAD that they detracted from everything that made that movie as iconic as it is all these years later.

The earlier films were nominated for multiple academy awards. As you get into the films made after 2010, though, the nominations drop down to maybe one or two nods and no wins. This, of course, was back when movie critics and fans actually gave a crap about the art form.

In my book, the best teacher is brutally honest criticism. If you embrace it and learn from it, then your work will inevitably improve. If you hide from it, though, and shelter your ears from it, then you will likely never produce anything that will be meaningful to anyone else but yourself or be hung on any walls other than those in your own home.

As the old saying goes, "The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried." When you set the bar so low, though, then you're not mastering anything; you're simply living out Einstein's definition of insanity and doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. In Disney's recent Star Wars and Marvel projects, the expectation is raving reviews and increased viewership.

I, personally, will never stop criticizing poor quality films, photographs, music, food, paintings, tattoos, sculptures, or literature. Not because I look down on the people who are trying, but because I LOVE the art behind them and won't settle for less.

By the way...

I'm genuinely curious: If someone has poor quality images/videos in their portfolio or has no images, but praises a show like The Acolyte, are their critiques more valid? Is their assessment of the show somehow more based, even though they lack talent and/or creativity themselves?

Or, are they simply stepping in line with the Group Think mentality that has become so common this past decade, where people who believe strongly in causes, social issues, or politics blast anyone who thinks differently from them; much like the masses in George Orwell's description of "2 Minutes Hate" in 1984?

Quiet frankly, given the diatribes from the trolls and the nastiness spouted in some of the comments, I don't blame them for not posting their images. It's not a prerequiste to do so. If the comments are overwhelmingly negative, then some doubt can be cast on their validity. Michael Hickey being a prime example.

As for group think, the constant negativity from the trolls is getting challenged all the more, and that's a good thing.

I don’t know what agenda you’re trying to push but Jon Favreau called The Acolyte the worst fan fiction production he’s ever seen. So I’ll find my inspiration elsewhere than watching that utter trash.

Another armchair critic with a stupid comment like all your other nasty comments. Its you pushing an agenda of spitefulness.

Another good article with very good discussion . Apart from one idiot armchair critic. Yes, movies are great ways to learn. I ask my studio staff to watch old b&w films for the lighting., Good suggestions in the comments too. My daughter is loving Acolyte. Not my favourite but I get your point about the Star Wars style. It is there yes.

What "nasty comments" are you talking about? And, where do you see an agenda in Michael's comment?

In my book, being nasty is calling someone an "idiot armchair critic." It's completely uncalled for. If you want to be taken seriously, then how about participating in the discussion like an adult and provide thoughtful counterpoints?

By the way, what makes you or your daughter professional critics of the show? You're likely watching it from the comfort of your living room just like the rest of us, so doesn't that make you an "armchair critic" as well?

Apparently, based on your comment, the show is not for you. Obviously, that means you're not impressed by it. You do realize you're free to point out what aspects of the show don't appeal to you, which, in turn, might be helpful to anyone who's considering trying their hand at screenwriting, acting, or filmmaking.

This is how we learn and improve; not by blanket praises and euphemisms.

I think Tessa's point about her daughter loving the show is not a critique. It is a subjective statement that her daughter enjoys it, which is a valid observation. Similarly, it is valid to say you don't like it. That's not a critique, it's a statement of your emotional response to the image.

People confuse that with criticism, which is about talking about why a photograph, book, or tv series works, which is an analysis of the artwork. "I dislike your photo because..." would be a critique.

However, calling something "utter trash" is just making a judgement and not a critique, it is a judgement that the commenter proclaims is universal, when all it is is his opinion. I can't speak for Tessa, but having now looked at Michael's comment history of constant negativity, it does look like he does have an agenda to undermine Fstopppers. I wonder which troll factory he is working in.

I don't think you're truly grasping the amount of both irony and hypocrisy in your responses.

You mention diatribes, yet your entire article was exactly that; a diatribe against people who are dissatisfied with the current state of a once beloved franchise. That's summed up completely with what you wrote here: "We can also grow by analyzing what we don't like but heed what I said about critics. Keep your analysis to yourself."

Basically, you're saying YOU have the right to not only criticize but also INSULT the critics, while in the same breath telling them that they should have no voice whatsoever and that they should keep their opinions to themselves. Who died and made you God?? Because last I heard, there's this little thing we call the First Amendment that grants every American freedom of speech, expression, and religion.

If you put your stuff out there, regardless of the art form or ideology, then you are subject to criticism from anyone and everyone in this nation. Even if someone is so succinct to describe a work as "utter trash," it's still a critique. Shutting them up is far less effective than asking them to expound on their opinion.

That being said, critiques in and of themselves are always a mixture of subjective interpretation and technical analysis. The more familiar someone is with a subject, regardless of their skill level in producing the same thing they're critiquing (i.e. the food critic who doesn't know how to cook), the more they can better identify the flaws in someone else's creation. That doesn't mean a critique from someone who is neither an expert in the subject matter nor skilled at it is any less valid.

As the old saying goes; if one person calls you a horse, they're probably crazy. If two people call you a horse, then it might be a conspiracy. If three or more people call you a horse, though, then you might want to get sized for a saddle.

Regardless of who's giving the critique, the majority of people who've seen any portion of "The Acolyte" are in agreement that it is a terrible piece of film making, screenwriting, directing, acting, and cinematography. You, and others like you, who want to praise it as an inspiring work of art are free to believe whatever you want. Do us all a favor, though, and get off your high horse by trying to convince the rest of us that we're somehow uneducated, untalented, and uncouth because we don't share your same vision.

You're displaying the very behaviors you claim to be against, yet are so full of yourself that you think it's perfectly fine for you to look down your nose at people who don't see things from your point of view. Or, as you put it, " it is a judgement that the commenter proclaims is universal, when all it is is his opinion."