The Series Every Photographer Should Be Watching

Aside from being an entertaining series with a great cast, this article discusses why the stunning new Netflix series “Ripley” is a must-watch for photographers.

This 2024 limited series is based on Patricia Highsmith's 1955 crime novel, "The Talented Mr. Ripley," and is noted for its striking black-and-white cinematography. "Ripley" follows the story of Tom Ripley, a struggling New Yorker hired by Herbert Greenleaf to convince his son, Dickie, to return from Italy to join the family business. This initial mission spirals into a life of deceit, fraud, and murder. The series is celebrated for its high-contrast film noir style, deep shadows, and dramatic lighting, making it a visual feast. Cinematographer Robert Elswit and creator Steven Zaillian intentionally crafted a unique aesthetic, avoiding familiar visuals and opting for a bold, sophisticated look.

The series’ cinematography stands out for its playful use of deep contrasts, angles, and proportions. Hopper praises the series for its high-quality visuals that continuously surprise and engage the audience. The use of film noir lighting is a highlight, with key lights illuminating subjects while creating intentional shadows, enhancing the narrative’s dark themes. The show’s visual language also pays homage to early German expressionist cinema and the works of photographers like Eugene Smith. There are many scenes in each episode that will have you reaching for the pause button to take in the composition.

In the video accompanying this article, Tatiana Hopper points out the significant role of lighting in "Ripley," particularly in a scene inspired by Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro technique. This highlights the expressive and dramatic potential of light, adding layers to the narrative and visual storytelling. Hopper also appreciates the use of high and low camera angles to reflect Ripley's complex situation, drawing parallels to noir influences.

Hopper acknowledges that while some may find the series' pace slow, this deliberate rhythm enhances the visual experience and narrative depth. The series excels in balancing the amount of information revealed, maintaining a dominant ambiguity that keeps viewers engaged and reflective.

Hopper's discussion of "Ripley" not only highlights its cinematic brilliance but also offers insights into how photographers can learn from its use of light, shadow, and composition. For those interested in exploring the adaptations of "The Talented Mr. Ripley," she recommends the 1960 film "Purple Noon," directed by René Clément, as an additional viewing.

Kim Simpson's picture

Kim Simpson is a photographer based in the West of Scotland. Her photographic practice is an exploration of the human experience, with a particular emphasis on themes of identity and belonging.

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I've found both Ripley and Peaky Blinders to offer great teaching moments for lighting and creative cinematography.

I still haven't watched Peaky Blinders, its on the list.

One of my favorite cinematography scenes I'd have loved to be a fly on the wall for as a photographer is -

I'd love to watch this but don't have Netflix. It's not on anything else?

Not that I am aware of, it's a pretty exclusive series to Netflix current.

Unfortunately not. Do Netflix still offer a free trial? If so, maybe you could watch it that way.