One of the best ways to get better as a photographer is to watch good movies. While the aspect ratio might be different, the same rules of composition and style apply. Here are some of my favorite films that will make you a better photographer to get you started.
In a movie, each frame in an individual photograph and — even at 24 frames per second — it’s likely that the director (and the cinematographers, colorists, and everyone else) is spending more time crafting each one than most photographers do. The care that good directors put into lighting, composition, the relationship of people and objects in the frame, lens choice, camera angle, and everything else is insane. We’re talking months spent obsessing about a single scene.
While most of this work fades into the background serving the plot and theme, if you watch out for it and pay attention to the craft, you can learn a lot that you can apply to your own photography.
But now: the films.
Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, is not only one of the best films of all time (don’t @ me) but it’s also an incredibly well made movie. Scott and cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth crafted some superb dramatic moments. Pay particular attention to the composition in the scenes where Roy Batty meets Dr. Tyrell, Rachael gets tested, and, of course, Deckard and Batty’s final confrontation.
Another thing worth taking away from Blade Runner is the neo-noir color work. It’s hardly appropriate for wedding photography, but the consistent visual palette creates so much atmosphere. Use it as inspiration to use color in your own work, even if you don’t go this grim.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
At the other end of things, we have The Grand Budapest Hotel written and directed by Wes Anderson — though, really, I could have picked any of Anderson’s films. It’s bright, pop-y, and so much fun.
Anderson, collaborating with cinematographer Robert Yeoman, creates a surreal, almost overly-staged look. He plays a lot with symmetry, color, and perspective. His films look like films — in the best possible way.
In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson is at his most playful. Watch out for how the limited color palette ties in with the time period and tone of each scene. Also, keep an eye on the aspect ratio — it changes with each time period and is a masterclass in composition.
Anderson’s style is very idiosyncratic. If you try and copy things too closely, people will be well aware of where you got your ideas, but you can certainly get inspired by his work. I know I have been.
Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood
There’s no place like a movie theater for watching a film so if you want to catch something epic on the big screen, go and see Quentin Tarantino’s latest: Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. If you can, watch a 35mm print — I did and it was worth the extra hassle.
OUATIH is Tarantino at his most cinematic (working, again, with Robert Richardson). While the plot line featuring Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio is awesome, it’s the scenes with Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate that stick in my mind as a lesson for photographers.
For most of the film Tate is slightly removed from the action. Instead, the film occasionally cuts to vignettes of her carrying on with her everyday life: going to the cinema, having dinner with friends, and the like. And in these scenes she’s practically silent. Each one is more of a moving photo, than a true dramatic scene. If you shoot any kind of portraits, they’re worth not just watching but studying.
Movies are great inspiration for photographers. Even bad films, where the director clearly didn’t put much effort into staging, can make you a better photographer: consider how a badly framed shot makes you feel, and don’t make the same mistakes. But good films? Go out of your way to catch them.