If, like me, you love cinematography, you probably have a few favorites in mind when you think of the term. But even the most dedicated film buff is unlikely to have seen everything on this list.
Great cinematography can come in a variety of forms. Whether it's through lighting, composition, or creative movement, films have ways of sticking in our heads. In fact, the power of great cinematography is so significant, it can carry otherwise forgettable storylines and dialogue on its back. Many films have scenes where they get one or more of these elements right, but when they get all three and other criteria of great cinematography, it becomes special. If that happens often over the course of an entire film, it becomes iconic.
Wolfcrow is one of my favorite YouTubers simply for his expertise in cinematography. This list he has compiled has a lot of films I haven't had a chance to see yet and some that I have. There are many expected inclusions, like Bladerunner, Stalker, and Citizen Kane, but there are almost more modern inclusions. One of my favorites — and featured on this list — is somewhat of a cliche answer to the question of best cinematography, but I can live with that: Amelie. I was 13-years-old when I first saw it and I remember not really understanding why I liked it so much, or moreover, why I found it interesting. After a few more watches over the years, I realized that it was the role color had played and how many levels a film can have.
What is your favorite example of cinematography?
My favorite, "Apocalypse Now," made the list. But in general, still photographers can and should learn a lot from cinematography. The budgets are bigger, the stakes are higher, and there are huge crews of dedicated specialists making it happen. It's "photography" in the service of storytelling in its highest form.
IMHO, there's not really much of a need to even study still photography--everything you need to know and a whole lot more is contained in movies and educational material about filming and lighting them. Reading "American Cinematographer," for example, would be a whole lot better than watching yet another YouTube tutorial by some amateur who really has never had to perform at the top of the photography profession. Heck, even reading an interview with a few gaffers will teach you more about lighting than you could ever get from some photography tutorial. Why not learn from the best instead?
I think in the end, it's really about just going for it and learning from experience. Either from films, books, or "influencers" (ugh) you'll be learning by example as long as you put it to the test yourself.