Cinematography is one of the jobs that mainstream audiences understand the least. I also think that it is the job most non-cinephiles would attribute to the director. I’ve heard people talk about how much they love the look of a film and then cite a director as the cause of that. And in some instances that can be the case, as master directors have an equal grasp of lighting, lenses and setting knowledge as their directors of photography.
But on the whole, the chances are if you love a film’s aesthetic, its colour palette and/or the setting of the scenes themselves, that rather than having a love for the Director you should be aiming your thanks towards the Director of Photography.
And the great thing is that much like certain directors have a very unique and signature style (people like Terry Gilliam or Wes Anderson), once you appreciate the great visuals a cinematographer brings to a project, you will be able to pick their work out in a similar way. For instance DPs like Roger Deakins, Bruno DelBonnel and Larry Fong all have calling card stylistic or technical tendencies that make them perfect for certain jobs. In particular Deakins (pictured at the top of the article alongside Sam Mendes), with his always sumptuous and artistically beautiful lighting and colour palettes utilised across several Coen Brothers films (from Barton Fink to True Grit) as well as Skyfall and Shawshank Redemption is instantly recognisable and iconic.
Have a watch of the below video from the always excellent BAFTA Guru channel on YouTube, which further explains what a Director of Photography/Cinematographer does, and why that is so important to every film you’ll ever see.
And if you want to see more incredible and insightful videos like this, head on over to the BAFTA channel and hit subscribe.