5 New (and Old) Movies You Must Watch as a Photographer

As we enter the colder autumn months, we start to spend more time at home, especially in cities where it rains a lot, like Munich or London. Sitting down with a cup of hot tea or mulled wine and watching a movie is one of the many things I look forward to every year.

You might expect to see something like “Finding Vivian Maier” in this list, but you won’t. These films are selected on the basis of something much more than just a famous photographer. I tried to make this list unconventional, as there are dozens of articles with photography-specific films to check out. Also, I’m a firm believer in having a niche in photography, but being a complete individual. Therefore, taking inspiration from as many places as possible is a good idea – something that isn’t photography’s little bubble, at least.

Barry Lyndon

I’m a sucker for Stanley Kubrick’s work. He is a grand master who can compose shots, tell a story and evoke emotions deep within the audience. It’s almost as if he’s putting human qualities under a magnifying glass to warn the audience of something. For a photographer, Barry Lyndon will show that you don’t need anything beyond the basics. Indeed, all you need to do is light the shot and master the very basics of creating images. The rest will take care of itself. This is best seen in the way Kubrick is able to communicate every detail across the screen: changes in weather, mood, texture and more, not to mention how he zooms. I wish I could zoom like that!

Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

It’s probably one of the best movies to watch if you like black and white photography. In particular, you should consider how Stanley Kubrick uses light and composition to transform the mood on screen. While watching this movie, you have to pay attention to the contrast levels and the harshness of the shadows. It’s as if Kubrick was able to create on his own with light and shadow. Strangelove constantly pops in and out of the light, which is best seen right before the final monologue he gives. Strangelove emerging from shadow into light parallels the emerging nationalism in the nation at this time.

Grand Hotel Budapest

Color, wide angles and crop formats. This film will be of interest to photographers for Wes Anderson’s unmistakably iconic use of color. As the film technically takes place in two time periods, the 1930s and the 1960s, the use of color is noticeably different. As you watch the movie, notice how the 1930s part seems to be tinged with pink and relatively cooler compared to the 1960s part, which is mostly orange and brown. Wide angles on direct shots give a feeling of immersion. High and low shots are also made using a wide-angle lens, which leaves one wondering: how did they manage to achieve this composition? The answer is simple: cropping formats. There are three in the film, each representing a particular moment. Perhaps the Grand Budapest Hotel is also a lesson in wide-angle composition.

Blade Runner 2049

Unless you’ve seen it before, Blade Runner 2049 is a great choice for those who want to experience unparalleled color theory. It is often said that every color has a story behind it, just like music has a leitmotif. A certain color or lighting scenario can be associated with a character. In Blade Runner 2049, these are yellow, orange, green, pink, and white. If you want to learn more about the Ty Psycholog behind every tone, especially in fashion, I recommend you buy Pantone on Fashion. But back to the movies.

From Blade Runner we can see that yellow is a color associated with knowledge, orange with caution, green with life, pink with innocence and romance, and white with truth. There isn’t much analysis needed to know why these colors were chosen, as each tone (yellow bar) is already associated with its meaning. If you know why Deakins used yellow for wisdom, let us know in the comments!

Moonlight

A rather touching if not heartbreaking film about the struggles that a young man goes through in an LGBTQ + and black community. The film tries to paint a beautiful nightmare, with color, light and composition. As pleasing and beautiful as the tones of this movie are, they show a rather odd scene. It pushes the boundaries of contrast, which can be a great lesson for those of you who like to add extra contrast to your images. To replicate the Miami sun, the film had to show both dark shadows while having cutout and shine on the highlights. Much of the film was shot with almost no fill lights. As photographers, we’re told to use fill light all the time, but it might not always be necessary. Another interesting aspect of Moonlight is the degree of color. Due to the high contrast used, the colorist didn’t have too much room to play with the shade of color. Nevertheless, the still images from this film can be used as good references for the color of your own photos.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few of my favorites. In fact, this is just the start of a long list. Whenever you watch a movie, I suggest you pay attention to color, clothes, angle, and many other things. After all, these are nothing more than moving pictures, although it must be a lot harder to get 24 perfect frames per second for hours, than to get a good one in an hour.

I know that some photographers will not find this list particularly enticing, to which I say: if you have any suggestions, write them in the comments! I’d love to hear which movies you come back to over and over again, whether it’s for their plot, their aesthetic beauty, or for some other reason.

Leave a Comment