If the director is the most important crew member on set, in most cases the cinematographer is the second-most important.
A skilled director of photography can turn a mediocre movie suddenly into a critical darling or a good movie into an Oscar contender. But unlike directors, who can have a breakout indie and suddenly get snatched up to do the next Hollywood blockbuster, cinematographers are in it for the long game.
Many have to work a decade or two on independent films, shorts, TV shows, and commercials before scoring a studio feature. And even at that point you still have to compete for work with the legends in the field like Emmanuel Lubezi, Robert Richardson, and Roger Deakins to land a job.
Here are 11 cinematographers who are beginning to make their mark in Hollywood – including the visionaries behind “Moonlight” and “The Last Jedi.”
Mike Gioulakis (“It Follows,” “Split”)
Gioulakis has found success in the thriller genre with the indie darling “It Follows” and M. Night Shyamalan’s latest hit, “Split,” being the standouts. For both, Gioulakis’ use of natural light and shadows to amp up the spookiness is a very useful tool.
James Laxton (“Moonlight”)
Jumping around from low-budget indies to a few Kevin Smith movies (“Tusk” and “Yoga Hosers”), Laxton reteamed with Barry Jenkins (he shot Jenkins’ debut feature “Medicine for Melancholy”) to make “Moonlight” – and the rest his history. The beautiful exterior shots of Miami are one of the reasons the movie went on to win an Oscar.
Jody Lee Lipes (“Manchester by the Sea,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene”)
In the early 2000s, Lipes was the guy at NYU everyone wanted to shoot their short films, and since he’s been in high demand on the professional level. From shooting episodes of “Girls” to lensing “Trainwreck,” he’s worked on every budget level. His standouts, though, have been his beautiful shooting of tough stories like Sean Durkin’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene” in 2011 and Kenneth Lonergan’s 2016 Oscar-winning movie, “Manchester by the Sea.”
Rachel Morrison (“Black Panther,” “Mudbound”)
Morrison has come a long way from being DP on episodes of the MTV classic reality show, “The Hills.” She’s just coming off huge back-to-back jobs: Netflix’s “Mudbound” and Disney/Marvel’s “Black Panther.” Morrison’s lush photography on “Mudbound” led to her earning an Oscar nomination, the first ever for a woman in the category. And with “Black Panther,” she has a credit on one of the biggest movies of 2018.
Andrew Drox Palermo (“You’re Next,” “A Ghost Story”)
After scoring the praised 2011 horror movie “You’re Next” for his debut feature, Palermo has built up an impressive filmography, the drama “A Teacher” and the documentary “Rick Hill” being some standouts. Recently he shot the intimate “A Ghost Story,” which showcased his strengths of using low light and moody settings.
Pawel Pogorzelski (“Hereditary”)
There are many things to love about “Hereditary,” and Pogorzelski’s photography is definitely way up there on the list. He puts as much care and detail in shooting the model houses as he does the real characters, delivering something that, though disturbing, is beautiful to look at.
Linus Sandgren (“La La Land,” “American Hustle”)
This Swedish cinematographer has worked with the likes of Gus Van Sant (“Promised Land”), David O. Russell (“American Hustle,” “Joy”), and nabbed a much-deserved Oscar working with Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”). He’s got two very different projects in the pipeline: working with Chazelle again on his Neil Armstrong biopic, “First Man,” and the Disney fantasy movie “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.”
Hoyte Van Hoytema (“Dunkirk,” “Interstellar”)
Van Hoytema has built a incredibly strong list of credits since the early 2000s – “Let the Right One In,” “The Fighter,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “Her” – but in the last few years it’s become even more impressive with “Interstellar,” “Spectre,” and the beautiful “Dunkirk,” which earned him an Oscar nomination. He next is going out to space with “Lost World of Z” director James Grey for the sci-fi thriller “Ad Astra,” starring Brad Pitt.
Sean Price Williams (“Good Time,” “Marjorie Prime”)
One of the most in-demand cinematographers on the independent film scene, Williams often has movies he’s worked on (features or shorts) released in the same year. Recently he shot the indie hit “Good Time” with one of his regular collaborators, Benny and Josh Safdie. Known for his handheld camera work and tight closeups, if you need a gritty feel to your movie, this is the person you call.
Steve Yedlin (“Looper,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”)
Having shot all of Rian Johnson’s feature films, Yedlin has brought the director’s well-crafted stories to life, including “The Last Jedi.” In between those projects he’s also been DP on the 2013 “Carrie” remake and the Dwayne Johnson hit, “San Andreas.”
Bradford Young (“Arrival,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story”)
Young caught the eye of many with his beautiful work on movies like “A Most Violent Year” and “Selma.” Now he’s stepped up his game to some of the biggest movies coming out of Hollywood, including 2017’s “Arrival,” which scored him an Oscar nomination (the first time ever an African-American was nominated in the category), and most recently “Solo.” The latter has brought Young a lot of praise for crafting one of the most visually striking “Star Wars” movies ever.