10 Contemporary Cinematographers You Should Know

Movie lovers around the world were saddened last week by news of the death of Harris Savides, the acclaimed cinematographer best known for his collaborations with Gus Van Sant (on Milk, Elephant, Gerry, Last Days, Restless, and Finding Forrester), but whose credits also included Zodiac, The Game, Somewhere, American Gangster, Whatever Works, and Birth. Savides was a true artist, one who brought a distinctive eye and sense of craft to his work, and merged his unique sensibility with the directors he collaborated with. But the cinematographer is often an underappreciated and overlooked part of the filmmaking process, their gifts and style too often solely attributed to their directors.

In an attempt to acknowledge some of the other true artists in Savides’ field, we put together a brief survey of some of the most important working cinematographers today; in the interest of keeping it manageable, we’ve confined ourselves to those who work primarily in American film, and those who are still prolific in the industry. Our list is after the jump, and we welcome your favorites in the comments.

Roger Deakins

HIGHLIGHTS: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Man Who Wasn’t There, No Country for Old Men, The Shawshank Redemption, Kundun, True Grit, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
AWARDS: Nine Oscar nominations; two American Society of Cinematographer (ASC) awards, eight nominations
TRADEMARK: When Barry Sonnenfeld and the Coen Brothers parted ways before Barton Fink, Deakins stepped in, and has shot nearly every film they’ve made since. What’s most impressive about Deakins may well be his versatility — he can go from a bright, wild Coen comedy to the painterly imagery of Jesse James to the slickness of James Bond, and all are jaw-dropping. Deakins is so good, in fact, that he’s frequently employed as visual consultant for animated films, helping those technicians create more realistic images (his credits in that capacity include WALL-E, Rango, and How to Train Your Dragon)
UP NEXT: His third collaboration with Sam Mendes, the aforementioned Bond film Skyfall, is out next month.