The Most Stunning Cinematography of 2016

Looking back at the year we just left behind, today in Zeferino Professional Lighting we want to take a glimpse at the films that took our breath away in 2016.

Cinematography ain’t what it used to be, and that’s a good thing. With the emergence of drones and smart phones as legitimate filmmaking tools. New cinematic experiments are possible—quite literally introducing fresh perspectives onto the screen. Of course, it’s not about what you shoot with as much as how you shoot it. But this expansion of visual storytelling tools enables more visions to become realized. Thus, cinematography is at once getting more sweeping and more personal, more sumptuous and more natural.

That cinematic diversity is reflected in our top 5 list.

DP: James Laxtonmoonlight-film-movie-2016

Could have been shot like other indie films about the inner city: gritty, shaky cam, with a muted, neutral tone palette. That would have been the obvious choice. Instead, director Barry Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton devised a lush visual landscape that brings South Central Miami to vivid life. The camera is more interested in poetry than pragmatics; its sweeping, almost operatic moves give the story a deeply passionate, larger-than-life feel. The entirely African American cast is lit with high-contrast greens, blues, and yellows that enrich dark skin.

Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare)
Director/DP: Gianfranco Rosi


Documentaries aren’t generally known for their cinematography, but the fact that Italy’s foreign language Oscar entry Fire at Sea is on this list is only one way it breaks the mold. A vérité account shot by its director Gianfranco Rosi on an ARRI Amira, it weaves a dual narrative between a young Italian boy’s coming-of-age and the European migrant crisis. It’s composed much more like a narrative than a doc, due in part to Rosi’s “anti-documentary” approach. As he told No Film School, instead of chasing documentary stories, he trains his camera on a scene: The frame is always important—and good light and good composition—and then within this frame things have to happen


Knight of Cups
DP: Emmanuelle Lubezki

knight of cupsKnight of Cups, the fourth collaboration between Terrence Malick and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Is their most avant-garde and bizarrely effecting. It follows a screenwriter (Christian Bale) on a soul searching quest through his memories in search of the moments that sculpted his current state of misery and drift. His former lovers (among them Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Imogen Poots, and Freida Pinto) pirouette through his subconscious and Lubezki’s dazzling camera follows suit. The camera, like a pen writing calligraphy, spins circles around creation. Absolutely beautiful.

DP: Bradford Young


Bradford Young’s cinematography in Arrival takes some cues from the traditions of its sci-fi genres. But manages to accomplish something wholly different. The visuals marry seamlessly repeated. Geometrically framed shots almost devoid of color (reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey) with soft, intimate images of flashback moments from protagonist Louise’s life with her daughter Hannah.

The Eyes of My Mother
DP: Zach Kuperstein


Zach Kuperstein is probably one name that won’t pop up much throughout awards buzz over the next couple of months. That’s a damn shame. He lensed what may be the most disturbing horror film of the year, and much of its startling imagery can be attributed to his decisiona behind the camera. The black-and-white aesthetic of the film evokes comparisons to Eraserhead. But Kuperstein and director Nick Pesce managed to build an eerie world that stands alone. It’s something we’ve never quite seen before.

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