Understanding the Cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel

Bruno Delbonnel is one of the most versatile cinematographers working today. Some of his movies have a strong visual signature, while others are more laid back. I go through some of his cinematography lighting and camera techniques to help you understand his unique style.

Just to be clear: Bruno Delbonnel changes his style to suit the movies he shoots. The goal of this video and article is to drum up enthusiasm and a yearning to learn more.

Warning: I do not claim this knowledge is 100% accurate. Just think of it as an endorsement of his work. If you want accuracy, look someplace else.

Here’s the video illuminating the cinematography style of Bruno Delbonnel:

How he lights faces

Bruno Delbonnel usually lights in the three-quarters or split lighting style, and he always avoids lighting from the front. It’s either side or top light, and sometimes a combination of the two.

He backlights his actors in daylight, and usually it’s also for the side.

He lights to a high contrast ratio, and he tries to get deep blacks. He attempts to get at least one black element in every shot, if he can.

About color

Bruno tries to achieve a uniform patina over the image. It differs from a simple tint because he tries to isolate faces so they stand out. Also, as in the case with Amelie, he uses a contrasting color (like the blue lamps) to bring relief to the strong patina.

With movies like Harry Potter and Inside Llewyn Davis, the patina is more of a brown-black effect.

He uses color grading extensively and lights knowing it will be graded. This allows him greater freedom to manipulate contrast and color.

Camera and format

He prefers wide angle Cooke S4 prime lenses, and he has stuck to the same camera (Arricam) and film stock (Kodak) combination for years.

I hope you’ve found this article useful. If I’ve stoked your interest in Bruno Delbonnel’s work, please watch the movies he shot, and check out his interviews in the American Cinematographer magazine.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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One reply on “Understanding the Cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel”

  1. Watching your many reviews of cinematographers has helped me to visualize and plan scenes to accomplish desired themes.

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