Understanding the Cinematography of Harris Savides

Harris Savides left us too soon at the young age of 55, but not before he left an indelible impression in the world of cinematography. In this video and article I go through some of his cinematography lighting and camera techniques to help you understand his unique style.

Just to be clear: Harris Savides changed his style to suit the movies he shot. 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 Harris Savides:

Exclusive Bonus: Download your FREE list: 25 Proven DIY and Cheap Lighting Gear that actually delivers cinematic results (PDF file optimized for mobiles and tablets).

Serious Underexposure

Harris Savides has a naturalistic style, but one steeped in a dream-like look, which he called creamy. He tried to achieve this using a lot of low contrast techniques like:

  • Using older lenses
  • Opening up the lenses to about T2 to T2.8
  • Filters (occasionally)
  • Preflashing film
  • Baking it!

The low contrast negative was then processed in different ways, like ENR, etc., to bring the contrast and adjust accordingly.

He typically underexposed by 1.5 stops, but even went so far as 2 to 4 stops occasionally. He did this by either underexposing in camera, or by partly in camera and partly by pulling.

How he lights faces

He typically top lit his actors, either by a soft diffused source created through bounce lighting, or by Mus-balls, which are basically Chinese lanterns with muslin instead of paper. This warranted a lot of higher-wattage lights, but it allowed him to light the set or room and then just let actors inhabit that space.

On many shots he also had a strong side rim light hitting the actors, and in many films I’ve noticed he has the technique of using shadow patterns (from leaves, etc.) over faces. He was never after a beautiful image (at least in his film cinematography), and always tried to create mood in simplistic ways.

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

One reply on “Understanding the Cinematography of Harris Savides”

Comments are closed.