Understanding the Cinematography of Janusz Kaminski

Janusz Kaminski is one of the greatest modern cinematographers. I go through some of his cinematography lighting and camera techniques to help you understand his unique style. Just to be clear: Janusz Kaminski 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. 

First, here’s the video illuminating the cinematography style of Janusz Kaminski:

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His lighting philosophy

He is more interested in using light as a painter, and he doesn’t aim for realism. He uses light as symbolism, and he works very quickly.

Everyone who has studied a bit of his movies know he uses backlight a lot, going so far as to make its presence known on purpose. His movies contact shafts and blooms of backlight even when nature doesn’t call for it, because he gives his backlight as much importance as the key light.

Due to his lighting style and speed, the key just becomes sort of an afterthought, and he loves soft lighting. Much has been said about the 7-minute drill, which is just a booklight with the following specifications (some of the time, he changes things around quite often!):

  • 12×12 frame of Ultrabounce or Muslin, depending on the look.
  • A large light source is bounced into the above, and then
  • Diffused again with a diffusion frame, usually a half soft frost.

He also uses the Briese parabolic modifiers as can be seen on this video:


He is notorious for his use of diffusion filters and nets in front and behind the lenses. He tries to get a soft diffused look, which also results in highlight blooming. He uses classic soft, half coral, CTO and CTS (Straw) and many more.


He used both primes and zooms, and has used Hawk, Primo, Cooke, but his preferred set is the Zeiss Superspeeds rehoused by Panavision.

Mood and color

He loves color, and his style is dim and contrasty. He leans towards a noir-ish look.

He also uses fog and haze a lot to create atmosphere and mood. Combined with everything else, his work tends to have a signature look that many DPs try to copy.

I hope you’ve found this article useful. If I’ve stoked your interest in Janusz Kaminski’s work, please watch the movies he shot. They are mandatory viewing for students of cinema.