Understanding the Cinematography of Matthew Libatique

Matthew Libatique is one of the most popular working cinematographers today, and is Darren Aronofsky’s main collaborator. 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: Matthew Libatique 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 Matthew Libatique:

How he lights faces

Matthew Libatique has a naturalistic style, and prefers lighting that reflects real life, i.e., a mixture of hard and soft light.

He mostly lights from the top or has a Paramount or three-quarters lighting pattern. The contrast ratio isn’t that high, and hovers around the two stop range.

He has in interesting technique for catchlights wherein he uses multiple point sources or sometimes just a single point source.

Camera Movement


He is almost always moving the camera, usually handheld. But this could also be attributed to the styles of the directors he works with.

He uses most toys, and famously used a drill on Pi to simulate camera shake. Later on he used an image shaker, like this one:


Lenses and format

He is a fan of the anamorphic format, but shoots with every type imaginable. He chooses cameras and lenses based on the look decided in collaboration with the director.

One great advice I’ve heard him talk about is that indie filmmakers should avoid buying cameras. He is also not a fan of the modern craze of shooting RAW and grading in post for the final look. He prefers to do it mostly in camera.

I hope you’ve found this article useful. If I’ve stoked your interest in Matthew Libatique’s work, please watch the movies he shot and check out his interviews online. Also, don’t forget to follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his Instagram feed.


By supporting wolfcrow on Patreon you can watch the video 24 hours before it is made public, get exclusive notes and insights on each cinematographer and get discounts on guides and courses. Click here to know more.