Understanding the Cinematography of Robby Müller

Robby Müller was one of the pioneers of the digital video revolution. When no one took video seriously, he shot beautiful features with Lars Von Trier on DV, specifically the Sony PD150 camera. 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: Robby Müller 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 Robby Müller:

How he lights faces

Robby Müller kept things simple. Either a three quarters or Paramount (butterfly) lighting pattern, usually from the broad side.

He mixed both hard and soft lighting sources, and the contrast ratio was high. His primary concern was creating mood and emotion through his lighting, and making things look pretty was the last thing on his mind (unless that was what the script demanded).

He used a spot meter to get accurate readings for exposure. With video, he used the waveform monitor.

Composition

Robby Müller’s strongest skill (in my opinion) was his ability to compose beautiful frames effortlessly. Even though he had to contend with less lighting and small budgets, it was his sense of composition and blocking that took the films he shot to another level.

Luckily for him, the directors he worked with trusted his instincts when it came to composition and lighting. Robby Müller also operated his own camera whenever he wasn’t restricted by the unions.

Lenses and format

With Wim Wenders he mostly shot on 1.66:1, which was the preferred format in Europe in those days. But he has embraced all sorts of formats, and even though he preferred Cooke lenses he used other brands as well.

Car shots

I don’t think I’ve seen a better example of gorgeous car interior shots. Here are a few:

carshotsrobbymuller

I hope you’ve found this article useful. If I’ve stoked your interest in Robby Müller’s work, please watch the movies he shot and check out his interviews online.

EXCLUSIVE NOTES and REWARDS:

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5 replies on “Understanding the Cinematography of Robby Müller”

  1. Brilliant video as always. Paris, Taxis is one of my all time favourites. Just a quick question though. I believe Henri Alekan is the cinematographer on Wings of desire not Robby Muller (the screenshot of the bus backside), was Robby a part of the crew as well?
    Cheers

  2. And I, with my friend Pawe? Dunia, are pioneers in achieving cinematic look in zero-budget
    art-house cinema in Poland (medium lenght movie Alfa Omega, shooted on SONY HDV F)
    in 2006. Results? Festivals awards and opinion from Sydney Independent Film Festival: “brilliant cinematography”.
    Here’s the film https://vimeo.com/16652298

  3. Unlike all of your other videos, I didn’t know about this guy and I’m excited to explore his movies. Love your videos, the Jeff Cronenwerth, Kaminsky, and Deacons vids have been especially useful for me.

    You should enlighten us on the techniques of Peter Pau…
    …or the guys Kurosawa went to Takao Saitô, Shoji Ueda, and Asakazu Sakai. I wonder what input they had on those films.

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