Understanding the Cinematography of Roger Deakins

A quick look at the cinematography techniques and style of Roger Deakins.

It should come as no surprise that Roger Deakins is one of the most loved and respected cinematographers ever.

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: Roger Deakins changes his style to suit the movies he shoots, and he’s probably forgotten more tricks than I’ll ever know. 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, the best place to learn about his lighting techniques is to visit his official site, where you can sign up and be part of a free forum. Ask him!

Muslin Bounce

His primary weapon of choice is the muslin bounce. This is something he developed over many years, right from his documentary filming days. You can see the progression of his technique over many films, and now he’s almost perfected it.

The main disadvantage of the bounce system is it takes time to setup, and you need to control a lot of spill. Even now, he still doesn’t have the time, space or money to control the lighting as precisely as he wants it.

Tungsten vs HMIs

When indoors, he predominantly uses tungsten. He loves his tweenie (650 Watt tungsten fresnel by Mole Richardson) and 1K fresnel.

But he also does some breath-taking work with HMIs. He’s a great cinematographer, it’s not like he has a weakness!

To mix and match, he often uses an 85 filter and/or CTOs (1/4, 1/2 mostly) – sometimes on the camera, sometimes on the lights, and sometimes on the windows.

Contrast Ratio

He loves a lot of contrast on the face, and it typically falls between 2-3 stops. This does not mean he restricts himself to this – that would be impossible. He also over exposes the key side of the face by one to two stops.

Lenses and camera

He has said he loves the 32mm the most, though he uses all sorts of focal lengths depending on the project. Currently, his favorite camera is the Arri Alexa.

The DIY ring light system

He has given a detailed description of it here. There are many variations to this, and it comes in a small ring-light size to a large football field like he used in Jarhead.

I hope you’ve found this article useful. If I’ve stoked your interest in Roger Deakins’ work, please visit his official website and sign up. Maybe he’ll even answer your question!