I’ve spent many a night with friends debating this very question, though it’s tough to pick just one. Ultimately it comes down to the era (and region) you were born in, when the magic of movies took hold of you and who was behind the lens when it did.
I’ve been so blown away by cinematographers over the years that it’s near impossible to pick just one. For me, my first and most powerful memories were probably gifts from the legend Freddie Young. Dr. Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia. I would just stare at the screen, slackjawed at what he was able to capture and portray.
Gordon Willis knocked me out with The Godfather, parts I & II.
Jordan Cronenweth’s Blade Runner brought me to a whole new world.
John Toll swept me away with Legends of the Fall.
And I got a steady diet of Vilmos Zsigmond growing up.
But there are so many more. So many iconic, amazing cinematographers who could all make a claim to be among the best. Kazuo Miyagawa. Vittorio Storaro. Gregg Toland. John Alcott. Janusz Kaminski. Conrad Hall. Raoul Coutard. The list goes on and on.
One somewhat shocking note is that no woman has ever been even nominated for an Academy Award in cinematography. That seems crazy to me, but I’m sure that will change soon enough as women have really taken a foothold in the art form and even now are producing gorgeous imagery. If artists like Maryse Alberti have anything to say about it, it won’t be long.
Here’s a wonderful look at some of the best cinematographers of all time. They name 10 masters, but do a great job listing the many great DPs of their respective eras, and you just can’t argue with the man they put in the #1 spot. Enjoy!