What Photographers Can Learn From The Visual Styles of These 4 Famous Movie Directors.


Movies, just like photography, vary greatly in visual style depending upon the artist behind it. Movies and photography are different fields. They vary quite a bit, since movies are motion-pictures, after all. This doesn't mean that the visual concepts are much different, however. When movie directors draft a concept and visualize a scene, they do that in a manner similar to that of any photographer visualizing a scene for a photo. I would say the main difference is simply the motion.

Visual Style (Identity)

I'm quite sure that many of you could recognize the work of a certain movie director just by watching the movie, even without sound or knowledge of context. This is mostly due to the unique visual style that movie directors have. Whether by their use of a certain color grading style, or the way they organize the framing, there is always something distinctive going on. This is so important because it sells. Having something that distinguishes your work from others' will make your work more popular in a given genre that appeals to a specific type of people. Your work will be more valued and appreciated. Here are some examples.

Wes Anderson

This is one of my favorite producers when it comes to visual styles. The symmetry and tidiness of the scenes make everything more pleasing to the eye. Even though the movie content sometimes isn't to my liking, everything looks great, visually. The emphasis falls right where Wes wants it to be. That is the meticulous way he thinks and the way his thinking forms the scene is what makes his style stand out.

Quentin Tarantino

Everybody that has seen “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill” will know what I am talking about. If you aren't familiar with the way Tarantino works, it is okay not to understand what is going on in his movies. However the way he works out a scene is interesting from the way he places subjects and objects: all over the place with an unnatural amount of blood and debris. Chaos is his forte. Add an oddly wide camera angle or a close-up view from almost ground level, and you have Quentin's formula. Actually, I would refer to it as “controlled chaos,” since every object's placement is not random, but placed exactly as Tarantino wants it.

J.J. Abrams

Also known as the lens flare guy. Abrams' love for anamorphic lenses and the flares they produce is nothing he can hide very well, since every single light source in every scene has an exaggerated lens flare. Once you've seen two or more lens flares in a scene, you can bet that J.J. Abrams is the man who directed it. He also has quite a penchant for the sci-fi genre. These two elements used together represent his distinctive style.

Tim Burton

It is really hard not to recognize the work of Tim Burton in his movies. Costume work, character design, the way he uses gothic colors – all these details make each of his movies eye candy for the open-minded people. It is funny, really, the way he transforms the actors with all sorts of ambiguous props and makeup, but that is ultimately an art form. Most of those elements won’t make any sense if you don’t know the background or moral of the story behind the movie, or simply aren't familiar with the visual style. In any case, Tim Burton is a director from whom almost any photographer can learn a thing or two.

What You Can Take Away From This

Developing a distinctive visual style will always do you good. But make sure it comes naturally and is something you do because you want to, not just for the sake of saying you did it. It will take some time to develop this style, but don't force it. Just do your thing and keep an eye out for things that you feel better about when compared to others. For example, create a unique color palette which makes you feel the image better and will help it to be better accepted by your audience. You know you are on the right track when you achieve that. Visual styles aren't just about color, however. They include the way you develop a scene with all the elements (Tarantino), framing (Anderson), makeup and color palettes (Burton), lighting effects (Abrams), etc. These are all part of a general visual style.

Indeed, all of the directors mentioned above have many other elements which define their visual and production styles. I have just pointed out the most prominent ones, or at least, the ones which I feel best apply to photography. Many directors are known for their particular choice of either a rail or a handycam for camera stabilization. But that factor really doesn't help a photographer much, does it?

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Photographer who loves challenging and experimental photography and loves sharing his knowledge about it.

Another great one was Michel Hazanavicius’ ‘The Artist’. Being in BW, you could see the light. BW is so rare these days… and it offers so many lighting queues missed in color’s confusion.

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