Educational Resource Books for Cinematography
Many people have approached me with questions about books that have inspired me as a filmmaker. So, we compiled a list of valuable resources for you to use to expand your scope and vision. These are a few of my favorites.
Title: Cinematography Theory and Practice: Image Making for Cinematographers and Directors
Author and Publisher: Blaine Brown, Focal Press 2012
This comprehensive book is geared toward those who are interested in practicing cinematography on a professional level. The book covers cinematic techniques as well as technical knowledge on exposure, optics, lighting, image control, shooting HD video, and more. Loaded with photos and in-depth illustrations. The best choice for an overall education on the art and science of cinematography.
Title: Cinematography: Third Edition
Author and Publisher: Kris Malkiewicz, M. David Mullen, Fireside 2005
This completely revised third edition has more than 200 new illustrations and offers a detailed look at film techniques and technology. Topics include cameras, filters, and light, lighting, sound recording, post-production, and more. The book moves from practical information to the substance of the cinematographer’s craft.
Title: FilmCraft: Cinematography
Author and Publisher: Tim Grierson, Mike Goodridge, Focal Press 2012
The first book in a series on the art of cinematography. It is a collection of discussions with noted professionals in this field. They offer insight from their experiences on film projects with an in-depth look at the use of color, camera movement vs. still placement, and the differences between shooting on film and digital. There are illustrated examples from each DP on the choices they made and why.
Title: Theory of Film
Author and Publisher: Siegfried Kracauer, Princeton University Press 1997
Originally published in 1960, Kracauer offers a detailed look at cinema comparing how film is similar to and yet wholly different from other fine arts including photography, theatre, and literature.
Technical Aspects of Cinematography
Title: Shooting Movies Without Shooting Yourself In The Foot: Becoming a Cinematographer
Author and Publisher: Jack Anderson, Focal Press 2012
Written by a cinematographer who shares his experience and knowledge of the techniques and concepts of the trade. Geared toward filmmakers who are working on a budget, the book covers everything from breaking down a script, on set etiquette and the technicalities of lenses, film, lighting, and post-production processes. Included are practical exercises, checklists, cheat sheets, and a companion website with demos and additional explanations of concepts.
Title: The Filmmaker’s Handbook
Author and Publisher: Plume, revised edition 2007
This updated guide, used by students, teachers, and professionals, addresses all aspects of filmmaking. Topics covered are techniques for making narrative, documentary, corporate, experimental, and feature films, working with high-definition and standard-definition digital video formats, including DV, HD, and HDV, extensive coverage of video editing with the latest nonlinear editing systems, thorough grounding in lenses, lighting, sound recording, and sound editing and more. A good place to begin for an overall education on shooting digital.
Title: The Five C’s of Cinematography
Author and Publisher: Joseph Mascelli, Silman-James Press 1998
Another book that supports the mantra of technique over technology. The 5 C’s are camera angles, continuity, cutting, close-ups, and composition. These essential concepts are presented as well as the techniques of motion picture camerawork and the allied areas of filmmaking that they interact with and impact.
Title: Motion Picture and Video Lighting – Second Edition
Author and Publisher: Blaine Brown, Focal Press 2008
A very comprehensive book covering the history of lighting, fundamentals of lighting, lighting sources, exposure theory, lighting HD video, theory of color, on set operations, and much more. Each chapter has many examples and diagrams to further illustrate concepts. This new edition includes a DVD, which goes behind-the-scenes on an actual shoot, providing clips of lighting demonstrations, technical tests, workshops, and more.
Title: Reflections: Twenty-One Cinematographers at Work
Author and Publisher: Benjamin Bergery, ASC Press 2002
Through a variety of discussions, some of the top respected cinematographers examine their profession, analyzing the art form from both their technical and aesthetic perspectives. The book covers lighting design, specific shooting setups, lab processing, and other aspects of the profession such as their artistic philosophy and their insight on working with directors. Included are lighting diagrams with explanations of why they look good as well as footage examples and what-if comparisons. A good book for intermediate and aspiring cinematographers.
Title: Painting With Light
Author and Publisher: John Alton, University of California Press; 4th Edition 1995
John Alton was one of the most renowned cinematographers of the postwar American cinema. His book, Painting With Light, was first published in 1949 and is back in print. While some of the technology may be outdated, the technique is not. The book’s primary focus is light itself – using it to express and create. Alton covers a wide spectrum of the history and craft of cinematography.
Chapters detail specific lighting techniques such as mystery lighting, special illumination, lighting for ladies, and lighting for day and night. The book also includes information on the laboratory process and still photography. The book includes many pictorial examples and diagrams, which explain his principles and insights.
Title: Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers
Author and Publisher: Dennis Schaefer, Larry Salvato, University of California Press 1986
This book explores using light to communicate feeling. Through discussions with fifteen accomplished cinematographers, the author provides an intimate look at their approaches to filmmaking, the films on which they have worked, and the techniques they have used to solve specific problems.
Title: The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning and Breaking the Rules of Cinematic Composition
Author and Publisher: Gutavo Mercado, Focal Press 2011
With hundreds of full-color examples, The Filmmaker’s Eye is designed to combine conceptual and practical instruction on how to become a visual storyteller and how to make choices that support your vision. The basic principles of composing a shot such as aspect ratios, rule of thirds, angles, types of shots, and more are covered first. A variety of shots are then deconstructed in the following format: why it works, how it works, technical considerations, and when to break the rules.
Title: Master Shots Volume 2: Shooting Great Dialogue Scenes
Author and Publisher: Christopher Kenworthy, Michael Wiese Productions; 2nd edition 2011
From Publisher: Building on the success of the bestselling “Master Shots,” this volume goes much deeper, revealing the great directors’ secrets for making the most of the visual during the usual static dialogue scene. Includes more than 200 diagrams illustrating camera positions.
Title: DSLR Cinema, Second Edition: Crafting the Film Look with Large Sensor Video
Author and Publisher: Kurt Lancaster, Focal Press 2012
One of the first books written about DSLR cameras being used as a cinematography tool. Lancaster uses case studies on specific disciplines featuring work from Shane Hurlbut, ASC and Po Chan, Phillip Bloom, Bernardo Uzeda, Rii Schroer, and Jeremy Ian Thomas. The book explores the process of using DSLR to visually tell your story and the technical possibilities, challenges, and solutions with this format. There is also a companion website at
Title: From Still to Motion: A Photographer’s Guide To Creating Video With Your DSLR
Author and Publisher: Justin Ball, Robbie Carmen, Matt Gottshalk, Richard Harrington, New Riders 2010
A guide that takes the reader from planning a shoot to post-production and everything in between. To demonstrate all the concepts in action, a full, real-world example from a music video and artist promo package runs throughout the book. Included is a DVD with six hours of more in-depth learning on each topic. A good book for photographers evolving into moving pictures.
Title: The DSLR Filmmaker’s Handbook: Real-World Production Techniques
Author and Publisher: Barry Andersson, Janie L Geyen
Another good handbook for getting the most out of DSLR shooting. Topics include choosing the camera, lenses, and accessories for your shoot, differences in using still lenses vs. cinema lenses, lighting, color, and creating a “look,” plus much more.
Title: Color Correction Handbook: Professional Techniques for Video and Cinema
Author and Publisher: Alexis Van Hurkman, Peachpit Press 2011
Although this book is geared toward methods for evaluating and correcting an overall image, it also covers how we see color, color temperature, contrast, chroma, dealing with under and overexposure, and color correction vs. color grading. The accompanying DVD contains footage, as well as cross-platform exercises and project files for readers to experiment with. It is a very thorough book covering the terminology and concepts of color and image.
Author and Publisher: Christopher Doyle, Gingko Press 2005
A collection of works and images by cinematographer Christopher Doyle from textures, colors, and the complicities of the 2002 film Hero, for which he was awarded Best Cinematography by the New York and Chicago Film Critics Circles, the National Society of Film Critics and at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
Title: If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die: The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling
Author and Publisher: Patti Bellantoni, Focal Press 2005
From the publisher: A solid look at color theory in a wide range of movies. This enlightening book guides filmmakers toward making the right color selections for their films and helps movie buffs understand why they feel the way they do while watching movies that incorporate certain colors.
Other titles worth checking out
Title: A Man With A Camera
Author: Nestor Almendros
Title: Making Pictures: A Century of European Cinematography
Author: Sven Nykvist, Bernardo Bertolucci, Marcello Mastoianni
Title: Storaro: Writing With Light Trilogy, with DVD
Author: Vittorio Storaro
All the books can be found on Amazon and many are also on the ASC website. (Please note that affiliate links to Amazon.com are included in this post. As an Amazon Associate, Hurlbut Academy earns from qualifying purchases.)
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About Filmmakers Academy Cinematographer Mentor Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Director of photography Shane Hurlbut, ASC works at the forefront of cinema. He’s a storyteller, innovator, and discerning collaborator, who brings more than three decades of experience to his art. He is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, the International Cinematographers Guild/Local 600, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Hurlbut frequently joins forces with great directors: McG’s Netflix Rim of the World and The Babysitter, plus Warner Bros. We Are Marshall and Terminator: Salvation; Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed and Act of Valor; and Gabriele Muccino’s There Is No Place Like Home and Fathers and Daughters. His additional film credits include Semi-Pro; The Greatest Game Ever Played; Into the Blue; Mr 3000; Drumline; 11:14, which earned Hurlbut a DVDX nomination; and The Skulls. Notably, his television credits include the first season of AMC’s Into the Badlands.
Oh wow, thanks for posting this! I was just looking for some good cinematography books the other day, and now here’s this. So cool!
Seth, you are very welcome, thanks for the support
Thanks Shane, I’m glad I have some of those books and I enjoy reading them too. I hope we’ll ever see you in Nigeria for some master classes.
Oshilaja Stephen, I would love that. Thank you for all of your kind words
Thanks Shane. I have been searching for a new book to read. I am working my way through Lighting for Digital Video and Television, Third Edition. It has served me quite well but now I can’t wait to dive into some of these book. Good to know I’ll be making a good purchase.
Ryan, sounds great. All of these have helped me. Happy reading
Thanks a lot Shane for this wonderful list, I believe we can learn a looot threw books but practice is a must in this business. I have the ” Motion Picture and Video Lighting – Second Edition” and it teaches a lot about lighting, it covers everything and I can say I learned all I know now from this book. Cheers
christopher kechichian, yes reading is one thing but getting out there and practicing and using what you learned is paramount. Thanks for your support
This list seems great!! I was looking at some of them and I´m definitely buying one or two this month.
Last month I got this one: “Film Lighting: Talks with Hollywood’s Cinematographers and Gaffers” – It´s also an amazing book. Full of wonderful interviews.
Roberto Seba, thanks so much for your support and book suggestion
Hi Shane! Thanks for sharing this list!!
Several of these I have and read (multiple times) but there are also some which I didn’t knew and definitively am going to read!
(and if you ever visit the Netherlands or Europe for a workshop or masterclass, I’ll make sure to be there. …Would love to learn to apply theory in a practical/hands on way! :)
Barry van Varik, thank you so much for your kind words and I would love to come to the Netherlands. Been there back in the 90’s shooting an Audi spot, haven’t been back since.
I remember reading The 5 C’s back in the early 80’s. My cohort at a small TV station in Portland Maine left it laying around…glad he did and happy to see it still in circulation.
Fantastic list! I already had a lot of these books on my radar so I have no excuses now!
Will take a long time to get through them all but that time is nothing in comparison to the time it took all these gerat people to gain their knowledge and expertise! We get to learn everything they spent years learning in the space of a few days! The incredible value of books and reading!
Steph, thanks so much for all of your support
Very useful guide. Tahnks a lot Shane!
Frankcerra, you are very welcome. Thank you
shane if there was only one book you could pick which one would it be
Rich, that is way too hard, masters of light maybe.
Thank you for all your helpful posts in cinematography and beyond. They are always very welcome week by week around here.
I would like to see an article from your point of view about the zone system applied to cinematography: film and digital camera, and your approach to the system and light metering. Thanks once again.
Willian Aleman, I do not know of that system, so sorry, my light is driven by story and emotion. Never really think about it in zones.
Thanks a lot Shane for the list.
Harry. Thank you for the comment and support.
Luis. Thanks for the comment and support.
I’m glad to know that I already own half of this list! I will certainly buy the other half…
Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge, you’re the best!
Ivan, you are very welcome and thank you for your kind words
That s a huge choice ! thank you very much.
Another one, not technical but very inspiring from a Master – Henri Alekan – Des lumieres et des ombres –
Marc. Thank you for the comment and support.
It’s very helpful for reading on cinematography. Thanks.
I would add “The Visual Story” by Bruce Block. Focusing on concepts of “visual rhythm,” no other single book has had greater influence on the way I think about visual storytelling than this book.