Do you prefer learning about the art of cinematography old school?

Here are 15 fantastic reads that will take you from the beginnings of your career to your last moments in the industry.

Best Cinematography Books – Lighting

film lighting

Painting with Light by John Alton

Although the first draft of this book was written in 1949, a lot of what Alton says still rings true. (He did make 100 films, so he’s got to know what he’s doing!)

If you happen to be interested in the Golden Age of Hollywood or want to make a film reminiscent of that period, this book is a great starting point.

Film Lighting by Kris Mankiewicz

If you’re a beginner looking for extensive and well-researched facts, this is the book to go for.

It encompasses everything from grains to use when filming to all the lighting techniques you have to know.

Since the jobs of lighters and cinematographers are so intertwined, those interested in either industry would do well to give this one a read.

There are a couple of interviews with Caleb Deschanel (The Lion King) and Janusz Kaminski (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) in there too.

Writing with light by Vittorio Storaro

Storaro, one of the cinematography world’s best, teaches you what he knows.

His idea on the 2:1 aspect ratio was one of the reasons why streaming services look so good. So if you love classics like Apocalypse Now, this book is definitely one for your reading list.

Lighting for Cinematography: A practical guide to the art and craft of lighting for the moving image by David Landau

Work best with instructions? This one on lighting is for you. Lighting for Cinematography, as it says in the name, is all about lighting.

If you’re wondering how to cast light to evoke emotion in your scenes or learn what Chiaroscuro means, this is a fascinating read. Landau sets out his practical guide in a series of how-tos for the aspiring cinematographer wanting some hands-on experience.

Masters of light: conversations with contemporary cinematographers by Dennish Schaefer & Larry Salvato

This book is great for those looking to learn from the best. It comprises a series of interviews with cinematographers about situations and lessons learned from the world of cinema.

This was written in 1984, so it isn’t very ‘contemporary’ anymore. But it’s still fabulously useful to learn from the masters.

Best Cinematography Books – Cinematography

camera for cinematography

1 Cinematography: Theory and Practice by Blaine Brown

Cinematography as a concept and cinema are constantly evolving and changing, and Blaine Brown’s marvellous book should help you keep track of what’s new and what’s old.

It includes the perfect balance between a cinematographer’s creative process and also execution on set.

It’s a relatively short read and could end up being your handbook throughout your career!  

Behind the Lens: Dispatches from the Cinematographic Trenches by Jay Holben

This is a collection of Holben’s time and what he learned from his years working in practical production.

He goes over stuff like camera settings, optics, and all the technical considerations he had while working on the front line. As well as film, Holben’s book goes into his cinematography for television, music videos, commercials, events, etc.

A man with a camera by Néstor Almendros

This guy is one of the best in the business. (Think Sophie’s choice or Days of Heaven!)

In this book, you can delve ever so slightly into his genius. If you’re even considering getting into the industry, this man’s words and wisdom are priceless.

Reflections by Benjamin Bergery

This is a newer one on our list, but totally worth the read. It’s great because Bergery doesn’t automatically assume his readers know it all right off the bat.

He includes interviews with DPs such as Darius Khondji, Owen Roizman, and Jordan Cronenweth so you can get a practical view of the world.

Introduction to cinematography by Tania Hoser

This is a modern textbook that is extremely thorough in providing information on all the technicals and aesthetics of cinematography.

It was published in 2018, so perfect if you want a very up-to-date read.

The Filmmaker’s Handbook by Ed Pincus

This book has all of the practical tips any filmmaker needs; a perfect handbook to keep in your pocket. (or bag, unless you have very big pockets.)

Understanding cinematography by Brian Hall

This is everything you need to know and understand about cinematography in one book.

It takes you through all the theories, practices, and exercises you’ll need to begin.

Cinematography, a guide for filmmaker and film teachers by Bob Rogers & Kris Malkiewicz

This one is more of a textbook for students and teachers who are dealing with beginners.

But hey, if you learn best from textbook formats, this one will be extremely valuable to you.

Best Cinematography Books – Directing

film directors on a beach

Film directing shot by shot by Steven D. Katz

This one is a staple in a lot of respected film schools. Therefore it’s great reading while you’re studying, but it also includes a lot that you won’t get taught in school.

If you’re an aspiring cinematographer, director, or even screenwriter, this will help you go above and beyond.

Master shots Vol. 1, 2 & 3 by Christopher Kenworthy

The first volume of this essential compendium walks you through 100 shots, complex and simple that any cinematographer can do on a budget.

The second volume is about how to shoot 100 specific dialogue scenes, and the third goes over camera movements. It’s extremely specific, so it works as a great supplementary reading to the other books on this list.

Learn all the essential cinematography techniques

If you paid attention while reading this, then it’s no surprise that cinematography and lighting are inextricably linked.

Therefore, there’s lots more to learn about lighting in the film. Check out our page on film lighting for the basics and then on backlighting for more.

If you’re ready to delve into the art of filmmaking, we’ve got you covered, and if you need to do some shopping for your gearbox, then you can start renting or subscribing to all your various gear needs.

Cinematography Books FAQ

What should I study to learn cinematography?

There’s a lot to learn when you want to get into cinematography.
But if you have a good set of techniques and know about the aesthetics of cinema, you’ll be getting where you need to go. Studying film lighting certainly won’t hurt, either.

How do I learn cinematography?

You can learn the art of cinematography through a variety of mediums.
If you’re into reading, go ahead and delve into some of the recommendations on this list, or you can also just kick back and watch some work from the masters.