When action’s called, the cinematographer knows it’s time to put effort into producing a great film. But if you’re learning cinematography, what are the best books for cinematographers?

Good films, of course, are not only about lighting, they’re also about:

  • proper camera movements,
  • a good measurement of film frames (and what’s in the frame),
  • selection of good shots,
  • an understand of color and shadow,
  • and scene blocking.

All this may not be the sole task of the cinematographer. But good communication with the film director will see the creation of exceptional visual elements in a film.

To perform their best in the fields, cinematographers will require outstanding visual skills. Skills can be acquired from different areas and the most common one is attending a film school.

Schools, however, are not the only source of information. If you have self-confidence and discipline to train yourself, you can opt to buy books and gain knowledge about this varied industry.

First off, here’s a listing of the current best-selling books on cinematography:

Best Books for Cinematographers

Books are a good choice because they offer reference ground when some important information is needed.

The advantage of books is that they are also not just the arena of new cinematographers, but can also be used by well trained and experienced filmmakers.

Yes, it’s true that a great book can distill many reference experiences into one tome. And whilst hands-on experience with cameras, lighting and shadow will always be the most important in developing your skills, a great book is an incredible learning tool, too.

best books for cinematographers

We’re going to highlight and briefly explain the top books that are highly recommended for cinematographers of all levels. Here’s our list of the Best Books For Cinematographers.

1. The Five C’s of Cinematography by Joseph V. Mascelli

This is probably one of the most recommended books for cinematography. Having a quick flick through the book will tell you why.

With most humans being visual beings, the use of photographs and diagrams in the book make it easy to understand the entire art and scope of filmmaking.

The Five Cs in the book’s title stand for:

  • camera angles,
  • continuity,
  • composition detail,
  • cutting, and
  • close-ups

Each aspect is clearly explained in the various chapters of the book. How these techniques interact with each other is something that Joseph V. Mascelli also explains very well.


You’re taught that applying any number of his tried-and-tested techniques will result in high-quality visual elements in any film you’re working on.

Mascelli also explains the importance of adjusting camera heights for different scenes. The result of this is a professional master scene.

The book also discusses a vast array of film production techniques and editing tips for different types of film.

The Five Cs of Cinematography gets a huge thumbs up from us!

Five C's of Cinematography: Motion Picture Filming Techniques
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2. Cinematography: Theory and Practice: Image Making for Cinematographers and Directors by Blain Brown

If you’re looking for a book that contains an entire conceptual overview of cinematography, then look no further! This is your go-to guide.

It’s based on standard filmmaking practices with clear examples from the real world.

The diagrams that are included are all up-to-date and contain a discussion of newer film and video formats. One basic advantage of this book is that it has bridged the gap between traditional and contemporary aspects of cinematography.

best books for cinematographers

Cinematography: Theory and Practice explains some of the rules that were used in the old days and their integration with new technological advancements like digital video.

The book also includes information on both the basic and advanced levels of cinematography to cater to all levels of filmmakers. This is truly a one-size-fits-all solution if that’s what you’re looking for!

It’s an easy read with clear explanations and it covers some tips on creating easy interactions between cinematographers and directors.

The fresh ideas presented in each chapter are something that most cinematographers can relate to when working on set.

If you’re looking for a book that covers the entire art of cinematography, then you definitely need to add this to your collection.


Cinematography: Theory and Practice: Image Making for Cinematographers, Directors, and Videographers
  • Brown, Blain (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 10/09/2002 (Publication Date) - Focal Press (Publisher)



What Are Books For Cinematographers?

Cinematographers are often the unsung heroes in Hollywood. They’re responsible for capturing all of the images on film during a movie shoot, but they don’t always get their due recognition from fans and critics alike.

For anyone looking to break into the field, Books are a great resource for cinematographers who need to brush up on their skills, or even learn new ones.

They can teach you about camera specs, how to use your equipment better, and they’re always there when you need them.

They will give you access to invaluable information such as industry interviews with top professionals, best practices in camera & lighting techniques, how to become a DIT or grip, and more.



3. Painting with Light by John Alton

If you want to jump back into history for information about the birth of the tried and tested cinematography concepts, then John Alton’s book will take you there.

Though some of its contents are not applicable to today’s film world, most of the information is still very relevant.


An example is the importance of lighting in determining the visual look of a film. Alton used crisp shadows and beams of light that were sculpted to suit different films. Still very much applicable in today’s film production world.

The importance of this is that it made it easy for him to complete projects quickly and also create different lighting textures.

Through this book, cinematographers can learn about cross-lighting, back-lighting, and various camera techniques. They can also learn the importance of depth in cinematography and how to adjust lighting for different types of faces.

If you are looking to explore how visual elements are affected by camera angles, lighting, and film location, then this best book for cinematographers will be an exceptional guide.

The outstanding diagrams here will aid in helping you understand how all the different concepts meld together into one awesome filmmaking whole! Add this book to your list right now!

Painting With Light
  • Alton, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 248 Pages - 02/05/2013 (Publication Date) - University of California Press (Publisher)

4. New Cinematographers by Alex Ballinger

This is a good read for those who are just starting out in cinematography. It is also an appropriate book for those who are a little more advanced in cinematography.

It contains real-life examples with some chapters even featuring real life stories. The featured stories involve six young cinematographers who have succeeded in the art of cinematography.

What makes it a good book for beginners is the way it gives full details about all occurrences in the film industry. This is especially helpful to those new to the scene and just dipping their toes into the industry.

There is a full illustration of storyboards, good details about lighting charts, and also information about still photography and more.

The resource section contains additional detailed information and the book has an annotated bibliography at the back.

For you’re searching for specific topics for reading, the author has a detailed (and technical) glossary that makes it easy to find reference pages.

New Cinematographers
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Ballinger, Alex (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 10/12/2004 (Publication Date) - Harper Paperbacks (Publisher)

5. American Cinematography Manual by Michael Goi

Once you get your hands on this book, you will understand why it has always been referred to as the “filmmaker’s bible” for so many years.

Many cinematographers use it as a cinema reference book. It’s also been offered as a digital guide to most upcoming filmmakers at film schools around the world.

best books for cinematographers

It’s a great addition to a best cinematography books list because it helps show the development of the film industry through the contemporary era.

It also features a range of technological changes and how they’re effective for different camera techniques. Most of the terminologies used in the book are digital and so it’s a more comprehensive volume than most cinematography books out there.

The book talks a lot more about the digital effects of image capture than most cinematography books and even has a new section that explains the evolution of digital cameras.

It is a book that all cinematographers should look out for if they’re looking for further digital learning aside from what is offered in film school.

American Cinematographer Manual Vol. I: 1
  • Basic Digital Concepts, Low-Cost Options For Digital Cinematography, Comparisons of 1.85, Anamorphic...
  • Exposure Meters, Lenses, Camera & Camera Support Systems, 3-D Stereoscopic Cinematography
  • Day-for-Night, Infrared and Ultraviolet Cinematography,
  • The Cinematographer and the Laboratory: Emulsion Testing, Finding Your Own Printer Light, Adjusting...
  • LED Lighting For Motion Picture Production



Benefits of Reading Books On Cinematography

• Learn from a new perspective.

• Become more knowledgeable about your art.

• Find what works for you and what doesn’t, then modify accordingly.

• Make more informed decisions on your next movie.

• Get access to the inside workings of how a film is made.

• Gain insight from some of the most noted directors in history.



6. Lighting for Cinematography: A Practical Guide to the Art and Craft of Lighting for the Moving Image by David Landau

Lighting, of course, impacts shot selection and this book explains this all so clearly. The book covers real film concepts with advice from professionals in the film industry.

Cinematographers can use this book to learn about everything from camera movement. still photography and its rich traditional in hand with cinematography, as well as night lighting.

The book also explains about working with windows and lighting movements with example diagrams for reference. It includes example exercises to help readers put into practice the knowledge acquired from the resources.

Lighting for Cinematography: A Practical Guide to the Art and Craft of Lighting for the Moving Image (The CineTech Guides to the Film Crafts)
  • Landau, David (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 07/10/2014 (Publication Date) - Bloomsbury Academic (Publisher)

Best Books for Cinematographers – The Bottom Line

There are many reasons why cinematographers read books but the basic one is to gain extensive knowledge that the writers have spent decades accumulating.

It is not enough to learn from film schools, a true education in cinematography concepts and practice doesn’t begin and end at school.

Learn to also read books that help you in developing your creativity by explaining traditional and contemporary filmmaking concepts.

If you want to learn from professional cinematographers, then you have to gain insights from what they do. Professional cinematographers can be found in different places and the easiest one is in books. Books contain so much information that when you read the right ones they will scale your career in cinematography.

It’s also important to find a mentor who will guide you through the process. Always remember that, when you can, it’s a great idea to visit film sets to practice and perfect your skills.

And it should be strongly noted that practical, hands-on experience with cameras, lighting and camera movement should always be paramount in working towards developing your cinematography skills.

However, gaining knowledge from the decades of cinematography wisdom (and filmmaking experience) contained in these books is a must!

We hope you’ve found this article on the best books for cinematographers informative. Have we missed out your favorite cinematography book? Let us know in the comments below.