Robert Richardson is a talented cinematographer who’s been nominated for three Academy Awards.

When reading about his work, I was struck by some common elements in his projects.

Here are a few things that he does, that you can use to improve your own videos.


robert richardson Cinematography Style

Who Is Cinematographer robert richardson?

Robert Richardson is an American cinematographer, who has worked with Martin Scorsese on many films, including The Aviator and Shutter Island.

He has won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography three times, for JFK, The Aviator and Hugo.

Robert Richardson was born in Missouri in 1951. His father was a professor at Southeast Missouri State University, where Robert grew up.

Although he was interested in music and art, he decided to study medicine. During the last year of his studies at the university, he spent a summer working as a photographer.

This inspired him to change his major to photography. In 1971, he enrolled in the AFI Conservatory’s cinematography program.



Robert Richardson’s Cinematography Style

Robert Richardson is known for using very little coverage. The average scene takes less than eight takes to complete and lasts only four seconds.

This means that Richardson has the talent nailed down early on and he knows exactly how to get the performances he needs without wasting time.

This isn’t to say that Richardson shoots only one angle per scene — he’s not afraid to repeat the same setup from different angles when necessary.

He just does so very quickly. For Richardson, what matters most is getting the performance right.

He loves shooting in natural light.

He doesn’t need a lot of it — in fact, some of his most famous shots were done with just a single light source.

Richardson shoots with wide lenses. His work on Platoon, JFK, and The Aviator was shot with an 18mm lens, while Apocalypse Now was filmed with a 21mm lens.

How Do You Light Like Robert Richardson?

“Film is very forgiving,” Richardson says. “You can light it in a million ways, and you can shoot it in a million ways.”

And while he doesn’t rely on one lighting method over another, he has come to favor a setup that gives him maximum flexibility.

The Richardson Method uses a combination of soft light (from large sources) and hard light (from small sources).

It helps to have assistants who can move the lights quickly, but Richardson can do it himself if necessary. The key is to keep the lights movable so that a single source can be placed at multiple positions around the set.

Richardson likes to use six-foot fluorescent fixtures for his key lights — he prefers F-series bulbs because they’re daylight balanced. Most are made by Strand or Kino Flo, but any brand will do as long as you have enough fixtures.

He keeps two or three on the floor off to either side of the camera, shining toward the center of the set.

The light should fall at about a 45-degree angle toward the subject’s face; when used with an overhead boom stand, this gives an attractive wrap-around effect known as loop lighting.

Light Like Robert Richardson

What inspired this post was a question I got from a reader named Sean. 

He emailed me asking, “What are some of the film-specific tips that Robert Richardson shares in his tutorials?”

I remember being inspired by Robert Richardson’s tutorials when they were first released to the public. He was so calm in front of the camera and had a relaxed approach to teaching.

Tutorials like Richardson’s can be great learning tools if you’re trying to figure out how to use your camera. 

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in online photography communities who are too quick to tell you that you’re doing everything wrong if you haven’t gotten the exact same result as them.

They’ll say things like “You need an expensive camera” or “You need expensive lenses.” 

It doesn’t matter because everyone has different resources and everyone learns differently.

Cinematography Tips From Oscar-Winning DP Robert Richardson

There are a couple of ways to achieve depth of field. If you’re working with a small camera, it may have a setting built in which will allow you to achieve this effect.

If not, it’s easy to accomplish by adding a neutral density (ND) filter. This will cut the amount of light reaching the camera’s sensor and allow you to shoot in bright conditions without overexposing your images.

The key to achieving depth of field is to use longer focal lengths combined with wide apertures.

If you are shooting on a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you can select the widest aperture on your lens, which will be indicated by an f-number such as f/2.8 or f/4.

With SLRs, this is usually achieved by stopping the lens down using the aperture ring on the lens itself. If your lens doesn’t have an aperture ring, consult your manual for instructions on how to “stop down” the lens using the camera controls.

Different focal length lenses give different effects and compositions when you combine them with wide apertures and shallow depths of field.

Generally speaking, longer focal lengths result in narrower angles and shallower depths of field.


Halo Lighting And Expressive Techniques

The most powerful tool in a photographer’s kit is light.

Tonal range is half the story when it comes to using light to create fantastic images. I know that sounds like an oversimplification but it’s true.

To give you an example, let’s say that we had two objects, one white and one black.

Now, the obvious thing to do would be to take a photograph that showed off their tonal range by shooting them in direct sunlight or in shadow.

This will show us all of their tonal range but it won’t tell as much of a story as shooting them in a more expressive manner would.

Robert Richardson A Variety Of Angles, Shots, And Movement

There are a lot of things that you can do to improve your photography. If you’re taking pictures with your cell phone, there are apps that let you take better images.

Of course, the best way to improve your pictures is to learn more about photography. 

Let’s end with a TIP!

Different photographers have different styles. Observe or study different photographers and see what they do.

When you take pictures with your cell phone, don’t just snap a photo randomly.

For example, if you want to take a picture of a flower, position the mobile device so that the subject is at an angle in relation to the sun so that it’s reflected in the petals. This will make your photo much more interesting.

Lighting is very important in photography. 

Lighting makes colors appear correct and can make or break an image depending on how well it’s done.