Five more top female DPs who are making big waves in cinematography

Written by Neil Oseman

ICG600Ellen Kuras on set

Continuing our highlighting of International Women's day today, here are nine more female DPs who have made important marks on the industry

In part one we met the Oscars’ first female nominee for Best Cinematography, as well as the women who photographed film likes The Girl on the Train, Finding Nemo and White House Down. Here are five more female DoPs whose work you’ve probably been watching without knowing it.

Sue Gibson, BSC

Gibson passed away in 2016, but she is remembered as both the first female member and the first female president of the British Society of Cinematographers (BSC). You may well have seen her work on episodes of Poirot, Marple, Lewis, Spooks and The Forsyte Saga, or her second-unit work on Alien vs. Predator and Resident Evil. Born in Derbyshire, Gibson studied at Newport College of Art, then at the National Film and Television School (NFTS), graduating in 1981. After starting out in commercials, she shot her first feature, Hear My Song, in 1989, which won The Evening Standard Award for Technical Achievement. She was posthumously awarded The Philips Vari-Lite Award for Drama at The Knight of Illuminations Awards for two of her Death in Paradise episodes, her final work.

Ellen Kuras, ASC

Born in New Jersey, Kuras studied photography and 8mm filmmaking after university, with a view to becoming a documentary filmmaker. After lensing the award-winning short doc Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia, her career diversified to eventually include such big-budget features as Blow and Analyze That. Kuras has also collaborated twice with French director Michel Gondry. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, she used her documentary background to put the realism into Gondry's magical realism, with handheld cameras and naturalistic lighting. But she brought the magic too; for example, using a camera-mounted spotlight for a tunnel vision effect during the sequence in which Jim Carey and Kate Winslet try to hide within Carey's memory. Although more classically composed, 2008's Be Kind Rewind was similarly creative, featuring low-fi VHS recreations of big movies, and a memorable montage captured in a single developing shot. Kuras' many awards include an unprecedented hat-trick of Best Dramatic Cinematography gongs at Sundance, and an Oscar nomination for The Betrayal - Nerakhoon, a documentary feature she directed.

Suzie Lavelle, ISC

Lavelle is an Irish DoP who studied at NFTS before entering the TV industry as an AC. Her sumptuous, colourful and contrasty lighting has featured in some of the BBC's most high-profile TV dramas. "The Abominable Bride", her Sherlock outing, was nominated for a Primetime Emmy in 2016. "Cold War", her contribution to Doctor Who's 2013 season, is one of the best-looking and most atmospheric episodes the venerable series has ever produced.  And, along with James Mather, she swept away the flat photography of Ripper Street's first two seasons and established the much moodier style for season three that would continue for the rest of the show's run. Lavelle's other TV credits include Vikings, The Living and the Dead, Endeavour and Jekyll & Hyde, and she photographed the award-winning features One Hundred Mornings and The Other Side of Sleep.

Urszula Pontikos, BSC

Hailing from Gdynia in Poland, Pontikos has photographed a number of indie features, including Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Second Coming and Lilting. The latter won her the Cinematography Award for World Cinema (Dramatic) at Sundance 2014, but she's also shot some of the most interesting British TV shows of recent years. Despite a self-confessed nervousness about the scale of the show's night exteriors, Pontikos delivered confident, slick and atmospheric cinematography for BBC 1's Cold War spy thriller The Game in 2014. The following year she photographed the first two episodes of Humans, setting the style for this hugely popular C4 sci-fi drama. She employed unusual eye-lights, symmetrical composition and linear camera moves for scenes featuring the robotic "synths". Her other TV credits include the crime dramas Glue for E4 and Marcella for ITV. 

Mandy Walker, ACS, ASC

Born and raised in Melbourne, Walker got her first industry contacts from a short film course she took after graduation. Persistently calling these contacts yielded some unpaid work and her first feature at the age of just 25. More low-budget features followed, until a Chanel Nº 5 commercial with Baz Luhrmann and Nicole Kidman propelled Walker into the big-time with the epic drama Australia. Since then, Walker has lensed the likes of Natalie Portman (Jane Got a Gun) and Robert Redford (Truth). Last year saw the release of Hidden Figures, an inspiring and important drama about African-American women who worked on Nasa's space programme. Walker used subtle techniques to enhance the themes of racism and sexism, like placing the camera below the heroine's eye-lines so that they were always looking up at the white men. Walker is currently in pre-production on Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan.

These are just a few of the amazing women working in cinematography today. Some other great DoPs to check out are Uta Briesewitz, ASC (The Wire), Cynthia Pusheck, ASC (Magnolia) and Reed Morano, ASC (best known lately for her directing work on The Handmaid’s Tale).

Tags: Production

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