Christopher Doyle: A Camera Dancer

img-christopher-doyleFilm Career continues to make several posts about legendary cinematographers and filmmakers. The previous posts you can find herehere and here. My initial purpose for these posts was not to add some obvious facts about filmmaker’s bios or to create  x number of web pages about famous folks and create the tag  “my little cinema history”. My goal is to provide you some insights about the most notable, in my humble opinion, cinematic works.

Christopher Doyle is one of my favorite  cinematographers in nowadays cinema world. Australian by his origins, he spent most of his lifetime in Asia. His Asian journey started with teenager’s dream to learn how to speak Chinese. He ended up studying Chinese in Taipei Language Institute. After his studies, he decided to get some life experiences and stayed in Asia much longer. Before he became a well-known D.P. he changed many careers; he worked as an oil driller in India, a cow herder in Israel, and even a doctor of Chinese medicine in Thailand. Randomly, one of his friends asked him for assistance for his diploma film project and he said why not, although it was the first time  he worked with the real camera. Later, he collaborated with major Chinese directors: Zhang Yimou (Hero, 2002); Zhang Yuan (Green Tea, 2004); and Wong Kar Wai was the one with whom they created great cinematic works, such as Happy Together (1997), In The Mood for Love (2000), Chungking Express (1994), Falling Angels (1995) and 2046 (2004) .

Asian approach to the time, Eastern mentality and the feelings of the big city environments had great influences on his European eye and he was be able to incorporate all of these ingredients into his own rhythm, time and space.

In this video from SOHK TV interview series Christopher Doyle talks about how he came to work in cinema and how it is important for cinematographer to go beyond the cameraman’s craft. A good example of this approach he gives retelling some Wong Kar Wai’s methods of working with D.P’s:

He will usually ask: – Have you read this? – And it has nothing to do with the film. What books are you reading lately? The literature and the structure of the literature inform a lot of our work, I think. And the second thing: – Listen to this. The street should look like this piece of music.- How is it possible?  It is a great thing, the cinergy; it is more about musical intention, something rhythmical. So, different ideas come from different sources and become accumulated into one cinematographer’s work.

More insights from Chris Doyle:

In my cinematic world the major thing is the space that can be formed by light. It gives the birth to a poetry.

In The Mood for Love Chris created this type of poetry.

As a cameraman – you go, observe the space in the city and this observation dictates you the cinematography. The cinematic feeling depends on the space you’re trying to portray.

About camera movements:

It is what I call the dance between the actors and the camera; I think the dance it what really engages people and how we (cameramen) are dancing with a camera that kinds of movements we’ll get.

Here is the excerpt from the Christopher Doyle’s masterclass where he  shares some of his cinematic tricks and shows how he shot the important scene In The Mood for Love walking down the  street in the one of most dangerous districts in Hong Kong.

To sum up,

According to  Christopher Doyle, the art of cinematography starts with the following:

  •  Create cinematic rhythm. For example, one of the possible influences could be from musical rhythmic structures  (ex. music beats or dance rhythms)
  •  Adopt some structures from  literature.For example: fade outs, repeating shots and other visual transitions that work similar to  chapters in literature.
  • Create the feeling of space by rationally planned camera movements. 
  • Consider psychological effects of different colors. Constantly search for better color choices in the scene. Study filters, natural color reflections and study  your camera settings. 
  • Pay attention on the surfaces of different  objects, buildings
  • Try to open your eye and experiment with new things, invent your own techniques, do not repeat what’s already known in the world cinema.

What other important things you think it  is important to consider to become a better cinematographer? Tell us about your endeavors in the comment section below.


About zinasemenova

Russian filmmaker and blogger at

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