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From ‘Atlanta’ to ‘Twin Peaks,’ Here Are the Cameras and Lenses That Shot The Year’s Best TV Shows

18 Emmy-nominated cinematographers on how they created their shows’ unique look, and the gear they chose to pull it off.

Emmy nominated cinematographer Paula Huidobro on the set of "Barry"

Emmy nominated cinematographer Paula Huidobro on the set of “Barry”

HBO/ John P. Johnson


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Cameras and lenses can make a huge difference on a project, something this year’s Emmy-nominated cinematographers know something about. IndieWire reached out to this year’s nominees for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour), Single-Camera Series (One Hour), and Limited Series or Movie, and asked them which format, camera and lenses they used. But just as important, we asked them why they were the right tools to achieve their show’s unique look.

Outstanding Cinematography For A Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour)

The nominees for outstanding cinematography in this category are Christian Sprenger (“Atlanta” and “Glow”), Paula Huidobro (“Barry”), Justin Brown (“The End Of The F***ing World”), Patrick Cady (“Insecure”), and Tobias Datum (“Mozart In The Jungle”).

Last Year’s Winner: David Miller for “Veep.”

“Atlanta”

ATLANTA Robbin' Season -- "Alligator Man" -- Season Two, Episode 1 (Airs Thursday, March 1, 10:00 p.m. e/p) Pictured (L-R): Producer/director Hiro Murai, Director of photography Christian Sprenger. CR: Guy D'Alema/FX

“Atlanta” Producer/director Hiro Murai, Director of photography Christian Sprenger

Guy D'Alema/FX

Format: 3.2K ProRes4444
Camera: ARRI Amira
Lens: Kowa Cine Prominar Spherical Primes, Angenieux 45-120mm, Canon 8-64mm (S16)

Christian Sprenger: “Atlanta” is a show about a wonderfully real city and our main intent is to preserve and capture the city’s authenticity. The Arri Amira was originally intended to be a documentary camera but its size and versatility is perfect for our location-only production. Along with a custom LUT and filtration in front of the lens, the Kowa Prominars add a subjective dreamy layer on top of our very gritty world. After much testing, I felt that recipe created the perfect amount of visual tension on which to build the world of our show. In Season 2 the show’s look moves in many different directions and we were tasked with creating the spooky dramatic world of “Teddy Perkins” and the grungy 90s flashback world of “FUBU” and this camera and lens package was our technical center point to pivot in those wildly different directions.

“Barry”

"Barry" Co-Creator Alec Berg and Cinematographer Paula Huidobro

“Barry” Co-Creator Alec Berg and Cinematographer Paula Huidobro

HBO/ John P. Johnson

Format: ProRes
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini
Lens: Optimo zooms, 15-49, 28-76, and 45-120, Leica Summilux

Paula Huidobro: We chose Alexa because of the natural and beautiful skin tone rendition of the camera and also because of its exposure latitude. I wanted the light to be as soft as possible and my gaffer, Paul Mclevine, and I decided to go with a more old-school approach using Fresnels, booklights and Chinese lanterns instead of the LED technology which is now the norm. We liked the warmth of the source and glowy quality it would have on the actors’ faces. We had big sources through the windows with 20ks set on motors that were easily adjusted. I like soft sources, but keeping the light shaped in an interesting way. I didn’t ever want to drift into flat comedic lighting.

“The End Of The F***ing World”

"The End of the F***ing World" cinematographer Justin Brown

“The End of the F***ing World” cinematographer Justin Brown

Netflix

Format: 7k at 4.1 compression
Camera: Red Helium
Lens: Zeiss Master Primes

Justin Brown: Jon, the director, and I were out to create an England that doesn’t really exist. The show was adapted from Charles Forsman’s comic book, which was set in the middle of America and incredibly graphic. We filmed on location in Surry, England, so creating the look and feel was very tricky. I was after an extremely rich color palette and a classically composed frame. No handheld was used and I think 95% of the show was shot on just three lenses. Netflix’s 4k restrictions meant that I shot the Red Helium at 7k.

As this was my first time with the camera, my colorist (Toby Tomkins) and I did some extensive tests in prep into how to achieve the most filmic image on Red’s sensor. It took a while, but in the end we found the right balance and I’m extremely pleased with the final look. In Episode 3, the whole episode pretty much takes place from the hour before sunset and half an hour after sunset. Shooting this over 7 days was extremely difficult given the narrative time frame and also that the windows in the house we filmed at were so large! But with a lot of ND on the windows I think the end result is pretty seamless.

“GLOW”

Behind the scenes of "Glow"

Behind the scenes of “Glow”

Netflix

Format: RedCode 6K 6:5 2x Anamorphic
Camera: Red Weapon
Lens: Cooke Anamorphic

Christian Sprenger: The look of “GLOW” is meant to transport the audience to a grounded realistic setting of 1980s Los Angeles and then at specific times, to the elevated fantasy world of professional wrestling. Along with a custom film LUT from LightIron LA, the slightly imprecise quality of Cooke anamorphic lenses paired with the resolution of the Red felt like the perfect way to reference the audience’s nostalgia for 80’s cinema. Because we’re using modern technology, shooting at a t2.3 on the lenses and very higher ISOs on the camera, I was able to light very naturally and atmospherically instead of traditional “TV lighting.” My goal was for the base of the show to feel very understated and mature so that when we did chose to heighten the aesthetic, there would be strong a stylistic contrast. That became a very powerful storytelling device throughout the season while still grounding the overall narrative and performances.

“Insecure”

Director Kevin Bray and cinematographer Patrick Cady on the set of “Insecure”

Director Kevin Bray and cinematographer Patrick Cady on the set of “Insecure”

HBO/Justina Mintz

Format: 16:9 HD 1920×1080
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke S5i lenses which open up to a T1.4.

Patrick Cady: It’s important for me to note that I was brought in to alternate with Ava Berkofsky when the show was already in production. This is a really unique and fun way to “drop in” to a series. The primary palette and paintbrushes have been chosen and then I’m invited to join the team and contribute. For me the most interesting part of the pre-existing technical decisions was the lenses, and the desire to shoot them wide open. This is (of course) a huge challenge for the ACs but they were well up to the task and performed beautifully and with great cheer.

The shallow depth of field on a certain size shot brings a beautiful look to a show that on the surface could be called a comedy, but is really about relationships, and the way the ground moves under our feet when we are meeting new people, or are becoming more than just friends and acquaintances. The show is very location-based, and the shallow depth of field on a wider lens can bring about that moment where you know where the characters are, but they are still lifted off of the background, their story is in a place, but it connects to all of us, in our worlds, because we are concentrating on the wonderful cast. I think it helps the audience feel connected to the show. The Alexa has a wonderful sensor, I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed in it, and it did a great job of handling the color palette of the Kiss ’n Grind party – a key part of the “Hella LA” episode – as well as the hard LA sunlight.

“Mozart In The Jungle”

Cinematographer Tobias Datum checks the light on ""Mozart in the Jungle"

Cinematographer Tobias Datum checks the light on “”Mozart in the Jungle”

Sarah Shatz/Prime Video

Format: 3.2K pro res
Camera: ARRI Alexa and Alexa mini
Lens: Panavision p-vintage in Japan arri Standard speed

Tobias Datum: The Alexa has very good color science. The optical “imperfections” of the older lenses add a nice texture to the digital image. Thematically, “Mozart” is a bit like a fairytale. An imperfect one. Imperfection I feel is something to embrace, not just in lenses.

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