Emmy Nominated Cinematography: The Cameras, Lenses, and Looks of the Year’s Best TV Shows

From "Game of Thrones" to "Fleabag," 16 cinematographers discuss the gear they chose to create the look of the 2019 Emmy contenders.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Cinematographer M. David Mullen
Cinematographer M. David Mullen sets up a shot on "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"
Nicole Rivelli

IndieWire reached out to this year’s nominees for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (One Hour), Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour), and Limited Series or Movie, and asked them which cameras and lenses they used — but even more important: Why were these these the right tools to create the look of their series?

Single Camera Series (One Hour)

The 2019 Emmy nominees for outstanding cinematography in this category are Jonathan Freeman (“Game of Thrones”), Zoë White (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), Colin Watkinson (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), Dana Gonzales (“Hanna”), Gonzalo Amat (“The Man In The High Castle”), M. David Mullen (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), and Robert McLachlan (“Ray Donovan”).

2018 Emmy Winner: Adriano Goldman for “The Crown”
2017 Emmy Winner: Colin Watkinson for “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

"Game of Thrones" Cinematographer Jonathan Freeman
“Game of Thrones” Cinematographer Jonathan FreemanHelen Sloan/HBO

“Game Of Thrones”

Nominated Episode: “The Iron Throne”

Format: 3.2K Pro-Res and ARRIRAW 1:78
Camera: Alexa SXT Plus, Mini; Red Epic-M Dragon (for some VFX work)
Lens: Cooke S-4, Angenieux Optimo Zooms, Hawk V-Series Anamorphic (for segments of “The Iron Throne”)

Jonathan Freeman: The Alexa was the ideal camera for “Game of Thrones.” The sensors’ dynamic range served us well over eight seasons. The original pilot was shot on film. When the first season began (2010), much of the pilot was to be reshot. Digital was being considered, and after comparative tests between film and digital systems, we determined that the Alexa mimicked film the best.

“Game of Thrones” is a fantastic world with a rich topography. We shot in a variety of locations representing the different landscapes. Whether it be the saturated mediterranean warmth of King’s Landing (Croatia) or the aqua patina of moss-incrusted rocks of the Iron Islands (Northern Ireland), the Alexa sensor often extracted color that was not seen by the eye on first glance. As well, the Alexa held phenomenal exposure detail which was very effective when shooting in our more extreme locations. We were able to achieve a dynamic range of contrast detail, including the bleached sands of an Essos desert (Spain) and in snow-capped glaciers Beyond the Wall (Iceland). The Alexa held highlights with a natural film-like curve. It also had amazing shadow detail and allowed us to often use natural sources like candles and torches as key light sources.

Retrospectively, the Alexa would also prove to be invaluable for our workflow. As our story expanded in scope, VFX work increased substantially. Footage turnover was critical for our VFX department, and digital cinematography was the only way to deliver a massive amount of VFX shots on a TV schedule.

"The Handmaid's Tale" Cinematographer Zoe White
“The Handmaid’s Tale” Cinematographer Zoë WhiteElly Dassas/Hulu

“The Handmaid’s Tale”

Nominated Episode: “Holly”

Format: Arri UHD, Prores 4.4.4
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini
Lens: Canon K35

Zoë White: The Mini is great for its adaptability for varying physical applications, and its sensor captures the best latitude for the very particular color work we do on the show. The K35s have a beautiful dimensionality that translates to strong architectural wide shots and contoured portraits. The vintage softness, shallow depth, and glorious warm flares contribute to a romantic look that effectively juxtaposes with the brutal reality of the world of Gilead.

The Handmaid's TaleElisabeth Moss and DP Colin Watkinson
Elisabeth Moss and DP Colin Watkinson shooting “The Handmaid’s Tale”Elly Dassas/Hulu

“The Handmaid’s Tale”

Nominated Episode: “The Word”

Format: Arri UHD, Prores 4.4.4 (same as season 1)
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini
Lens: Canon K35

Colin Watkinson: We try for a painterly look on “Handmaid’s Tale,” the mixture of the Alexa capture on Canon K35’s with the LUT we created works well for us. Color reproduction is so important to us, the Alexa suits our style beautifully. The physical versatility of the Mini, having multiple types of builds to suit how we are shooting is the perfect camera for our show. The wide aperture of the Canons help us achieve the shallow focus that we use to express the introspective POV style of the show.

"Hanna" Cinematographer Dana Gonzales
“Hanna” Cinematographer Dana GonzalesChristopher Raphael/Amazon Prime Video


Nominated Episode: “Forest”

Format: 4K UHD
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini (main camera)
Lens: In the pilot episode we used Panavision Primo lenses for the Slovakian Forest scenes, and Panavision PVintage lenses for the flashbacks and main narrative when Hanna leaves her wilderness home.

Dana Gonzales: I have come to rely on the in-camera 4K UHD since it was available on the Alexa Mini. Now we can give VFX the highest resolution files right out of the camera. The Mini really does an amazing job with the up-res. Besides the compact size of the mini, the other game-changing feature is the internal ND filters, especially when we are shooting day exteriors in snow. The lack of green shift with the IRNDs makes it much easier to balance the images camera to camera.

On the lens side, the contrasts between the Panavision Primo lenses and Panavision PVintage lenses became the secret sauce for establishing a unique tone and atmosphere for the series. The Panavision Primo lenses’ sharp, perfect optics were used in the Slovakian forest scenes to represent Hanna’s clean and pure innocence. The PVintage lenses, with their older coatings and special character, organically reflected how Hanna and the audience would experience the new, wonderful and dangerous situations the series would dive into. I’ve always felt that having an organic approach in my photography helps the story and characters become more accessible to the audience, using lenses and lighting to create a distinctive tone that can be adjusted for the story arcs.

"The Man In The High Castle" Cinematographer-Gonzalo Amat
“The Man In The High Castle” Cinematographer Gonzalo AmatLiane Hentscher

“The Man In The High Castle”

Nominated Episode: “Jahr Null”

Format: 3.2 K Pro Res
Camera: ARRI Alexa SXT
Lens: Zeiss Master Primes. We have all, mostly 21, 27, 40, 65. Fujinon Premiere Zooms.

Gonzalo Amat: The look of the show has been evolving since Season 1, and we are always pushing to reinvent ourselves, take risks, and be bold. Every year we’ve gotten together and said, “What can we do better, or how can we push a bit further?” We have been reducing the amount of light as the seasons progress, too, relying on taking light away and we have found a camera language that is more classic, but with bolder framing.

I think we have a unique combination of A and B camera that is used in the show. It’s in a very different way than traditional TV. It really has been great to work with a producing team and studio that have supported the look of the show through scheduling and budgeting, allocating the time and resources for the scenes that require it. The approach has been centering more on visual storytelling, and how we can convey story through camera, lighting, and choice of lenses. The visiting directors sometimes are surprised to see they don’t need to do traditional coverage, and that everyone will go for the bolder and less conventional idea. That has been a unique experience, and so has it been to work with so many top notch professionals in their field that have given four years of their lives for a project that we all consider relevant.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Cinematographer M. David Mullen
Cinematographer M. David Mullen sets up a shot on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”Nicole Rivelli

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

Nominated Episode: “Simone”

Format: 3.2K ProRes 4444, ARRI Log-C
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini
Lens: Panavision Primo primes (mostly 24mm, 27mm, 30mm)

M. David Mullen: The Alexa provides an image with a film-like dynamic range that helps me deal with some difficult lighting situations, and the Panavision Primos lenses have minimal flare or distortion, which allows me to control softness with diffusion filters (primarily the Schneider Hollywood Black Magic). Our intent is not to create a faded look for a period effect, but the diffusion helps to flatter the cast while also giving the image a touch of romanticism. The show has a vibrant, dynamic quality with a lot of complex camera moves mostly shot in medium to wide, with almost no true close-ups. This grounds the scenes with a sense of place.

Single Camera (Half-Hour)

The 2019 Emmy nominees for outstanding cinematography in this category are Anthony Hardwick (“Ballers”), Tony Miller (“Fleabag”), Tod Campbell (“Homecoming”), Ava Berkofsky (“Insecure”), Chris Teague (“Russian Doll”), and DJ Stipsen (“What We Do In The Shadows”).

2018 Emmy Winner: Christian Sprenger for “Atlanta”
2017 Emmy Winner: David Miller for “Veep”

"Ballers" Cinematographer Anthony Hardwick Dwayne Johnson
“Ballers” Cinematographer Anthony HardwickJeff Daly/HBO


Nominated Episode: “Rough Ride”

Format: HD (1920 x 1080), Apple ProRes 4:4:4:4, Log C
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini
Lens: Primary ones used Leica Summilux C Primes (18mm, 21mm, 25mm, 29mm, 35mm, 40mm, 50mm, 65mm, 75mm, 100mm), 19mm – 90mm Fujinon Cabrio T2.9 Zoom, 75mm – 400mm Fujinon Premier T2.8 – 3.8 Zoom

Anthony Hardwick: “Ballers” is a show set in the world of elite pro sports, and it centers around several main characters: athletes, managers, and agents, who are all constantly on the move. I wanted the audience to always feel like they are right there with Spencer and Joe (Dwayne Johnson and Rob Corddry) as they make their moves and fight their way to the top of their game.

The cameras were hand-held 90 percent of the time, and we shoot primarily on location in practical environments, which often means in a lot of tight spaces, like car interiors. I choose to use the Alexa Mini because I think it’s the best choice for this style of shooting. The camera is small and versatile. You can set it up in a stripped down mode to fit into tight spaces and to work on remote heads, etc., and you can build it out to be a great, well-balanced, hand-held camera, as well as studio mode. I love the sensor of the Alexa Mini, and its ability to render the familiar look and feel of a photochemical film process. The camera’s ergonomic design is well thought-out for those of us who have spent much of our careers shooting and working with film.

In addition to the Alexa Minis, I used GoPros, Drones, and underwater housings for some action sequences. I also used a DJI Ronin along with a OneWheel electric board and even a “Bullet Time” rig for one skateboarding action scene.

I shot primarily with prime lenses for “Ballers,” and I chose the Leica Summilux C Prime set. I’ve been shooting 35mm film through Leica M bodies with Leica primes for my personal photography for years, and have always been in love with that Leica glass look. I started shooting with Leica Cinema primes as soon as they came out, and I have used them on several shows since. The Summilux primes provide a clean, sharp look, while capturing beautiful skin tones and wonderfully accurate color rendition. I felt they were the perfect lens choice for the look and style I wanted to achieve for “Ballers.”

"Fleabag" Cinematographer Tony Miller
“Fleabag” Cinematographer Tony MillerSolovyov


Nominated Episode: “Episode 1”

Format: Shot Anamorphic for a 2.35:1 aspect ratio on the Alexa mini, in 4×3 mode 2880×2160, unsqueezed and scaled down to 3840×2160
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini – all shot hand held
Lens: Cooke Anamorphics

Tony Miller: We wanted the film to be cinematic, but naturalistic and for Fleabag always to look radiant — especially when she breaks the fourth wall. The camera was also a player in this drama as the fourth wall is broken and to some degree party to be implicating us in the film.

"Insecure" Cinematographer Ava Berkofsky
“Insecure” Cinematographer Ava BerkofskyHBO


Nominated Episode: “High-Like”

Format: 3.2k ProRes 444XQ
Camera: ARRI Alexa Mini
Lens: Cooke S5i

Ava Berkofsky: I chose the Alexa Mini for “Insecure” because it’s got the best color depth I’ve seen in a digital camera. I knew I wanted to push exposure and color on “Insecure” and not sacrifice beautiful skin-tones, so the Alexa was right for that. It’s a great base “film stock” that can be manipulated to different ends. I expose the camera at ISO 1280 and underexpose more from there to get the start of our color palette. The Mini also has a S35mm sensor, which is not necessarily the norm for TV or films anymore. The sensor size works well for “Insecure” because it enables you to compress and control space. A lot of our visual language is about longer lenses compressing space and directing the eye.

As for the lensing, we use Cooke S5is and I wouldn’t want to use anything else for this show. I chose them because they’re fast modern lenses which don’t fall apart when shooting wide open, but they have a unique warmth and gentleness throughout the set that’s beautiful but not too soft. The show is also a sort of love letter to Los Angeles, so the inherent warmth in the Cooke glass gels well with the way I see light in LA. The city is very much a character and these lenses are good at celebrating its bright highlights and stark contrast.

Russian Doll
Russian DollNetflix

“Russian Doll”

Nominated Episode: “Ariadne”

Format: 7K 2:1 aspect ratio
Camera: RED Weapon Helium. We also shot the body mounted camera shots on a Sony A7SII
Lens: Leica Summilux

Chris Teague: In the past, I have preferred vintage lenses on digital cameras for their softer look, but for “Russian Doll” I approached things in a different way. The show is a kind of hyperreal absurd dark comedy, and I wanted the image to have an edge to it, with strong contrast, deep blacks, and rich color. I also wanted Nadia, our main character, to pop out of her backgrounds since she is, in a sense, existing outside of normal time and space. The Leicas were excellent for this because they are very fast at a T1.4, very clean, wide open, and yet they do not look crisp or clinical. The wide lenses are also exceptional in the way they shape space. To counteract the more pristine look you get with modern lenses we shot at 1600 ISO. I also feel that the ultra high resolution of the RED Helium also helps to give the image a softer look. We also added some very light film grain in the color grade.

"What We Do in the Shadows" Cinematographer DJ Stipsen
“What We Do in the Shadows” Cinematographer DJ StipsenRuss Martin/FX

“What We Do In The Shadows”

Nominated Episode: “Manhattan Night Club”

Format: 4k 17:9 and 6k 17:9 X-OCN Raw on Sony Venice and 16mm on Arri SR3.
Camera: Sony Venice and Arri SR3.
Lens: Optimo Zooms and Master Primes.

DJ Stipsen: The mockumentary style of “What We Do In The Shadows” and the improvisational nature of the comedy requires tools that will allow the camera operators to react to what’s happening. I want the crew to have the ability to travel with the cast, moving in and out of the spaces to make the show feel real. The show has a very distinct look so I wanted to use equipment that can transition from the interior scenes of the old and run down mansion to capturing moments when they step into the brighter, outside world. The Sony Venice is incredibly fast and can handle color beautifully at night without much grain.

Limited Series of Movie

The 2019 Emmy nominees for outstanding cinematography in this category are Jakob Ihre (“Chernobyl”), David Klein (“Deadwood”), Germain McMicking (“True Detective”), and Bradford Young (“When They See Us”).

2018 Emmy Winner: Mathias Herndl for “Genius: Picasso.”
2017 Emmy Winner: Fred Elmes for “Night Of.”

"Chernobyl" Cinematographer Jakob Ihre
“Chernobyl” Cinematographer Jakob IhreHBO


Nominated Episode: “Please Remain Calm”

Format: ARRI Pro Res HQ
Camera: ARRI Alexa
Lens: Cooke Pancros (not rehoused)

Jakob Ihre: I was fortunate to have a very long pre-production period. With time, many ideas were modified and reworked. From the outgo, we thought of shooting with a mechanical shutter (Alexa Studio) and with anamorphic lenses to let this combination symbolize and portray the industrial mechanics of the Soviet Union — the eye of the system, also with references of anamorphic soviet films. After a month we realized that the focus should not be on the apparatus of the Soviet Union but instead on the characters and their inner lift. The camera had to to be in symbiosis with them through a more humanistic approach where a smaller camera and a spherical lens would help us to be more intimate, honest and real compared to the sometimes distancing layers of the anamorphic glass. We ended up shooting with non-rehoused Cooke Pancros and the Alexa Mini.

We wanted to give an underlaying impression that the world and its elements had become altered after the nuclear blast. Throughout the show we let the rays of the sun have a strong presence as they came to represent the rays of the radioactive atom. Often we strongly overexposed the rays of the sun, created with HMIs with digital shutters, to introduce the foreboding sun light within a scene, a few stops more than what I do in a naturalistic set up. The show’s approach was to find reality but we ended up depicting a surreal world post-Chernobyl. The non-rehoused Pancro lenses made these highlights bloom and gave them a small halo, almost a divine religious apocalyptic impression as if the objects and the people hit by the overexposed sun were burnt by the radioactivity.

"Deadwood: The Movie" Cinematographer Dave Klein
“Deadwood: The Movie” Cinematographer Dave KleinHBO

“Deadwood: The Movie”

Format: 2.8k Arriraw framed for 2:1 center extraction.
Camera: ARRI Alexa Minis
Lens: Zeiss Supreme Primes, Canon Cine Primes and Canon Zooms, but primarily we were a prime lens production and most heavily relied on the Zeiss Supremes.

Dave Klein: We tested the Alexa LF and Alexa Mini with Supreme primes and also some re-housed, vintage, Canon glass. The vintage glass didn’t feel right because of how the original series was shot and the Supremes, when coupled with the 2:1 aspect ratio on Alexa Minis, added an almost anamorphic look to what was defocused in the background, which felt very cinematic without having to rely on actual anamorphic elements. Also shot with a very shallow depth of field and with the Supreme Primes, what little is in focus within that depth was crystal clear and as sharp as we wanted it to be. Along with the lighting, it was something that helped us focus on the characters and the story we were telling with every shot, every frame.

“True Detective” S3 Cinematographer Germain McMickingWarrick Page/HBO

“True Detective”

Nominated Episode: “The Great War And Modern Memory”

Format: 3.2K ProRes 4444 XQ
Camera: ARRI Alexa SXT, and Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Panavision Ultraspeed ‘Gold Speed’ and ‘Green Speed’ spherical lenses
Primo Zooms, and Panavision ‘Portrait’ Anamorphic Lenses

Germain McMicking: Nic Pizzolatto’s creation was beautiful, expansive, and incredibly nuanced. We needed to find lenses and a system which would listen to this, and help visually articulate this poetry. As this was a story about memory and time, and essentially all told from Wayne Haye’s (Mahershala Ali) perspective, we were looking for a subjective and lyrical look. A look that would imbue the film with a feeling of memory and abstraction.

We chose to work with the ARRI Alexa, as I love the aesthetics of its sensor. It has a softness and beauty, and can produce a very analogue and human-feeling image. I also wanted the ability to be subjective with our lensing of Wayne Hayes at times, and get physically closer to him on slightly wider lenses, and so we chose to shoot spherically.

In the 1980s scenes, I tried to sit back from our heroes and have them feel more observed. As time progressed the camera became a little more subjective with point of view, and began to come physically closer to Wayne. Ever so slowly hinting on getting deeper inside his mind, as the truth is closing in on him.

With the glass I wanted to stick to the same lenses throughout regardless of the time period. I felt that in keeping to the same glass it would create kind of a textural through line, and not overstate the travel through time. There was so much in front of the camera already to define the particular era. We filmed primarily with multiple sets of Panavision Ultra Speeds, both 1970’s “Golden” speeds, and 1980’s “Green” speeds. They’re textural, filmic, versatile, fast, and have a beautiful round bokeh. I think they certainly added to the lyrical quality we were after.

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