I am a documentary photographer, and so a large part of my work is shooting environmental portraits, and photographing people on location. I’ve constantly run into the argument, or I should say it often plagues me, whether artificial or natural light is better for location portraiture. As with anything photographic, the answer is it depends, but I also love to travel light. Shooting in foreign environments tends to work better, at least for me, when I’m not lugging 50 pounds of lighting gear along. I’ve largely solved my location lighting dilemma by using the amazing Westcott Ice Light, but the artificial verse natural light debate is still a fascinating topic. I’m largely interested in both styles. Each has its own unique look and the key for me is to work at mastering both. So I want to take a look at a guy that is a master of both (he has one Oscar under his belt and likely another on the way).
Emmanuel Lubezki, Chivo to his friends, is a Mexican born Director of Photography. He has lensed some of the most beautiful films shot (see Terrence Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’). His most recent work, ‘The Revenant,’ I saw this weekend and it’s as gorgeous as it's been rumored to be. ‘The Revenant’ was shot using only natural light. Not one artificial light was used on the production, except in some fire lit scenes. Using natural light to film a movie is not new, but it is very rare and even rarer that it is done so expertly. Chivo was able to do this, thanks in large part, to the Arriflex Alexa and its remarkable digital sensor, but probably more than that, it was because the man has an eye for light.
‘The Revenant’ locations are becoming infamous because of their remoteness and difficult conditions (the middle of nowhere Alberta, Canada), but they were chosen for specific qualities. The landscape to be sure, but also because the light was amazing. That far north, and at that altitude, sunlight has a different quality than it does in Africa, or Europe, or the US. Chivo visited the locations various times of day, for months, to isolate when the best light was available to film. He also plays with the light, through trees, sun flares, backlighting, dawn and dusk shots. The work is truly remarkable.
Lucky for us mere mortals, Chivo has an Instagram account where he posts photos from behind the scenes. Several other films he’s worked on are also throughout his account, but for me, ‘The Revenant’ portraits are the most spectacular.
On a side note, Chivo’s Instagram account was something of a mystery for a long time. He flew under the radar until not long ago, when Slate stated: “As his viewership grew -- he currently has a relatively modest 4,900 followers—and hundreds more images were loaded, a few of which offered keyholes into his high-profile work for Hollywood, there became a sense that a case was being solved, crystalized by a user comment that accompanies an image of a stand-in wearing a spacesuit on the set of Gravity: ‘bro I dunno but I think this might be Lubezki’s ig.’”
For those who are interested, I’ve heard he uses a Ricoh GR and a Nikon D800 for his Instagram account, but really who gives a sh*@? The photos are amazing. So take a look at them and let me know what you think. Do they provide some inspiration? At the very least you must agree, Emmanuel Lubezki is a master of light!