An actor with unlimited range, who let his talent and not his “brand” define him as a star.
…because he taught us how to film the human face. Nykvist’s minimal use of lighting and naturalistic style made him the ideal cinematographer for Ingmar Bergman's later work. A true professional, Nykvist’s career spanned nearly 60 years and over 120 films. While he is mostly known for his work on Bergman’s dark, intimate dramas, Nykvist’s other credits include "Sleepless in Seattle" – Nora Ephron’s definitive “meet cute” romantic comedy.
More on Sven
Nykvist’s signature is his minimalist use of light, which he approached like a philosopher in terms of how it affected the viewer. He preferred natural light whenever possible; if forced to use artificial lighting, he would often try to use a single source. Nykvist would even err on the side of underexposing the film, preferring the darkness to any unintended saturation or glare. The overall impact led to a groundbreaking cinematic realism in which the images could also be expressive as well as natural. His early work with Ingmar Bergman was mostly filmed in black and white, yet he managed the transition to color film with ease. In fact, Nykvist was also a pioneer in the use of color levels to complement the emotional resonance of a scene. In particular, his work on "Cries and Whispers" and "Fanny and Alexander" (he won the Academy Award for both) demonstrate his ability to balance light and color with his minimalist palette, while his work on "Sleepless in Seattle" added depth to the material. However, his black-and-white cinematography still remains some of his most iconic work. Woody Allen even reverted to black-and-white filming when he hired Nykvist to shoot "Celebrity" for him in 1998, which perhaps fittingly turned out to be one of Nykvist’s last credits.
While he collaborated with filmmakers like Louis Malle, Bob Fosse, Woody Allen and Nora Ephron, Nykvis’ts work with Ingmar Bergman more or less defined him as a cinematographer. However, Nykvist was perhaps as important to the second half of Bergman’s career as any other individual. Bergman’s earlier films such as "The Seventh Seal" – an allegorical medieval epic – had employed Gunnar Fischer as the cinematographer, whose high contrast imagery relied on heavy backlighting to create a surreal effect on the landscape. While this style worked for Bergman’s more baroque and dramatic stories, his interests as a filmmaker turned towards intimate chamber dramas with a humanist emphasis on individuals. Nykvist’s more naturalistic style provided the perfect artistic counterpart for Bergman in films like "Through a Glass Darkly" and "Persona," which focused on the inner struggles of characters as opposed to presenting them as emblematic representations of the human condition. In the history of cinema, there are few other partnerships as prolific and well-matched. Their work demonstrates the benefits of finding the right people to work with in any creative endeavor.
Nykvist’s major breakthrough as a cinematographer was his ability to film the human face. At least that’s what Ingmar Bergman believed, but we are willing to go out on a limb and trust one of cinema’s greatest auteurs. While earlier films had relied on an exaggerated style of acting to convey emotions, the advances in film stock that coincided with the start of Nykvist’s career required a more natural approach. Instead of broad expressions, cinematic storytellers shifted to subtle facial movements and realistic human emotions. Nykvist may have been in the right place (Sweden) at the right time (Bergman’s creative renaissance), but he still pioneered the way cinematographers could film close shots of a performer’s face without it being, well, in your face. His ability to frame his actors faces in a way that allowed them to convincingly explore the inner lives of their characters is basically unprecedented in the history of cinema. In fact, one of Bergman and Nykvist’s most iconic shots, a young boy reaching his hand out to a woman’s projected face on a screen in "Persona," essentially serves as a mission statement for their creative collaboration, allowing the audience to literally connect with characters on screen in ways never imagined.
Sven Nykvist’s Lighting Process on ‘The Sacrifice’Read more
Lighting “Persona”Read more
Light Keeps Me Company – DocumentaryBuy now $15
Willis explains his approach to managing a setRead more
The American Society of CinematographersRead more
Gordon Willis: Shining a light on Hollywood’s ‘Prince of Darkness’Read more
Becoming the Reel Deal: How to Launch Your Film Career in the Camera DepartmentBuy now $3
GoPro: How To Use The GoPro Hero 4 BlackBuy now $6
Lighting for Cinematography: A Practical Guide to the Art and Craft of Lighting for the Moving ImageBuy now $30
Cinematography: Theory and Practice: Image Making for Cinematographers and DirectorsBuy now $51
Explore The Subtleties Of David Fincher’s Direction In This Cinematic BreakdownRead more
The Five C’s of CinematographyBuy now $21
Cinematography 101: Breaking Down the Script with Jim DenaultRead more
Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary CinematographersBuy now $30
Making Pictures : A Century of European CinematographyBuy now $137
Creating Depth With Light and ShadowRead more