Interview with Harris Savides – Contrast

thefilmbook by Benjamin BI had the great privilege of spending some time with the late Harris Savides, ASC, years ago at Camerimage, when he came to present American Gangster, the film he shot for Ridley Scott.

I share here part of our lengthy, impromptu audio interview in 2007 in the Camerimage café in Lodz.


Harris Savides-

Harris Savides, ASC


Harris Savides

Harris left us way too soon in 2012, at the age of 55.

Harris was a pure artist, and a gentle bear of a man, intelligent, considerate and humble. He was universally admired by his peers, and sought out by top filmmakers including Gus van Sant, David Fincher, Ridley Scott and Sofia Coppola.

Harris’ feature credits include:
The Yards
The Game
American Gangster
The Bling Ring

Harris also lit notable music videos for Madonna and REM.

For me Harris’ greatest work is the so-called Death trilogy with director Gus van Sant:
GerryElephantLast Days


shoot soft, print hard

At Camerimage, I started by speaking with Harris about his approach to contrast.

He illustrated his approach of “shoot soft, print hard” with examples from still photography printing and two films that he shot in 35mm: American Gangster and Elephant. The idea is to have low contrast in the original image, in order to control contrast better in post.

Control of contrast may well be the most important aspect of cinematography. Although Harris gives examples from film, his lessons apply to all image-making.

Harris also argues that film and digital give an “unnatural” contrast to images, that does not match our perception.

watch on YouTube

Notes about film words:

Harris mentions an enlarger, which is what still photographers use to project a negative image on to light-sensitive printing paper in the darkroom.
He then refers to two custom 35mm laboratory processes by Technicolor: ENR and Oz, which are similar methods for increasing the contrast of motion picture film by adding silver via an additional bath of chemicals.
When Harris says he “pulled” the film, he refers to under-developing the negative at the lab by spending less time in the developer bath. This is the opposite of “pushing”, and yields a softer, less contrasted image.
He also refers to Vision Premier, a Kodak print film stock that offered strong contrast and saturation.



thefilmbook: Harris Savides Interview – The Filmmaking Process
thefilmbook: Christopher Doyle about
Being There & Harris Savides/Gus van Sant
thefilmbook: Harris Savides The Cinematography of Harris Savides
wikipedia: Harris Savides

YouTube: trailer for Elephant by Gus van Sant
YouTube: trailer for American Gangster by Ridley Scott Soup du Jour about ENR and silver retention Kodak 5263


This post is tagged: ,

About Benjamin B

Benjamin B

Benjamin B (a.k.a. Benjamin Bergery) is a journalist, teacher and media artist. He is a European correspondent for American Cinematographer and the author of the book Reflections: 21 Cinematographers at Work. He produces seminars and workshops on the art and technology of cinema; his teaching experience includes posts at MIT and USC. He is the founding editor of Lumières, published by the AFC (French society of cinematographers). He lives in Paris. Email:


  1. Pingback: Harris Savides’ Lighting Rules | FILMS AT MIDNIGHT - for the low-budget indie filmmaker

Leave a Comment: