The Harry Potter series is full of excellent cinematography, but which shots stand out the most?
In a film series packed to the brim with content, it’s the simpler scenes in the Harry Potter series that have always interested me the most. With a total of four directors and six cinematographers, each film presents its own unique cinematic style. Check out my picks for the 7 most magical shots below!
The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – Directed by Alfonso Cuarón – Cinematography by Michael Seresin
The third installment in the Harry Potter series is the first in which we really got a sense of just how big the Hogwarts grounds really were. I’m a sucker for landscapes, so I couldn’t pass up choosing this shot from the Alfonso Cuarón-directed film. Famous for films such as Children of Men and Gravity, Cuarón brought a cinematic style to the film series that hadn’t been explored in the previous films. In fact, I had about 14 possible shots from this film that could all rightfully be included on this list.
In this shot, we see Hogwarts from across the lake, dwarfed by the surrounding hills. It’s a very dark scene, with the sun obscured by clouds in the overcast sky, but what makes this shot so interesting are the vibrant shocks of red found in the vegetation in the foreground. Without this detail, the shot would still serve its purpose, but with it, is elevated to a whole other level.
The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) – Animated sequence directed by Ben Hibon – Cinematography by Framestore
When the first-half of the last installment in the Harry Potter series came out, people couldn’t stop talking about the surprisingly haunting but absolutely beautiful animated sequence. A first for the series, the sequence depicts “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” the old wizard’s tale about the Peverell Brothers and their Deathly Hallows.
Led by director Ben Hibon, London-based visual effects studio Framestore provided the animated sequence for the film. In this shot, we see the brothers as they magically summon a bridge, which grows beneath them like vines, connecting on the other side. The use of layers in this shot, as well as selective focus is really what makes it so breathtaking, not to mention the silhouetted aesthetic that can be found within the entire sequence. Framestore set out to make something that truly fit inside the world of Harry Potter, and I think they succeeded wonderfully.
The Half-Blood Prince (2009) – Directed by David Yates – Cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel
In this infamous scene from the Half-Blood Prince, Gryffindor Katie Bell is cursed when her hand accidentally grazes a tampered-with necklace sent to kill Dumbledore. One of the more haunting scenes in the book, director David Yates and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel very effectively recreated this scene for the screen.
This image of Katie sprawled out in the sky while the other characters watch in horror is a terrifying one, but it’s really her red sweater contrasted against the white snow that makes this shot so incredible. As well, the decision to show Katie and the other character in full frame, rather than only cutting back and forth between them, makes for a much more interesting shot.
The Order of the Phoenix (2007) – Directed by David Yates – Cinematography by Sławomir Idziak
Like I said earlier, I’m a sucker for landscapes, so naturally, I chose this shot from the very beginning of the Order of the Phoenix. Much of what makes this shot so interesting is the location, which looks as though it belongs somewhere in the American mid-west rather than in Little Whinging, Surrey. Also, just look at that sky. The blue clashes incredibly with the yellow grass, and the red swing-set vibrantly cuts through the frame.
The reason I like this shot so much is because, up until this point, we hadn’t seen anything like it in the Harry Potter series, and that’s part of what great cinematography is. It is the ability to show us something we haven’t seen before, or something we have seen, but in a new way.
The Goblet of Fire (2005) – Directed by Mike Newell – Cinematography by Roger Pratt
Even before I began my research for this feature, I knew I wanted to include this shot from the fourth installment in the Harry Potter series. the Goblet of Fire is the first in the series that really broke out of the tried and true Harry Potter formula. No longer were we starting our journey at 4 Privet Drive, but on the way to the Quidditch World Cup.
In this shot, the camera pushes in through the tall grass to land on a seemingly insignificant object -– an old boot, recreating the chapter image by Mary GrandPré from the book. The simplicity of this shot is really what makes it so magical. With the sun coming up over the horizon, the characters, ground, and grass are all silhouetted against it, creating a striking image that would look right at home in a film playing at your local independent theater.
The Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) – Directed by Chris Columbus – Cinematography by John Seale
Cinematographer John Seale’s work can most recently be found in this year’s smash hit, Mad Max: Fury Road, but nearly 15 years ago, Seale lent his talent to the first installment in the Harry Potter series. In this shot, we find Keeper, Oliver Wood, sprawled out on the Quidditch pitch after being hit by a bludger.
What’s so amazing in this shot is the color. The shock of Gryffindor crimson against the pale sand, coupled with a one-point perspective that would make Stanley Kubrick proud. It’s a very minimal shot with a lot of negative space, which is why it’s so memorable. In a film with wizards, witches, and trolls, “minimal” is not often a word used to describe every frame.
The Half-Blood Prince (2009) – Directed by David Yates – Cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel
Say what you will about the sixth installment in the Harry Potter series, but it’s a damn good-looking movie, and this shot is a perfect example of that. If there was ever a shot in a Harry Potter film that could be a painting, this is it.
What makes this shot so great is a combination of many factors at work within the frame. The composition is fantastic, to the garden fork poking out of the dirt on the left, to the arrangement of characters on the right, and, of course, to the shot’s focal point, the giant, dead Acromantula, smack-dab in the center of the frame, the composition really serves to elevate this strange, sad scene. If it looks to you like any of this was an accident, director David Yates and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel have done their jobs. It looks effortless, but in reality, a lot of consideration went into blocking out this shot.
The most impressive decision within this shot is one that was made for the entire film, and one that makes this installment the most easily recognizable at first glance. The decision to color the film using mostly tans and browns, while allowing certain colors, such as red and green, to really pop. This, mixed with the soft-focus used throughout Half-Blood Prince gives this shot, and the film, a very paint-like quality.
These are my seven most magical shots in the Harry Potter series, but I want to hear yours. Let me know in the comment section below!
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