Are these lenses the secret to winning an Emmy for cinematography?

Behind the scenes images on the set of the TV show Black Bird
(Image credit: Panavision | Black Bird)

Cinematographer Natalie Kingston made history as the first woman to win an Emmy for "Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited or Anthology Series" in 2024 for her work on the Apple TV series Black Bird and has shared some behind-the-scenes insights on her work.  

From a child, I have been fascinated by behind-the-scenes segments that show how TV shows and films are created, often searching for additional features on the VHS or DVD box. I recently got that same hit of fascination and inspiration in equal measure when viewing a video by Panavision, whereby cinematographer Natalie Kingston takes us through her approach, inspiration, and the Panavision equipment used to create the hit show, Black Bird. Panavision lenses are among the best cine lenses on the market, and you can see why by the show's signature look.  

Black Bird was one of the standout shows of 2022, gaining multiple Emmy and Golden Globe award nominations including best TV mini-series. The show follows a criminal who gets sentenced to 10 years in prison but is offered a deal for a reduced sentence if he can draw a confession from a fellow inmate. Filmed in a prison in New Orleans, the aesthetics of the show set the tone and Kingston took inspiration from one of photography's greats - Gordan Parks. 

The Atmosphere of Crime was a series created by Gordan Parks on assignment for LIFE Magazine, in which he photographed in several prisons around the US, producing a haunting yet captivating body of work - a photography series I recommend that everyone checks out! Kingston drew upon his work with natural light in this series, along with Park's color palette. 

"The way he used natural light was just stunning, and there was this very subdued pastel-like color palette with very rich contrast, that was like the visual thesis of Black Bird, and I took that and ran with it", Kingston states. 

Taron Edgerton in the TV show Black Bird (Image credit: Panavision | Black Bird)

Kingston has been working with Panavision since the start of her career in filmmaking and shot Black Bird with Panavision H Series lenses on an ARRI Alexa Mini LF camera, which would offer similar pastel colors but still render rich and realistic skin tones. Another attraction of these lenses is their timeless quality. 

Panavision states, "The true vintage glass offers slightly elevated blacks for softer contrast. The combined characteristics result in a sculptured image that transcends the sterility of digital sensors". 

These lenses have been used in many mainstream movies and TV shows, and it is easy to see why they are such a hit. The H Series lenses offer a soft transition from foreground to background, and produce natural skin tone quality, making it ideal for shooting portraits. Panavision offers rental services to the filmmaking industry all over the world, covering everything you could need from pre- to post-production.   

You don't need the most expensive cine cameras and lenses to create beautiful movies and videos. Check out our guides on the best cameras for filmmaking, the best Netflix-approved cameras, and the best hybrid cameras for both video and photography. 

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Kalum Carter
Staff Writer

Kalum Carter is a UK-based photographer, writer, and photo editor. Kalum has been working as a freelance photographer for the best part of ten years, covering a wide range of assignments for well-known brands and publications in areas including portraiture, fashion, and documentary. 

Between commercial assignments, Kalum is currently working on a personal photography project exploring his connection to the Gower region of South Wales UK, as part of an MA in Photography from The University of West England.