If I have a good lens and a camera that is steady, that’s enough. I’m not crazy about the new toys that come up each year. I like simplicity. It’s taken me 30 years to come up with simplicity. So I don’t use diffusion filters or colour filters on the lens. I use colour filters on the lights, because if you use it on the camera and it’s not right, then the labs cannot do anything about it. But if you are clean–no filters at all–you can get the same result in the lab.
On Winter Light (1963) we tried to find out something about film lighting: how do we light to make it look real? The French Nouvelle Vague directors were then shooting on location. So, we started to shoot on location in Sweden, and I found I could get a much more realistic atmosphere.
This also applied to composition. We were so restricted that we were simple, because we didn’t have a choice. That helped me later when I came into the studio. I asked for a ceiling on the set so that I wouldn’t be able to use lights. Bergman and I promised each other that we would not have any shadows at all. So we started to use indirect lighting-bounced lighting. Except for the 30 seconds when sunlight walks through the church; the light we used is important and has meaning.
"Sufficient time is rarely taken to study light. It is as important as the lines the actors speak, or the direction given to them. It is an integral part of the story and that is why such close coordination is needed between director and cinematographer. Light is a treasure chest: once properly understood, it can bring another dimension to the medium… As I worked with Ingmar, I learned how to express in light the words in the script, and make it reflect the nuances of the drama. Light became a passion which has dominated my life."
“Light can be gentle, dangerous, dreamlike, bare, living, dead, misty, clear, hot, dark, violet, springlike, falling, straight, sensual, limited, poisonous, calm and soft.”
— Sven Nykvist (pictured here with Ingmar Bergman)
“Erland going up and down the ladder like a firefighter, grumbling that he had never in his life had to work out as much as during the shooting of Tarkovsky’s film and complaining that he would soon have the biceps of King Kong. Kerstin Eriksdotter suggested that we rename the film The Ladder. ‘Why not? The Ladder sound rather good,’ Andrei agreed, adding: ‘Gogol asked for a ladder before he died.’”
“For a long time, Sven Nykvist was puzzled by Andrei’s constant peering through the lens. It even bothered him, until Andrei explained to him that only after looking through the viewfinder of the camera was he able to visualise the mise-en-scène .”
I once heard an anecdote about the great cinematographer, Sven Nykvist.
It was in-between setups on the set of Bergman’s Through a Glass, Darkly and Nykvist was relaxing under a tree with a fellow crew member. A production assistant came over to tell Nykvist that he was needed on set immediately.
The crew member with whom he was sharing a moment of relaxation, turned to him and said: “Sven, let’s hurry, they need you.” Nykvist turned back and replied “No rush, without us, it’s radio”.