Jon Sayers Director of Photography

For over 20 years I've been shooting documentaries for UK and international filmmakers on a wide range of subjects. I've worked in most environments around the world, on projects that range from intimate stories to documenting large events or institutions. Whatever the scale of the film, I try to capture the subject cinematically, attuned to the nuances of life in front of me, and always with the aim of looking beyond the surface of things to try and uncover the meaning and significance that lies hidden.

I came to filmmaking via a degree in modern history and a love of the work of documentary stills photographers. After university, I worked for a year as a studio manager in London and that experience, combined with a portfolio of stills and short films, secured me a place at film school where I focussed on shooting documentaries.

The huge variety of experiences that documentary filmmaking has exposed me to is one of the many joys of my work but it’s the collaborative nature of filmmaking that is the most important and satisfying to me. Building long lasting relationships with directors, to understand their sensibility and ambitions for the film, and with the subjects of the film is central to this. For me, listening is the most important tool I can bring to these relationships.

The style of cinematography, composition, camera movement and lighting all flow from this. There is an important technical aspect to filming but I try to push that into the background as much as possible so that it doesn’t overwhelm the subject. Gimbals, drones and other grip equipment can bring another layer of visual sophistication to a film when used appropriately but, whatever style and visual approach is decided upon, it's vital to create a calm and focussed filming environment. It's in this space, that a subject really reveals themselves and often a handheld camera is the most direct, discreet and responsive approach to capture these moments in a  coherent and cinematic way.

Awards and Nominations

Arctic Live Guild of Television Cameramen Nomination for Excellence 2017
Countdown to Life Grierson Nomination for Best Science Documentary 2016
Guild of Television Cameramen Award for Excellence 2016
Britain's Forgotten Slave Owners Royal Historical Society Public History Prize 2015
RTS Best History Documentary and Best Presenter 2016
BAFTA Winner Specialist Factual 2016
Grierson Nomination Best History Documentary 2016
The Widowmaker Mass Impact Award Boston Film Festival 2014
Inside Claridges Press Critics Award Best Factual Series 2012
The Force BAFTA Best Director Factual 2010
Grierson Winner Best Documentary Series 2010
Russian Godfathers Grierson Winner Best Documentary Series 2006
The National Trust BAFTA Winner Best Factual Series 2004
Grierson Winner Best Documentary Series 2004
The Launderette Sheffield Documentary Festival Screening 2006
The History of Islam in Europe Selection for Prix d'Italia 2004
Calling Hedy Lamar Honourable mention at 57th Locarno Film Festival 2004