Gregg Toland

Last updated
Gregg Toland
Gregg Toland.jpg
Gregg Toland in 1947
Gregg Wesley Toland

(1904-05-29)May 29, 1904
DiedSeptember 28, 1948(1948-09-28) (aged 44)
Years active1926–1948
Known forInnovative use of lighting and techniques such as deep focus
Notable work
Citizen Kane
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Grapes of Wrath
The Long Voyage Home
Wuthering Heights
Helen Barclay
(m. 1934;div. 1945)

Virginia Thorpe
(m. 1945;his death 1948)

Gregg Wesley Toland, A.S.C. (May 29, 1904 – September 28, 1948) was an American cinematographer known for his innovative use of techniques such as deep focus, examples of which can be found in his work on Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941), William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath , and The Long Voyage Home (both, 1940). Toland is also known for his work as a director of photography for Wuthering Heights (1939), The Westerner (1940), The Outlaw (1940), Ball of Fire (1941), Song of the South (1946), and The Bishop's Wife (1947).


Over Toland's career he earned six Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography including one win for his work on the film Wuthering Heights . Toland was voted as one of the top 10 most influential cinematographers in the history of film alongside James Wong Howe, Gordon Willis, Sven Nykvist, Vittorio Storaro, and Vilmos Zsigmond, by the International Cinematographers Guild in 2003. [1] [2]


Toland was born in Charleston, Illinois on May 29, 1904 to Jennie, a housekeeper, and Frank Toland. His mother moved to California several years after his parents divorced in 1910.

He first demonstrated his chiaroscuro, side-lit style on the short film The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra (1928), on which one of the two 400W bulbs they had available burned out, leaving only a single bulb to light with.

During the 1930s, Toland became the youngest cameraman in Hollywood but soon one of its most sought-after cinematographers. Over a seven-year span (1936–1942), he was nominated five times for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, including an Academy Award for his work on Wuthering Heights (1939). He worked with many of the leading directors of his era, including John Ford, Howard Hawks, Erich von Stroheim, King Vidor, Orson Welles, and William Wyler.

Just before his death, he was concentrating on the "ultimate focus" lens, which makes both near and far objects equally distinct. "Just before he died he had worked out a new lens with which he had made spectacular shots. He carried in his wallet a strip of film taken with this lens, of which he was very proud. It was a shot of a face three inches from the lens, filling one-third of the left side of the frame. Three feet from the lens, in the center of the foreground, was another face, and then, over a hundred yards away was the rear wall of the studio, showing telephone wires and architectural details. Everything was in focus, from three inches to infinity". [3]

Toland died in his sleep, in Los Angeles, California on September 28, 1948 of coronary thrombosis at age 44. He is interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. [4]

Citizen Kane

Orson Welles and Gregg Toland at work on Citizen Kane (1941); the camera appears to be one of the very few brand-new Mitchell Camera Corp BNCs which were made before the World War II embargo on the manufacture of new production cameras (excepting those intended for the U.S. Army Signal Corps and U.S. allies). Citizen-Kane-Filming-Low-Angle.jpg
Orson Welles and Gregg Toland at work on Citizen Kane (1941); the camera appears to be one of the very few brand-new Mitchell Camera Corp BNCs which were made before the World War II embargo on the manufacture of new production cameras (excepting those intended for the U.S. Army Signal Corps and U.S. allies).

Some film historians believe Citizen Kane 's visual brilliance was due primarily to the contributions of Toland, rather than director Orson Welles. However, many Welles scholars maintain that the visual style of Kane is similar to many of Welles's other films, and hence should be considered the director's work. Nevertheless, the Welles movies that most resemble Citizen Kane ( The Magnificent Ambersons , The Stranger , and Touch of Evil ) were shot by Toland collaborators Stanley Cortez and Russell Metty (at RKO).[ citation needed ]

At the time Kane was produced and released, Welles and Toland (among others) insisted that Welles gave lighting instructions that fall normally under the director of photography's responsibility. Many of the transitions in the film are done as lighting cues on set (such as the transition at the opening of the film from the outside of Xanadu into Kane's bedroom for his death), where lights are dimmed up and down on stage. Apparently, Welles was unaware that one could achieve the effects optically on a film so he instructed the crew to dim the lights the way you would on a theater production, which led to the unique dissolves. Different areas of the frame dissolve at different times, based on the lighting cue. However, the visuals were truly a collaboration, as Toland contributed great amounts of technical expertise that Welles needed so that he could achieve his vision. Years later, Welles acknowledged, "Toland was advising him on camera placement and lighting effects secretly so the young director would not be embarrassed in front of the highly experienced crew." [5]

Cinematography innovations

Toland's techniques were revolutionary in the art of cinematography. Cinematographers before him used a shallow depth of field to separate the various planes on the screen, creating an impression of space as well as stressing what mattered in the frame by leaving the rest (the foreground or background) out of focus. [ citation needed ]

In Toland's lighting schemes, shadow became a much more compelling tool, both dramatically and pictorially, to separate the foreground from the background and so to create space within a two-dimensional frame while keeping all of the picture in focus. According to Toland, this visual style was more comparable with what the eyes see in real life since vision blurs what is not looked at rather than what is. [ citation needed ]

For John Ford's The Long Voyage Home (1940), Toland leaned more heavily on back-projection to create his deep focus compositions, such as the shot of the island women singing to entice the men of the SS Glencairn. He continued to develop the technologies that would allow for him to create his images in Citizen Kane. [ citation needed ]

Deep focus and lighting techniques

Toland innovated extensively on Citizen Kane, creating deep focus on a sound-stage, collaborating with set designer Perry Ferguson so ceilings would be visible in the frame by stretching bleached muslin to stand in as a ceiling, allowing placement of the microphone closer to the action without being seen in frame. He also modified the Mitchell Camera to allow a wider range of movement, especially from low angles. ″It was Toland who devised a remote-control system for focusing his camera lens without having to get in the way of the camera operator who would now be free to pan and tilt the camera." [6]

The main way to achieve deep focus was closing down the aperture, which required increasing the lighting intensity, lenses with better light transmission, and faster film stock. On Citizen Kane, the cameras and coated lenses used were of Toland's own design working in conjunction with engineers from Caltech. His lenses were treated with Vard Opticoat [7] to reduce glare and increase light transmission. He used the Kodak Super XX film stock, which was, at the time, the fastest film available, with an ASA film speed of 100. Toland had worked closely with a Kodak representative during the stock's creation before its release in October 1938, and was one of the first cinematographers using it heavily on set. [8]

Lens apertures employed on most productions were usually within the f/2.3 to f/3.5 range; Toland shot his scenes in between f/8 and f/16. This was possible because several elements of technology came together at once: the technicolor three strip process, which required the development of more powerful lights, had been developed and the more powerful Carbon Arc light was beginning to be used. By utilizing these lights with the faster stock, Toland was able to achieve apertures previously unattainable on a stage shoot. [9]

Optical print shots and in-camera composites

Gregg Toland collaborated on a number of shots with special-effects cinematographer Linwood G. Dunn. Although these looked like they were using deep focus, they were actually a composite of two different shots. Some of these shots were composited with an optical printer, a device which Dunn improved upon over the years, which explains why foreground and background are both in focus even though the lenses and film stock used in 1941 could not allow for such depth of field. [ citation needed ]

But Toland strongly disliked this technique, since he felt he was "duping," (i.e. a copy of a copy) thereby lowering the quality of his shots. Thus other shots (like the shot of Susan Alexander Kane's bedroom after her suicide attempt, with a glass in the foreground and Kane entering the room in the background) were in-camera composites, meaning the film was exposed twice—another technique that Linwood Dunn improved upon. [ citation needed ]

Citizen Kane and The Long Voyage Home

Toland had already had experience with heavy in-camera compositing, and many of the shots in Kane look similar in composition and dynamics to a number of shots in Ford's The Long Voyage Home.

For instance, both movies contain shots that create an artificial lighting situation such that a character is lit in the background and walks or runs through dark areas to the foreground, where his arrival triggers, off-screen, a light not on before. The result is so visually dramatic because a character moves, only barely visible, through vast pools of shadow, only to exit the shadow very close to the camera, where his whole face is suddenly completely lit. This use of much more shadow than light, soon one of the main techniques of low-key lighting, heavily influenced film noir.

The Long Voyage Home and Citizen Kane share a number of other striking similarities:


The final ending title card for Citizen Kane, placing Toland on same card as Orson Welles, the director, because Welles felt he deserved it. Title Card for Citizen Kane.jpg
The final ending title card for Citizen Kane , placing Toland on same card as Orson Welles, the director, because Welles felt he deserved it.

In addition to sharing a title card with Toland on Kane — an indication of the high esteem the director held for his cameraman — Welles also gave him a cameo in the film as the reporter who is slow to ask questions when Kane returns from Europe.

Toland was the subject of an "Annals of Hollywood" article in The New Yorker, "The Cameraman," by Hilton Als (June 19, 2006, p. 46).

Other important works

Although Citizen Kane is his most highly regarded achievement, his style was much more varied. For The Grapes of Wrath (1940), he took inspiration from Dorothea Lange's photographs, achieving a rare (for Hollywood) gritty and realist look. For one of his final projects, Toland turned to Technicolor film. Made for Disney, the Song of the South (1946) combined animation with live action in bright, deeply saturated Technicolor. In The Best Years of Our Lives (also 1946) his deep focus cinematography served to highlight all the aspects of the characters' lives. [10]

Service during World War II

When the Office of the Coordinator of Information (predecessor to the Office of Strategic Services and later the Central Intelligence Agency) was created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt before the United States' entry into World War II, Toland was recruited to work in the agency's film unit. [11] Toland was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Navy's camera department, which led to his only work as a director, December 7th: The Movie (1943); this documentary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which Toland co-directed with John Ford, is so realistic in its restaged footage that many today mistake it for actual attack footage. This 82-minute film took the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject).


As a cinematographer

1928 The Life and Death of 9413:
A Hollywood Extra
Robert Florey
Slavko Vorkapić
co-cinematographer with Paul Ivano
1929 Queen Kelly Erich Von Stroheim uncredited
cinematographer of European ending directed by Richard Boleslawski
1929 The Trespasser Edmund Goulding co-cinematographer with George Barnes
1929 Bulldog Drummond F. Richard Jones
1929 This Is Heaven Alfred Santell
1929 Condemned Wesley Ruggles
1930 Raffles George Fitzmaurice
1930 Whoopee! Thornton Freeland co-cinematographer with Lee Garmes and Ray Rennahan
1930 The Devil to Pay! George Fitzmauriceco-cinematographer with George Barnes
1931 Indiscreet Leo McCarey co-cinematographer with Ray June
1931 One Heavenly Night George Fitzmauriceco-cinematographer with George Barnes
1931 Street Scene King Vidor
1931 Palmy Days A. Edward Sutherland
1931 The Unholy Garden George Fitzmaurice
1931 Tonight or Never Mervyn LeRoy
1932 Play Girl Ray Enright
1932 Man Wanted William Dieterle
1932 The Tenderfoot Ray Enright
1932 The Washington Masquerade Charles Brabin
1932 The Kid from Spain Leo McCarey
1933 The Masquerader Richard Wallace
1933 The Nuisance Jack Conway
1933 Tugboat Annie Mervyn LeRoy
1933 Roman Scandals Frank Tuttle
1934 Nana Dorothy Arzner
George Fitzmaurice
1934 Lazy River George B. Seitz
1934 We Live Again Rouben Mamoulian
1934 Forsaking All Others W. S. Van Dyke
1935 Les Misérables Richard Boleslawski
1935 Public Hero No. 1 J. Walter Ruben
1935 The Dark Angel Sidney Franklin
1935 Splendor Elliott Nugent
1935 Mad Love Karl Freund
1935 The Wedding Night King Vidor
1936 The Road to Glory Howard Hawks
1936 These Three William Wyler
1936 Come and Get It Howard Hawks
William Wyler
co-cinematographer with Rudolph Maté
1936 Beloved Enemy H. C. Potter
1937 History Is Made at Night Frank Borzage co-cinematographer with David Abel
1937 Woman Chases Man John G. Blystone
1937 Dead End William Wyler
1938 The Goldwyn Follies George Marshall
1938 Kidnapped Alfred L. Werker
1938 The Cowboy and the Lady H. C. Potter
1939 Intermezzo Gregory Ratoff
1939 Wuthering Heights William Wyler
1939 Raffles Sam Wood
1939 They Shall Have Music Archie Mayo
1940 The Grapes of Wrath John Ford
1940 The Long Voyage Home
1940 The Westerner William Wyler
1940 The Outlaw Howard Hughes released 1943
1941 Citizen Kane Orson Welles
1941 The Little Foxes William Wyler
1941 Ball of Fire Howard Hawks
1943 December 7th: The Movie Gregg Toland
John Ford
co-director and cinematographer
1946 The Best Years of Our Lives William Wyler
1946 Song of the South Harve Foster
1946 The Kid from Brooklyn Norman Z. McLeod
1947 The Bishop's Wife Henry Koster
1948 A Song is Born Howard Hawks
1948 Enchantment Irving Reis

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards

1935 Best Cinematography Les Misérables Nominated [12]
1937 Best Cinematography Dead End Nominated
1939 Best Cinematography, Black-and-White Wuthering Heights Won
Intermezzo: A Love Story Nominated
1940 The Long Voyage Home Nominated
1941 Citizen Kane Nominated
1943 Documentary Short Subject December 7th: The Movie Won [13]


The results of a survey conducted in 2003 by the International Cinematographers Guild placed Toland in the top ten of history's most influential cinematographers. [14]

The 2006 Los Angeles edition of CineGear assembled a distinguished panel composed of Owen Roizman, László Kovács, Daryn Okada, Rodrigo Prieto, Russell Carpenter, Dariusz Wolski, and others. Called "Dialogue With ASC Cinematographers," the panel was asked to name two or three other cinematographers, living or dead, who had influenced their work or whom they considered to be the best of the best. Each panel member cited Gregg Toland first.

Related Research Articles

<i>Citizen Kane</i> 1941 film by Orson Welles

Citizen Kane is a 1941 American drama film produced and directed by Orson Welles, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Herman J. Mankiewicz. The picture was Welles's first feature film. Considered by many critics and filmmakers to be the greatest film ever made, Citizen Kane was voted number 1 in five consecutive British Film Institute Sight & Sound polls of critics, and it topped the American Film Institute's 100 Years ... 100 Movies list in 1998, as well as its 2007 update. Nominated for Academy Awards in nine categories, it won an Academy Award for Best Writing by Mankiewicz and Welles. Citizen Kane is praised for Gregg Toland's cinematography, Robert Wise's editing, Bernard Herrmann's music, and its narrative structure, all of which have been considered innovative and precedent-setting.

Cinematography Art of motion picture photography

Cinematography is the art of motion-picture photography and filming either electronically by means of an image sensor, or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as film stock. Cinematographers use a lens to focus reflected light from objects into a real image that is transferred to some image sensor or light-sensitive material inside a movie camera. These exposures are created sequentially and preserved for later processing and viewing as a motion picture. Capturing images with an electronic image sensor produces an electrical charge for each pixel in the image, which is electronically processed and stored in a video file for subsequent processing or display. Images captured with photographic emulsion result in a series of invisible latent images on the film stock, which are chemically "developed" into a visible image. The images on the film stock are projected for viewing the motion picture.

Andrew Lesnie Australian cinematographer

Andrew Lesnie ACS ASC was an Australian cinematographer. He was best known as the cinematographer for The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–2003) and its prequel The Hobbit trilogy (2012–2014), both directed by New Zealand director Peter Jackson. He received the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in 2002.

Camera operator

A camera operator, or depending on the context cameraman or camerawoman, is a professional operator of a film camera or video camera as part of a film crew. The term "cameraman" does not imply that a male is performing the task.

Robert Surtees (cinematographer)

Robert L. Surtees, A.S.C. was an American cinematographer who won three Academy Awards for the films King Solomon's Mines, The Bad and the Beautiful and the 1959 version of Ben Hur. Surtees worked at various studios, including Universal, UFA, Warner Brothers, and MGM, lighting for notable directors Howard Hawks, Mike Nichols, and William Wyler, gaining him a reputation as one of the most versatile cinematographers of his time.

James Wong Howe Chinese-born American film director and cinematographer

Wong Tung Jim, A.S.C., known professionally as James Wong Howe (Houghto), was a Chinese-born American cinematographer who worked on over 130 films. During the 1930s and 1940s, he was one of the most sought after cinematographers in Hollywood due to his innovative filming techniques. Howe was known as a master of the use of shadow and one of the first to use deep-focus cinematography, in which both foreground and distant planes remain in focus.

Lucien Ballard American cinematographer

Lucien Ballard, A.S.C. was an American cinematographer. He worked on more than 130 films during his 50-year career, collaborating multiple times with directors including Josef von Sternberg, John Brahm, Henry Hathaway, Budd Boetticher, Raoul Walsh, Sam Peckinpah and Tom Gries. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for The Caretakers (1963).

Deep focus

Deep focus is a photographic and cinematographic technique using a large depth of field. Depth of field is the front-to-back range of focus in an image, or how much of it appears sharp and clear. In deep focus, the foreground, middle ground, and background are all in focus.

Raoul Coutard was a French cinematographer. He is best known for his connection with the Nouvelle Vague period and particularly for his work with director Jean-Luc Godard. Coutard also shot films for New Wave director François Truffaut as well as Jacques Demy, a contemporary frequently associated with the movement.

Joseph Francis Biroc, ASC was an American cinematographer. He was born in New York City and began working in films at the Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey. After working there for approximately six years, he moved to Los Angeles. Once in Southern California, Biroc worked at the RKO Pictures movie studio. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and filmed the Liberation of Paris in August 1944. In 1950, Biroc left RKO Pictures and freelanced on projects at various studios. In addition to his film work, which included It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), Biroc worked on various television series, including the Adventures of Superman and Wonder Woman. He frequently collaborated with film director Robert Aldrich.

Karl Freund German film director and cinematographer

Karl W. Freund, A.S.C. was an Austrian cinematographer and film director best known for photographing Metropolis (1927), Dracula (1931), and television's I Love Lucy (1951-1957). Freund was an innovator in the field of cinematography and is credited with the invention of the unchained camera technique.

Darius Khondji Iranian-French cinematographer

Darius KhondjiAFC, ASC is an Iranian-French cinematographer. Khondji has worked with a number of high-profile directors, including David Fincher, Woody Allen, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Roman Polanski, Wong Kar-wai, Michael Haneke, Danny Boyle, Philippe Parreno, Bong Joon-ho, Nicolas Winding Refn, Paul Thomas Anderson, the Safdie brothers and Alejandro G. Iñárritu. He was nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award for Evita, and has been nominated for three César Awards.

Subrata Mitra was an Indian cinematographer. Acclaimed for his work in The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959), Mitra often is considered one of the great Indian cinematographers.

Linwood G. Dunn, A.S.C. was an American pioneer of visual special effects in motion pictures and an inventor of related technology. Dunn worked on many films and television series, including the original 1933 King Kong (1933), Citizen Kane (1941), and Star Trek (1966–69).

Leslie Robert Burks, A.S.C. was an American cinematographer known for being proficient in virtually every genre, equally at home with black-and-white or color, and for his many collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock.

Hal Mohr American cinematographer

Hal Mohr, A.S.C. was a famed movie cinematographer. He is known for his Oscar-winning work on the 1935 film, A Midsummer Night's Dream. He was awarded another Oscar for his work on The Phantom of the Opera in 1943, and received a nomination for The Four Poster in 1952.

John Alcott, BSC was an English cinematographer known for his four collaborations with director Stanley Kubrick: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), for which he took over as lighting cameraman from Geoffrey Unsworth in mid-shoot, A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), the film for which he won his Oscar, and The Shining (1980). Alcott died from a heart attack in Cannes, France in July 1986; he was 55. He received a tribute at the end of his last film No Way Out starring Kevin Costner.

David Russell Boyd, A.S.C. is an American cinematographer and director of television and film known for his role as director of photography for the FOX television series Firefly and the AMC series The Walking Dead. He also worked as cinematographer on the first three episodes of HBO's Deadwood. On the NBC television series Friday Night Lights he served as director of photography on 18 of 22 episodes in the first season and moved up to direct two more. He also directed the film Home Run, which was released in 2013.

Gary Graver

Gary Foss Graver was an American film director, editor, screenwriter and cinematographer. He was a prolific filmmaker, working in various roles on over 300 films, but is best known as Orson Welles' final cinematographer, working over a period of six years on Welles' epic film The Other Side of the Wind which was released in 2018, 48 years after it was started.

Willy Kurant was a Belgian cinematographer.


  1. "Top 10 Most Influential Cinematographers Voted on by Camera Guild" (Press release). Los Angeles: Yahoo Finance. PRNewswire. October 16, 2003. Archived from the original on October 19, 2003. Retrieved February 26, 2020.
  2. "ICG Announces Top 10 Influential Cinematographers". Creative Planet Network. 2014-06-09. Archived from the original on 2017-09-07. Retrieved 2017-12-21.
  3. Wyler, William. Sequence #8, Summer 1949, p. 09
  4. "Gregg Toland (1904 - 1948) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2016-02-27.
  5. Gregg Toland
  6. Wallace, Roger Dale “Gregg Toland—His Contributions to Cinema,” University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, 1976. p. 35
  7. Ogle, Patrick “Technological and Aesthetic Influences Upon the Development of Deep Focus Cinematography in the United States,” Screen vol. 13, no. 1, Spring 1972. p. 95-96. Among the many technical advances discussed by Ogle in his article is the “Vard” opticoating system, where chemicals are applied to the lenses enabling an increase in speed such that the lens can be further stopped down, creating more depth of field. Developed at Caltech with the input of Toland, they were scarce before their use in Kane, the only major example being the use of Bausch & Lomb lenses for the projection of Gone with the Wind in theatres.
  8. Dale, Wallace Roger “Gregg Toland—His Contributions to Cinema,” University Microfilms International, 1976 p. 48
  9. Mitchell, George: “A Great Cameraman,” Films in Review, December 1956, p. 508.
  10. Wallace, p. 154. “Obviously, Best Years performed no greater function than that of forcing people to focus, much in the fashion of Toland’s camera, on all the elements that constituted the reality of the times.
  11. P. 111 in Persico, Joseph E. 2001. Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage. New York: Random House. 536 pp.
  12. "Gregg Toland - Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  13. "New York Times: December 7th". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times . Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-05-20. Retrieved 2008-05-26.
  14. "Top 10 Most Influential Cinematographers Voted on by Camera Guild," October 16, 2003. Retrieved January 28, 2011.