25 Perfect Shots in Documentary

As part of the media company that owns One Perfect Shot, the Nonfics team selected some perfect documentary shots.

documentary shots

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In case you haven’t heard, our sister site Film School Rejects just announced acquisition of One Perfect Shot (@oneperfectshot), and the latter will be folding into FSR this week. In honor of the special occasion, Nonfics is sharing 25 favorite documentary shots, compiled by editors Christopher Campbell and Daniel Walber. These aren’t necessarily the best shots of all time and certainly isn’t the extent of what we love. Maybe we’ll do another list or 10 down the line. What this crop consists of are merely great, maybe even truly perfect shots from essential nonfiction films.

Apologies if some aren’t the original aspect ratio or the best quality files. It’s not as easy to find doc shots online as it is fiction classics. We welcome you all to share your own favorites down below.

Samsara (2011)

Director of Photography: Ron Fricke
Director: Ron Fricke
Bagan, Myanmar, from above.

documentary shots samsara

The Russian Woodpecker (2015)

Director of Photography: Artem Ryzhykov
Director: Chad Gracia
Fedor Alexandrovich explores an abandoned building in Chernobyl.


Harlan County U.S.A. (1976)

Director of Photography: Kevin Keating and Hart Perry
Director: Barbara Kopple
Miners ride a conveyor belt into the mine.


Employees Leaving the Lumiere Factory (1895)

Director of Photography: Louis Lumiere
Director: Louis Lumiere
Employees leave the Lumiere Factory.


Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)

Director of Photography: Maryse Alberti and Greg Andracke (below archival image photographed by Jehad Nga)
Director: Alex Gibney
American soldiers stand over a line of detainees during a dust storm in Iraq.


Lessons of Darkness (1992)

Director of Photography: Paul Berriff and Rainer Klausmann
Director: Werner Herzog
Oil fires in Kuwait.


Last Train Home (2009)

Director of Photography: Lixin Fan
Director: Lixin Fan
The Zhangs navigate through a huge crowd to the train that will take them back to their village for the holidays.


Portrait of Jason (1967)

Director of Photography: Jeri Sopanen
Director: Shirley Clarke
Jason Holliday continues to drink and smoke and tell his story, now in a sitting position on the floor.

Jason Holliday (Aaron Payne), star of Shirley Clarke's PORTRAIT OF JASON. A 1967 documentary restored by the Academy Film Archive and Milestone Film.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

Director of Photography: Seth Gordon
Director: Seth Gordon
Billy Mitchell, real American villain, is introduced.

documentary shots king of kong

The Cove (2009)

Director of Photography: Brook Aitken
Director: Louie Psihoyos
The cove turns to a deep red as the slaughter of dolphins fills the waters with blood.

About 2300 dolphins are slaughtered for food every year in this secret cove near Taiji, Japan filmed with covert cameras by the Oceanic Preservation Society. Even though the meat is toxic the Japanese government sanctions the use of the mercury laced meat for school lunch programs. Secret Dolphin Cove in Taiji Japan, site of annual dolphin slaughter

Pour la Suite due Monde (1963)

Director of Photography: Michel Brault, Marcel Carriere, Bernard Gosselin and Pierre Perrault
Directors: Michel Brault and Pierre Perrault
Residents of L’Isle-aux-Coudres, Quebec, conduct a traditional Beluga Whale hunt.


Don’t Look Back (1967)

Directors of Photography: Howard Alk, Jones Alk, Ed Emshwiller, D.A. Pennebaker
Director: D.A. Pennebaker
Bob Dylan presents another cue card in the music video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues” as Allen Ginsberg stands in the background.


Waltz With Bashir (2008)

Director: Ari Folman
A soldier dreams of riding a giant naked woman out to sea.


Shoah (1985)

Directors of Photography: Dominique Chapuis, Jimmy Glasberg, Phil Gries and William Lubtchansky
Director: Claude Lanzmann
The tracks leading to the entrance of the gatehouse at Birkenau.

documentary shots shoah

Titicut Follies (1967)

Director of Photography: John Marshall
Director: Frederick Wiseman
A patient-inmate of Bridgewater State Hospital plays trombone in the courtyard.


In the Street (1948)

Directors of Photography: Helen Levitt, Janice Loeb, James Agee
Directors: Helen Levitt, Janice Loeb, James Agee
An East Harlem boy dances in his Halloween costume.


Leviathan (2012)

Directors of Photography: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel
Directors: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel
A flock of birds flies past the fishing vessel.


F For Fake (1973)

Director of Photography: Francois Reichenbach
Director: Orson Welles
A pretty scene of Orson Welles and his reflections, but is it rare?

documentary shots f for fake

Man With a Movie Camera (1929)

Director of Photography: Mikhail Kaufman
Director: Dziga Vertov
A cameraman dominates the city he documents.


From the East (1993)

Director of Photography: Bernard Delville and Raymond Fromont
Director: Chantal Akerman
A line of people watch the camera, somewhere in Eastern Europe.


Gimme Shelter (1970)

Directors of Photography: Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Gary Weis
Directors: Albert Maysles and David Maysles
Mick Jagger fronts the Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden before thousands of fans.

documentary shots gimme shelter

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Directors of Photography: Robert Chappell and Stefan Czapsky
Director: Errol Morris
The literal and metaphoric smoking gun.

documentary shots thin blue line

Lousiana Story (1948)

Director of Photography: Richard Leacock
Director: Robert Flaherty
A Cajun boy navigates a Louisiana bayou.


Marwencol (2010)

Directors of Photography: Jeff Malmberg, Tom Putnam, Matt Radecki and Kevin W. Walsh
Director: Jeff Malmberg
Mark Hogancamp’s action figure surrogate poses with his bride while four SS soldiers from their feet.


Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

Director of Photography: Ron Fricke
Director: Godfrey Reggio
The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station overlooks sunbathers on a beach.

documentary shots koyaanisqatsi

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