Subrata Mitra (Bengali: সুব্রত মিত্র, 12 October 1930 – 7 December 2001) was an Indian cinematographer. Acclaimed for his work in The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959), Mitra is often considered one of the greatest of Indian cinematographers.
At the age of 21, Mitra, who had never before operated a motion picture camera, began his career as a cinematographer with Satyajit Ray, the legendary Indian film maker, for Pather Panchali (1955).He continued to work with him for many of Ray’s later films. He is known for pioneering the technique of bounce lighting, while filming The Apu Trilogy. He was also a cousin of the renowned singer Uma Bose.
From 1997 until his death, Mitra taught cinematography at the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) at Kolkata.
One of his most important technical innovations was his introduction of bounce lighting, which he pioneered while filming Aparajito (1956), the second part of The Apu Trilogy. According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Cinematographers:
Mitra made his first technical innovation while shooting Aparajito. The fear of monsoon rain had forced the art director, Bansi Chandragupta, to abandon the original plan to build the inner courtyard of a typical Benares house in the open and the set was built inside a studio in Calcutta. Mitra recalls arguing in vain with both Chandragupta and Ray about the impossibilities of simulating shadowless diffused skylight. But this led him to innovate what became subsequently his most important tool – bounce lighting. Mitra placed a framed painter white cloth over the set resembling a patch of sky and arranged studio lights below to bounce off the fake sky.
His director Satyajit Ray also stated:
You know, about seven or eight years after Pather Panchali was made, I read an article in American Cinematographer written by Sven Nykvist — at the time of Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, I think — claiming the invention of bounced light. But we had been using it since 1954.