I think you should start from the very beginning, from the early films of Lumiere and Edison up until now, the pioneers like Melies, Edwin Porter, etc, shot films in one long take, using a wide shot, so it wasn't defined into cinematic terms as we know now, at least not until D.W. Griffith created cinematic language, and defined it with cutting, giving each frame dramatic context and heighten emotionality. In short, what gives a cinematographer his/her style is their ability to put images together, making them mean something. I believe in the early days, there weren't any cinematographers, or at least credited. It didn't become a recognized profession until the silent film era early 20s.
I think you could start with someone like Gregg Toland. For instance, the visual style differed between his work with Orson Welles, William Wyler, and John Ford. I think if you watch Citizen Kane, Grapes of Wrath, and The Little Foxes you'll see how visual style differs depending on the story and film, and of course the director. The Little Foxes had more of a stage quality, as it mostly deals in interiors, but his style opens up more in films like Grapes of Wrath and Citizen Kane. I know for a fact William Wyler liked using deep depth of field and mainly filmed with short lenses, something that was very difficult to do at the time, but he achieved it. You would benefit from selecting your favorite cinematographers and watching the films he shot.
Edited by joshua gallegos, 02 February 2016 - 01:48 PM.