Ozark season 3 is noticeably brighter than seasons 1 and 2, and cinematographer Armando Salas explains what changed and why the show has a new look.

Why Ozark Season 1 & 2 Were So Visually Dark Compared To Season 3
Why Ozark Season 1 & 2 Were So Visually Dark Compared To Season 3

Cinematographer Armando Salas has revealed the reason why season 3 of Ozark looks different than seasons 1 and 2. The Netflix original series stars Jason Bateman as Marty Byrde, a financial advisor who sets up a money laundering scheme for a Mexican cartel. Byrde moves with his family to Osage Beach, Missouri, a resort town nestled in the Ozark Mountains, to oversee the operation.

From the beginning, Ozark received acclaim for its cinematography. Ben Kutchins was nominated for an Outstanding Cinematography Emmy for the season 1 episode “The Toll.” Seasons 1 and 2 have a very distinctive color palette, using subdued blues and grays to capture the isolation of the Ozarks. The cool tones give the show a somewhat bleak and foreboding feeling, which mirrors the plot as Marty falls deeper into the criminal world.

In Ozark season 3, however, Salas and Kutchins changed things up a bit: the show became noticeably brighter and incorporated more warm hues. Salas told Collider there are two reasons for this: one artistic and one purely practical. He said the brightness comes from a change in workflow that allows them to have more control over what the final product looks like. As for the color, Salas said:

Well Season 2 was incredibly bleak from a story perspective and what the characters were going through. And then Season 3, the playing field gets bigger…And so the look involved with the arc of the characters and of the storytelling and it’s a bigger palette, more sophisticated world.

Why Ozark Season 1 & 2 Were So Visually Dark Compared To Season 3
Why Ozark Season 1 & 2 Were So Visually Dark Compared To Season 3

There were two new locations for season 3 that required different lighting: the Navarro compound and the casino boat. The Navarro compound, in particular, needed a warmer color palette to reflect its location in Mexico. Part of the reason Ozark season 3 looks brighter, Salas explained, is because it simply has more colors. Ultimately, the show’s cinematography netted two Emmy nominations in 2020, one each for Salas and Kutchins.

Ozark’s new look is particularly evident inside the casino. There, the table games in the center are lit by warm yellow chandeliers. Slot machines, which give off a harsh blue light, line the walls. It’s visually striking because it represents two major parts of the show coming together: the yellow of the Navarro cartel and the blue of the Ozarks. The lighting subtly reflects the plot; the Navarro cartel is encroaching upon Osage Beach, slowly expanding its influence.

The way the series uses light and color to tell a story is rare among television shows. Plus, with Ozark season 3 being much more well-received by critics than the previous two, it’s clear the show is heading down a good path. The cinematography has been consistently great throughout the entire series, and as the story ramps up and expands in Ozark’s upcoming fourth and final season, it’ll be interesting to see how Salas and Kutchins incorporate the plot into their work.

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