Hall has been widely recognized with assisting rookie director Sam Mendes in shaping American Beauty into the compelling, striking visual experience that it is. Conrad Hall is a classic cinematographer who made the decision to avoid the spectacular computer-generated special effects that are often used by younger professionals in the business today. Instead, he chose to rely on unusual lighting and a use of wide screen shots intertwined with extreme close-ups. His classic approach often produces a much more powerful set of images than could have been accomplished with computer generated effects. As a result, Hall deservingly won the Oscar for Best Cinematography. The wonderful use of cinematography is evident from the beginning of the movie when Carolyn Burnham (Annette Benning) is authoritatively cutting red roses next to her white picket fence. .
The use of bright light and red American beauty roses lining a white picket fence in Annette Benning's opening scene effectively presented the overall theme of the movie: the superficiality of American society and the American dream. The close-up of Benning serves the definite purpose of offering insight into a Carolyn Bernham's appearance driven mindset. During the close-up the viewer is able to see that Carolyn is so obsessed about her outward appearance that she even took the time to match the color of her shoes to the hedge clippers. Her two gay neighbors Jim and Jim, who are ironically the most normal characters in the movie, complement Carolyn on her beautiful roses, which sadly seem to be Carolyn's only passion throughout the movie. The American beauty roses that Carolyn is cutting have enormous symbolic meaning. In American culture the rose is the ultimate symbol of love, life, death, compassion, caring and love. However, the beauty of the roses conceals the possibility for danger; each rose has thorns that can prick.