Cinematographers use cameras to capture moving images.
A cinematographer, also known as a director of photography or DP, is responsible for the actual filming of a film production. They are masters of camera work, combining smooth motion with technical savvy to create and capture a range of effects. An effective DP knows the look of each lens in their kit, the speed of a push in that will reflect a scene's emotion, and the exposure requirements of an unexpectedly dreary day. They must translate a director's input into technical terms using their knowledge of cameras, and choose all of the gear it will take to achieve that vision.
On full crew productions, the cinematographer leads the camera and lighting departments, working with both teams to achieve the right look. DPs on smaller crews - especially for short films, student films, and documentaries - may perform many of these duties themselves, but they will often have one or more assistants. The most essential of these is known as the first AC, or assistant camera; this is a highly respected role that many make into a long-term career. The first AC is responsible for keeping the camera in focus without looking at the lens, which is no easy task on complex moving shots with a lot of on-screen elements. Using a device called a follow focus, the first AC can adjust the lens, leaving the cinematographer free to focus on movement and composition. They are also responsible for setting up the camera, swapping lenses, and keeping track of the scenes that have been shot. The second AC may help the first AC with certain tasks, but is primarily responsible for the iconic clapperboard that signals the beginning of a new take. A camera department may also be assigned a team of grips to help with builds and rigging. This team must work seamlessly together in order to produce clean, beautiful shots, and camera crews that work well together may accompany a DP on many sets.
Work in cinematography may include...
- Using a variety of cameras, lenses, rigs, and lighting equipment
- Working with lighting technicians to achieve a specific visual effect
- Collaborating with directors on shot composition, content, and style
- Maintaining focus, depth of field, and framing during complex shots
- Calling each shot and recording footage
Some departments on a film set go through a lot of stop-and-start; this is almost never true for the camera crew. Every spare moment is one that could be used to secure a better shot. Days are long, usually between 8 and 12 hours without overtime, and a director may call for take after take after take of the same scene until the full cast and crew is in alignment. Handheld shots and camera rigging can be physically exhausting, and the precision of each shot calls for nonstop alertness. Even so, working on a camera crew can be incredibly fulfilling, as each day brings with it new and interesting situations.
Training in the art of cinematography often begins with a passion for photography. Knowing the technical specs and capabilities of a camera is a great starting point for determining the kind of filming it can do, but the best way to learn how to film is to film. Cinema cameras and analog film cameras are standard for large projects, and gaining access to them can be difficult for an ordinary person. The primary benefit of attending a film program at the college level is the ability to check out equipment and use it for projects. Cinematographers and camera professionals must know every button and switch on their device in order to make the most of their own skills. For those who opt out of formal film school, finding work at a camera and gear shop or rental house can be a great way to become familiar with various specialized equipment. Many smaller projects are shot with compact cameras or DSLRs, and most camera department personnel will be able to work with one of these until they can get their hands on something more powerful. Having a versatile camera rig or mounting system can be beneficial to aspiring cinematographers looking to practice their shots, and every element of a camera kit is a valuable learning opportunity.
If you're a camera enthusiast with an eye for detail and a head for tech specs, a career in cinematography might be calling your name.
Local 600 represents the most talented camera professionals and publicists in the world.
The Society of Camera Operators consists of camera operators, camera assistants, still photographers, directors of photography, grips, and others.
The American Society of Cinematographers is a prestigious invitation-only membership association for directors of photography who have demonstrated outstanding ability, distinguished credits, and good personal character.