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Cinematographer vs. Photographer: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

If you’re interested in a career in photography, you may be wondering what the difference is between a cinematographer and a photographer. Both roles involve taking pictures, but the type of pictures they take and the equipment they use differs. In this article, we explain the main differences between these two photography jobs and the skills you need for each.

What is a Cinematographer?

Cinematographers are responsible for the visual look of a film or television production. They work with the director to plan and execute the visual style of the project. Cinematographers operate cameras and other recording equipment to capture the images that will be edited into the final product. They also choose the film or digital format, lenses, filters, lighting and other equipment that will be used to create the desired look. Cinematographers often collaborate with the production designer to ensure that the sets, locations and costumes support the visual style of the project.

What is a Photographer?

Photographers use their technical expertise, creativity, and composition skills to produce and preserve images that tell a story or record an event. Many photographers work in a commercial setting, taking photographs of products, people, or places for commercial use. Others may work as freelance photographers, selling their photos to individuals or businesses. Some photographers work in the fine arts, creating images that are intended to be exhibited in galleries or sold as artwork. Photographers may use a variety of cameras and equipment to capture their images, including digital cameras, film cameras, and camera drones.

Cinematographer vs. Photographer

Here are the main differences between a cinematographer and a photographer.

Job Duties

While both a cinematographer and a photographer take pictures, their job duties differ. A cinematographer creates a film by choosing the right shots and angles, while a photographer takes individual images without considering the overall effect on an image collection. Another key difference is that a cinematographer works closely with the director throughout the filming process to ensure that each shot supports the overall message of the movie or television show. They also collaborate with other crew members, such as lighting technicians and sound engineers, to create high-quality footage.

A photographer’s job duties are more focused on taking well-composed and well-lit photos. While they may work with models or other subjects for certain photo shoots, photographers typically work independently to capture beautiful images.

Job Requirements

Cinematographers and photographers typically need a bachelor’s degree in cinematography, photography or a related field. Some professionals also pursue a master’s degree to gain more advanced skills and knowledge. Many programs include coursework on topics like digital imaging, photojournalism and lighting techniques. Additionally, students often complete internships to gain real-world experience before entering the workforce.

Work Environment

Cinematographers and photographers both work in a variety of environments, depending on the project they’re working on. For example, a photographer might travel to different locations for their shoots, such as a beach or forest, while a cinematographer may spend more time at a studio or film location.

Cinematographers often work long hours during filming and editing processes, but they also have regular schedules that allow them to take breaks throughout the day. Photographers can also work long hours when taking photos, especially if they’re traveling to new locations. However, photographers usually don’t need to work as many hours as cinematographers because they only need to edit their images after shooting.


Both cinematographers and photographers use composition skills to create visually appealing images. They also need to have an understanding of the technical aspects of their respective mediums, such as shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings, to produce high-quality images.

Cinematographers often work with a team of people to capture footage for movies or television shows. As a result, they need to have strong communication skills to be able to collaborate effectively with others. They also need to be able to think on their feet and make quick decisions because the nature of filmmaking can be unpredictable.

Photographers typically work independently, although they may occasionally work with other photographers or assistants. Because they are often working with clients, they need to have good customer service skills. This includes being able to understand the client’s vision for the project and providing them with the finished product that meets their expectations.


The average salary for a cinematographer is $64,391 per year. The average salary for a photographer is $51,499 per year. Both of these salaries can vary depending on the type of work you do, your location and your experience level.


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