Career Development

What Does a Cinematographer Do?

Find out what a cinematographer does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a cinematographer.

Cinematographers are responsible for creating the visual look of a movie or TV show. They’re tasked with deciding what the audience sees, how they see it, and when they see it—all while working closely with directors and other members of the creative team to ensure that their work supports the overall vision of the project.

Cinematographers must be able to think creatively and independently on set. They often have to come up with solutions to problems that arise unexpectedly during filming.

Cinematographer Job Duties

Cinematographers have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Planning the production schedule in conjunction with the director, production manager, and producer
  • Coordinating with the director of photography to make sure they are using the same equipment and techniques during filming
  • Coordinating with the set designer and art director to ensure that lighting, props, and other elements are properly planned for each shot
  • Taking notes about lighting conditions at each shooting location to ensure repeatability of looks in different scenes throughout the movie
  • Communicating with other members of the film crew such as producers, directors, actors, and crew members to ensure that all parties are on the same page regarding details of production
  • Choosing camera equipment, including film stock, lenses, filters, tripods, light meters, and other accessories needed for filming
  • Shooting footage using a movie camera or digital video camera to create the “rough cut” of a film
  • Editing footage using specialized computer software to create a film’s final cut

Cinematographer Salary & Outlook

The salary of a cinematographer can vary depending on a number of factors, including their level of experience, the type of film they are working on, and the size of the production company.

  • Median Annual Salary: $72,500 ($34.86/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $122,000 ($58.65/hour)

The employment of cinematographers is expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade.

Demand for television shows and movies will drive demand for cinematographers. As more people watch streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, or view content on mobile devices, there will be a greater need for cinematographers to shoot high-quality video.

Related: Cinematographer Interview Questions and Answers

Cinematographer Job Requirements

A cinematographer typically needs to have the following qualifications:

Education: Cinematographers typically need an associate’s degree or a post-secondary certificate. Many aspiring cinematographers choose to pursue a degree in film, video or photography. These programs teach students the technical aspects of cinematography, including camera operation, lighting, sound recording and editing.

Training & Experience: Most cinematographers will receive on-the-job training from their employer. This training will help the cinematographer learn the specific equipment and software the company uses. It will also help the cinematographer learn the workflow and procedures of the company.

Certifications & Licenses: Cinematographers need to earn licensure to work in media in their state, and some also pursue additional certifications that can enhance their career prospects.

Cinematographer Skills

Cinematographers need the following skills in order to be successful:

Lighting: Lighting is the process of using artificial or natural light to create a scene. Cinematographers use lighting to create mood, emphasize elements of a scene and create realistic shadows. They use a variety of lighting tools, including artificial lights, natural light and reflectors. They also use lighting to create a variety of effects, such as rain, snow and fog.

Camera operation: Cinematographers need to be able to operate a camera to test out different angles and perspectives. They also need to be able to operate a camera crane or other types of equipment to get the shots they need. This skill can also help them communicate with the director about what they need to get the shot they want.

Composition: Composition is the way a cinematographer arranges the elements of a shot. It involves the arrangement of the subject, background, lighting and camera angle. Cinematographers use composition to create visually appealing shots that tell a story. They also use composition to direct the audience’s attention to certain elements of a scene.

Editing: Cinematographers often work with a film’s editor to create the final product. They understand how to use editing software and can provide feedback on how to best present the story. They can also suggest how to transition between scenes and create a cohesive film.

Project management: Cinematographers often have excellent project management skills, as they often work with a team of people on a film set. They use their project management skills to ensure that the film production stays on schedule and within budget. They also use their project management skills to ensure that the film crew has everything they need to complete their work.

Cinematographer Work Environment

Cinematographers work long hours, often on irregular schedules. They may work early mornings, late nights, weekends, and holidays. They may also travel to different locations, both domestic and international. The work can be physically demanding, and cinematographers must be able to lift and carry heavy equipment. They also must be able to work in a variety of settings, including inclement weather conditions. The work can be stressful, and cinematographers must be able to handle last-minute changes and solve problems quickly.

Cinematographer Trends

Here are three trends influencing how cinematographers work. Cinematographers will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Use of Virtual Reality in Filmmaking

The use of virtual reality (VR) in filmmaking is becoming increasingly popular as filmmakers look for new ways to tell their stories. VR allows viewers to experience a story from a first-person perspective, which can create a more immersive and engaging experience.

Cinematographers can take advantage of this trend by learning how to shoot in VR. This will allow them to create even more immersive experiences for viewers and set them apart from the competition.

More Collaboration Between Directors and Cinematographers

As technology advances, cinematographers are finding that they need to collaborate more with directors in order to create the best possible film.

This trend is due to the fact that directors are now using more advanced technology to create their films. This technology requires a greater understanding of lighting and camera angles in order to be used effectively. As a result, cinematographers are being called upon to collaborate more with directors in order to create the best possible film.

A Greater Focus on Diversity

Diversity has become an important topic in the entertainment industry in recent years, as studios have begun to realize the value of representing a wide range of cultures and backgrounds in their films.

As cinematographers play a key role in creating the visual style of a film, they will need to be aware of the importance of diversity and how to achieve it in their work. This includes not only choosing locations and sets that reflect the cultural background of the characters, but also hiring a diverse crew and casting actors who are representative of the real world.

How to Become a Cinematographer

A cinematographer career path can be a great way to combine your love of film with your passion for photography. As a cinematographer, you’ll be responsible for creating the look and feel of a movie, from its lighting and color palette to its overall visual style.

To become a cinematographer, you’ll need to have a strong understanding of both art and science. You’ll need to understand how light works and how it affects the human eye, as well as how different colors interact with each other. You’ll also need to know how to use cameras and lenses to create the desired effect.

Additionally, you’ll need to be able to work closely with directors and other members of the filmmaking team to create the perfect look for a scene or an entire movie.

Advancement Prospects

Cinematographers typically start out as camera operators or assistant camera operators. With experience, they move up to the position of cinematographer. Some become directors of photography, a position that is usually reserved for those with the most experience and ability.

Cinematographers may advance to top management positions in their field. Some become directors or producers. Others find work in the technical side of the industry, developing new camera equipment or film stock. Some become instructors in colleges and universities.

Cinematographer Job Description Example

We are looking for an experienced and passionate Cinematographer to join our team. As our Cinematographer, you will be responsible for shooting and editing video content for our website, social media, and other marketing materials. You will work closely with our Creative Director to conceptualize and execute creative ideas that align with our brand identity. The ideal candidate will have a strong portfolio of work that demonstrates their technical skills, creative vision, and storytelling ability. They will be comfortable working in a fast-paced environment and be able to juggle multiple projects at once. If you are a Cinematographer who is excited about telling stories through film and video, we want to hear from you!

Duties & Responsibilities

  • Work with the director to develop the visual style of the film
  • Scout locations and make decisions about lighting, framing, and camera placement
  • Operate the camera during filming
  • Work with the gaffer to set up lights
  • Collaborate with the art department on set design
  • Choose film stock and lenses
  • Develop the color palette for the film in post-production
  • Supervise the work of the camera crew
  • Maintain the equipment
  • Keep track of expenses
  • Stay up to date on new technology
  • Train new members of the camera crew

Required Skills and Qualifications

  • Bachelor’s degree in film, cinematography, or related field
  • Minimum 5 years experience as a cinematographer or director of photography
  • Proficient in industry-standard camera equipment and software
  • Strong understanding of lighting, composition, color, and other visual elements
  • Excellent communication and collaboration skills
  • Ability to work well under pressure and meet deadlines

Preferred Skills and Qualifications

  • Master’s degree in film, cinematography, or related field
  • 7+ years experience as a cinematographer or director of photography
  • Experience with high-end digital cinema cameras, such as the ARRI Alexa or RED Weapon
  • Familiarity with 3D stereoscopic filmmaking techniques
  • Extensive knowledge of film history and theory


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