Career Development

What Does a Director of Photography Do?

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

A director of photography (DP) is the chief cinematographer on a film set. They are responsible for creating and maintaining a look and feel for each scene, as well as ensuring that lighting, composition, camera movement, etc., all work together to create an aesthetically pleasing image.

The director of photography works closely with the director and other members of the creative team to determine how best to visually represent the story being told in the film.

Director of Photography Job Duties

A director of photography typically has a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Working with set designers to ensure that lighting, props, and other elements of the set are compatible with the camera equipment being used
  • Setting up lighting equipment, cameras, and other equipment needed for filming or photography sessions
  • Supervising a film crew, including hiring and firing crew members as needed and making sure they are properly trained in their jobs
  • Shooting footage using various camera techniques such as pans, zooms, and close-ups
  • Setting up lights and camera equipment for live television broadcasts, including news programs and sporting events
  • Ensuring that all shots are framed properly, focus is accurate, and exposure levels are appropriate
  • Overseeing the composition of shots so they are aesthetically pleasing and meet technical standards for resolution and focus
  • Directing actors during rehearsals and filming to ensure that they are delivering lines accurately and in a manner that helps tell the story
  • Making decisions about the use of special effects, computer generated imagery (CGI), and other visual elements that will be used in post-production

Director of Photography Salary & Outlook

Directors of photography’ salaries vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the type of film or television show they are working on.

  • Median Annual Salary: $82,500 ($39.66/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $135,000 ($64.9/hour)

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

The continued popularity of television shows and movies filmed in a high-quality format called high dynamic range (HDR) will increase demand for directors of photography who can work with this technology. In addition, the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in film and television production will require more directors of photography to ensure that these projects are done correctly.

Related: Director of Photography Interview Questions and Answers

Director of Photography Job Requirements

A director of photography typically needs to have the following qualifications:

Education: Most employers require a director of photography to have a bachelor’s degree in film, television, video or photography. Some aspiring directors of photography choose to pursue a degree in photography or cinematography, which will provide them with the technical skills they need to succeed in the role.

Training & Experience: Directors of photography typically receive on-the-job training from their supervisors or other experienced members of the film crew. This training helps the director of photography learn the specific techniques and equipment used in their film industry.

Certifications & Licenses: To work as a director of photography in the entertainment industry, a candidate must be a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) or a similar union in their country.

Director of Photography Skills

Directors of photography need the following skills in order to be successful:

Lighting: Lighting is the process of using artificial or natural light to create a scene. Directors of photography use lighting to create a mood or tone for a scene. They also use lighting to highlight certain aspects of a scene, such as a person’s face. Lighting is an important skill for directors of photography because it can affect the overall quality of a film.

Composition: Composition is the way a director of photography frames a shot. It’s important to have a strong composition in each shot to make sure the audience understands the message of the film. Directors of photography use composition to direct the audience’s attention to the most important parts of a scene.

Camera operation: Directors of photography often operate the camera during filming. They understand how to use the camera’s features and can adjust the settings to capture the best images. They also know how to operate the camera’s remote control and can change the focus and zoom in and out.

Problem-solving: Problem-solving skills are necessary for directors of photography because they often work on a team with other professionals. They need to be able to identify issues and find solutions to them. For example, if a lighting setup isn’t working, they need to be able to find a new way to light the scene.

Teamwork: Directors of photography often work with a team of other professionals, including camera operators, gaffers and other crew members. Working well with others is an important skill for a director of photography to have, as it can help them collaborate with their team to create the best possible images. Directors of photography can also use teamwork to help them communicate with their clients.

Director of Photography Work Environment

The work environment for a director of photography is very demanding and can be quite stressful. They are often required to work long hours, including nights and weekends, to get the perfect shot. They may also have to travel to different locations, both domestic and international. The director of photography must be able to work well under pressure and be able to think on their feet. They must be able to take direction from the director and be able to work well with the other members of the crew.

Director of Photography Trends

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

The Rise of Virtual Reality

The rise of virtual reality is creating a demand for directors of photography who are familiar with the unique challenges that come with shooting in this format.

As VR becomes more popular, directors of photography will need to be able to create images that immerse viewers in a realistic environment. This requires a deep understanding of how to use lighting, camera angles, and other visual elements to create a sense of realism.

Virtual Reality Will Change How We Consume Media

Virtual reality is changing the way we consume media by making it possible to experience things that would otherwise be impossible. This includes everything from traveling to far-off places to meeting famous celebrities.

Directors of photography can capitalize on this trend by developing new ways to capture these experiences. They can also work with content creators to develop new types of media that take advantage of the unique capabilities of VR.

More Collaboration Between Directors and Cinematographers

In recent years, there has been an increasing trend towards collaboration between directors and cinematographers. This is due to the fact that both parties have a lot to offer each other when it comes to creating a film.

As director of photography trends continue to evolve, directors will need to learn how to collaborate with their cinematographers in order to create the best possible product.

How to Become a Director of Photography

A director of photography (DP) career can be a rewarding one, with many opportunities for growth and change. As a DP, you’ll have the chance to work on a variety of projects in different industries, collaborating with creative teams and learning new skills along the way.

To start your journey, it’s important to build a strong foundation in both technical and creative skills. This can be done by taking courses in cinematography, lighting, and editing; attending workshops and networking events; and working as an assistant or intern. Additionally, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest technologies and trends in the industry.

Advancement Prospects

A director of photography (DP) is responsible for the look of a film. The DP works with the director to determine what the film will look like and how to achieve that look. The DP also works with the gaffer (the head electrician) and the grip (the head of the rigging department) to set up lighting and camera equipment.

A DP who is just starting out will usually work as a camera operator or a lighting technician. As they gain experience, they will move up to positions such as chief lighting technician, gaffer, or director of photography. DPs with a lot of experience may eventually become cinematographers, which is the highest position in the camera department.

Director of Photography Job Description Example

We’re looking for an experienced and passionate Director of Photography (DP) to join our team. As our DP, you will be responsible for the visual style and look of our projects, from conception to post-production. You will collaborate with the Director and other members of the production team to create a visually stunning final product. The ideal candidate will have a strong portfolio of work, as well as experience working with a variety of cameras and lenses. He or she will be able to think on their feet and make quick decisions in order to capture the perfect shot.

Duties & Responsibilities

  • Serve as the cinematographer on set, working with the director and other members of the production team to capture the vision of the project through the camera
  • Operate the camera during filming, making decisions on framing, composition, lighting, and other factors to create desired effects
  • Work with the gaffer and grip team to set up and execute lighting setups that compliment the scene and achieve the look the director is going for
  • Select and rent or purchase appropriate camera equipment for each project, within the budget allotted
  • Maintain knowledge of new camera technology and techniques, and be able to make recommendations on how to incorporate them into future projects
  • Manage a team of camera assistants and other crew members, delegating tasks and ensuring everyone is aware of their responsibilities
  • Stay within the allocated budget for camera and lighting equipment, and submit invoices for reimbursement in a timely manner
  • Keep track of all camera equipment and ensure it is properly maintained and stored when not in use
  • Collaborate with the editor during post-production to ensure the footage captured compliments the story being told and achieves the overall vision of the project
  • Attend film festivals and other events to network with other professionals and stay up-to-date on industry trends
  • Give lectures or workshops on cinematography topics such as lighting, composition, and camera techniques
  • Serve as a mentor to aspiring cinematographers, providing guidance and advice on breaking into the field and furthering their careers

Required Skills and Qualifications

  • Bachelor’s degree in photography, film, or related field
  • 10+ years experience as a professional photographer
  • Extensive portfolio of work that demonstrates creative vision and technical skill
  • Proficiency with DSLR cameras, lenses, and other photography equipment
  • Proven experience with photo editing software, including Lightroom and Photoshop
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Ability to take direction and collaborate with others

Preferred Skills and Qualifications

  • Master’s degree in photography, film, or related field
  • 15+ years experience as a professional photographer
  • Experience working in a variety of photography genres, including portraiture, landscape, still life, etc.
  • Expertise in one or more specialized areas of photography, such as high-speed photography, time-lapse, astrophotography, etc.
  • Working knowledge of video editing software, including Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro


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