How to become a cinematographer

How To Become A Cinematographer

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The cinematographer (also known as the director of photography or DOP) is the head of the camera and lighting department on a film set.

It’s the cinematographer’s responsibility to use lighting and compositional techniques to bring the story to life on screen. The cinematographer will work very closely with the director to plan out the films visuals so that they captivate a film’s audience.

This job role is highly diverse requiring a mix of both technical and creative expertise. It will take many years of practice to fully master this role, however it could prove to be a very interesting career.

In this article, you will learn how to become a cinematographer including details on education and how to find paid work.

What Does a Cinematographer Do?

DOP light meter

The cinematographer will be hired by the producer and occasionally the director (if they have worked together previously and have a good working relationship).

The relationship between the cinematographer and director is crucial. They will work together closely throughout the project and it is their job to bring the directors vision to life.

During pre-production, the cinematographer reads the screenplay and envisions how the film could be shot. They will attend pre-production meetings with all other head of departments and be present on location recces.

They will also hire the camera, grip and lighting team alongside the producer. Before production, all major decisions on the films visuals and cinematography style will be finalised.

During production, the cinematographer will attend blocking rehearsals to watch how the scene’s action is performed. Alongside the director, the cinematographer will determine what shots are needed to cover each scene and the camera and lighting will be set up.

On smaller film sets the cinematographer may also be the camera operator, on larger productions, they typically sit next to the monitor. During post-production, the cinematographer will keep an eye on the films edit making sure it is being finished to a high quality. They will also have a say in the colour grading and the visual final cut.

Education and Training

Cinematography courses

The cinematographer is a senior position on set and as such it will take a lot of practice to master this job role. You can begin your career through a number of different work routes.

Formal education is not necessary but many professional cinematographers have gained degrees or attended film schools. We previously researched into – The Best Filmmaking Courses in the UK.

Traditionally aspiring cinematographers will start out as camera trainees and work up the camera department ladder. Technically any entry-level job role that gets you onto a film set would be worthwhile. If you are interested in trainee roles then check out Creative Skillsets trainee finder or apprenticeship schemes.

Alternatively, you could start by making your own films and helping out on independent productions. You can find film set work experience on job sites such as Stage 32, Shooting People and on our own film production jobs page.

Finding Paid Work

Your first paid film job might be within any entry-level job role such as camera trainee or film runner. You can find these jobs on film job sites or through film Facebook groups.

Cinematographers can also break in through other departments such as lighting and assistant directing. You might also begin your career as a videographer shooting and editing small productions (such as wedding videos and events filming).

Most importantly you need to continue to practice camera and lighting techniques, learning as much as possible about the filmmaking process.

The cinematographer’s job role is highly complex and it will take many years of training before you are trusted on higher budgeted productions. Like all film crew job roles, finding work is often down to who you know and from recommendations.

Build up your reputation by gaining plenty of experience and networking with others in the industry.

Salary Expectations

Director of Photography salary

Entry-level job roles in film such as camera trainee might only pay minimum wage (2019 UK rates £6.15 – £8.21 per hour).

Your wage will increase the higher up the job ladder you go and the more responsibility you are given.

Cinematographers are self-employed freelances and will have a daily working rate that they will decide for themselves. UK guidelines on how much to charge for film and TV can be found on BECTU’s website.

A cinematographer’s salary will depend on the budget of the production and as such they might alter their rate depending on the project.

Cinematographer – Wrapping Up

The cinematographer’s job role could provide a very fulfilling career for the right person. The work won’t be easy, expect long laborious work hours and a steep learning curve. However, with so much to learn, at least you will never get bored!

Careers In Film

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