One of the most crucial positions on a film set is the director of photography. Yet, surprisingly, many people don’t know about this job role or their responsibilities.
In this article, we break down the job of the director of photography (also known as the cinematographer or DOP). They are the head of the camera and lighting department on a film set.
This is both a creative and technical role that’s very popular in the film industry. Below we list everything with a complete director of photography job description.
What Does a DOP do?
The DOP is responsible for all footage within the film. They bring the story to life with camera shot choices and lighting skills. In early cinema, the director was also the DOP and the cameraman. However, all of these roles are now separate.
When making a film, the DOP works closely with the director to determine the look of the film. They do this through meetings and creating storyboards.
This is an above-the-line crew role, which means that the DOP is a major creative on a film set. They work throughout the planning and filming stage. In addition to this, the DOP might also watch over the editing and colour correction.
Director of Photography Job Description
The director of photography’s job description is slightly different depending on the film’s budget. For example, the DOP might also use the camera in low-budget filmmaking. However, the DOP never touches the camera in high-end films and has more creative power.
The DOP always works closely with both the producer and director. Often people will hire who they know and trust in the industry. So, it’s typical for the director to work with the same crew on many projects. In addition, a skilled DOP might have an agent to help them find work.
All film and TV sets have a DOP. Without one, there would be no consistency in the film’s footage. Furthermore, the director would have too much work to do during production.
Firstly, the DOP will read the screenplay and make a complete script breakdown. Then, they will imagine how the film looks on screen and write down their ideas.
During this stage, there will be many meetings with the director and creative crew members. Lastly, the DOP will attend location recces, create an equipment list and hire their team.
- Create a script breakdown
- Work closely with the director
- Have production meetings
- Attend the location recces
- Hire the camera and lighting team
During production, the DOP will watch the director block the scene. After, they will guide their team to set up the camera and lighting.
When recording, they watch the action and make changes if necessary. It’s their job to ensure the film is shot as well as possible. On smaller film sets, the DOP could also be the cameraman.
- Work closely with the director
- Head of the camera and lighting team
- Help set up camera and lighting
- Watch over the film’s visuals
- Provide advice on the film’s look
Job Role Education and Skills
The director of photography is in a high position on a film set, so it will take a long time to succeed in this role. To begin with, you can get a film degree or attend a film school. There are lots of film production courses available. However, education can only teach you the basics, and you will still need work experience.
Many DOPs work their way into the role by starting as assistants. The beginner roles are called camera trainee or camera runner. So, it is possible to start at the bottom of the department and work up into this job role. In addition, you can work on low-budget film sets as a DOP and work up to higher-budget productions.
You will need various creative and practical skills to succeed in this role. This includes excellent teamwork, organisation and planning. Like with all positions, the DOP will need to network and make contacts in the industry.
- Full filmmaking knowledge
- Photography and lighting skills
- Creativity and Imagination
- Knowledge of all equipment
- Teamwork and communication
- Organisation and planning
DOP Career Route
The DOP is an above-the-line job role in the film industry. Many people will work up to this role, from runner to 2nd AC and 1st AC. Whilst a film school education can teach you the basics and allow you to make films for your showreel.
After you know the role and have work experience, you can begin applying for DOP jobs. Many people will start on low-budget films or small projects such as short films and music videos. Some people will also hire agents to help them find work.
DOPs don’t just work in film and TV but also across media content. The skills you gain in this role are helpful in many creative industries, from online videos to event filming. It’s also possible for an experienced DOP to move into directing or producing.
Camera Department Job Roles
- Camera PA, camera trainee
- 2nd assistant camera, clapper loader
- 1st assistant camera, focus puller
- Camera operator, Steadicam operator
- Director of photography
The day rate of all film industry crew members depends on the project type and budget. So, you will get less pay for a low-budget indie film than for a high-end TV project. If you look at our crew rates resource, you can see how the rates change depending on budget and job role. Of course, your pay will also take into account your personal experience.
The DOP is an above-the-line role, which means you have full say on your rate. For example, BECTU recommends that you don’t take any less than £250/day and £300/day for films. However, you can still ask for more based on the job and your experience. In addition, the director of photography job description might differ per role and affect the salary.
Director of Photography – Wrapping Up
In short, we hope this director of photography job description is helpful! So many people work towards this job role by both working in the camera department and by making indie films. You will also need to get together an awesome showreel.
This career is perfect for people who enjoy teamwork, creativity and working with cameras. Plus, don’t worry if getting to this position takes a long time. This is a long career so enjoy the ride!