Director of photography

Director of Photography

aka: Cinematographer, DOP

The director of photography is one of the most important job roles on a film set. Yet, surprisingly, many people don’t know anything about this job role.

The DOP is the head of the camera and lighting department. They work closely with the director to create the look and feel of the film. This popular role is the perfect mix of creative and technical. In addition, it’s one of the highest paid roles on a film set.

On this page, we list everything you need to know about becoming a director of photography. We break down the job role including duties, education, career route, salary, and how to find work.

What is a Director of Photography?

The DOP is the head of the camera and lighting department on film sets. They read the screenplay and work with the director to create the film’s look. It’s important that the DOP has a wide knowledge of lighting, camera, and technical equipment.

Every filming day, the DOP leads a team of tech crew to set up and shoot the scene. They will watch the take with the director and make sure every shot is useable. At the end of the day, they will view daily footage with the producer and director.

What Does a Director of Photography 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, creating storyboards, and test shots. 

This job role is an above-the-line position, 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 color correction.

Director of Photography Job Description

The director of photography job description slightly differs depending on the film’s budget. For example, the DOP might also hold the camera in low-budget filmmaking. However, the DOP never touches the camera on high-end films. In addition, they will have more creative control over bigger projects.

The DOP always works closely with both the producer and director. Often people will first hire those they know and trust in the industry. So, it’s typical for the director to work with the same DOP on many projects. In addition, a skilled DOP might have an agent to help them find work.

All film and TV sets have a director of photography. Without one, there would be no consistency in the film’s footage.

Pre-production Duties

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

Production Duties

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 shoot the film as well as possible. On smaller film sets, the DOP could also be the camera operator.

  • 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

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 projects. 

You will need various creative and practical skills to succeed in this role. This role requires excellent teamwork, organization, and planning. Like with all positions, the DOP will need to network and make contacts in the industry.

Key Director of Photography Skills:

  • Full filmmaking knowledge 
  • Photography and lighting skills
  • Creativity and Imagination
  • Knowledge of all equipment
  • Teamwork and communication
  • Organization and planning

Director of Photography 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

Director of Photography Salary

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, 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 a full say on your rate. For example, a basic, DOP, day rate for a feature film of $1 million is between $700-1000. So, for the average 6-day work week a DOP will make $4,200-6,000. However, you can still ask for more based on the job and your experience.                                                                                                                                 

Finding Work

At the start of your career, you can find entry-level jobs on film job sites. The entry-level job roles for a director of photography are camera trainee or camera assistant. However, you might need some initial experience before as a production assistant or runner. 

Another route is to start working on low-budget film sets as DOP or camera operators. That way, you can learn the job role through hands on practice and work up to higher budgets. Even so, it’s important that you learn all elements of the job role, lighting, and camera skills. 

US 🇺🇸UK 🇬🇧
Entertainment CareersScreenSkills Jobs
Entertainment Careers advertises jobs in the film and TV industry across the US. It specializes in work for production companies in the Los Angeles region. Their website makes it easy to narrow down your search by job type, experience level, media sector, and location.ScreenSkills is a charity that provides industry news, training, and resources for the UK film industry. As well as, having regular training opportunities they also now have a jobs board for professional production positions.

Wrapping Up

To sum up, the director of photography is a competitive but rewarding job role in the film industry. It’s typical to start at the bottom of the camera department and work up to this role. Many DOP’s also begin by making low-budget indie films.

This career is perfect for people who enjoy teamwork, creativity, and working with cameras. We hope this guide has helped you learn more about this job role and if it’s a good fit for you. Plus, don’t worry if getting to this position takes a long time. This is a long career so enjoy the ride!

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