While a film director may have a general idea of how a scene should look, it is the cinematographer’s job to bring that vision to life. This expert is knowledgeable about a movie camera’s technical and artistic capabilities. During principal photography, he or she collaborates closely with the director to frame each shot according to the script and/or the director’s personal vision. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, the head cinematographer may also be credited as director of photography or DP.
A cinematographer may also be referred to as a camera operator if his or her decision-making authority is limited. While filming a scene, he or she looks through the lens of a camera, much like a still photographer does when taking individual photographs. Lighting directors and crews frequently collaborate with cinematographers to ensure that the amount of light reflecting off the actors and scenery is appropriate. It is this person’s responsibility to make any necessary changes if a special lens or filter is required for an artistic effect.
Several cinematographers may be hired to work on different camera setups if a film has a large budget. Smaller production companies may only be able to hire one person, who must be present at all times. If the set needs to be closed for privacy, a director may take over the cinematographer’s duties. A second-unit director is a cinematographer who is in charge of shooting general background or establishing shots without the main characters. This person may have created a sweeping view of a city at the start of a film.
It’s not uncommon for a film director to use the same cinematographer on multiple projects. A shared vision of the overall look of a film is required in the working relationship between a director and a “cinema photographer.” The unsung work of this professional contributed to the success of many of Hollywood’s greatest films. For example, cinematographer Gregg Toland’s contributions to Orson Welle’s masterpiece “Citizen Kane” were crucial. Toland devised camera movements that had never been seen in a major motion picture before.
Years of technical training in the use of professional camera and video equipment are required to become a cinematographer. Following an apprenticeship with an experienced professional, camera work for independent films or low-budget Hollywood productions may be available. A budding cinematographer can join an organization like the American Society of Cinematographers after putting together a strong resume.