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Cinematographer/Director of Photography Job Description, Career as a Cinematographer/Director of Photography, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training:— Degree in cinematography coupled with specialized training.

Salary: Median— $3,239 weekly

Employment Outlook:— Good

Cinematographers and Directors of Photography play a very important and creative role in film production. They work closely with the director and give a film its unique visual look and identity. Cinematographers and directors of photography primarily monitor the use of photographic and lighting equipment. The terms “Cinematographer” and “Director of Photography” are used interchangeably when the same person supervises both the camera crew and the lighting crew.

Cinematographers and directors of photography are expected to achieve visual effect in accordance with the instructions of director. They are responsible for the selection of camera, lens, filter, and film stock. They take decisions about framing and the mode of shooting. However, the degree of freedom that cinematographers and directors of photography enjoy depends on the director of the project. Some directors give precise instructions while others are open to experimentation.

Education and Training Requirements

Candidates interested in pursuing a career as a cinematographer and director of photography can opt for formal training programs that are offered by colleges and technical schools. Some national institutes offer the master degree in cinematography. It is also beneficial to have an educational background in the fields of art, drama, photography, or film and media studies. Cinematographers and directors of photography should ideally have a thorough knowledge of lighting techniques. It is also essential to have a basic understanding of painting, photography, and moving images.

However, more than educational qualifications, cinematographers and directors of photography need certain skill sets and qualities. These include an artistic vision, ability to conceptualize, creativity, attention to detail, and ability to both give and follow instructions.

Cinematographers and directors of photography have to gather experience by working under experienced professionals. Expertise in computer animation and digital editing may also prove to be of great help.

Getting the Job

In order to start out as a cinematographer and director of photography, one needs to first find the job of an assistant. Most of the motion picture producers have online websites and are listed in the telephone directories. It would do well to directly get in touch with studios and film producers. One can also contact unions of cinematographers and directors of photography since they often have information about jobs available in the industry.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Cinematographers and directors of photography usually start out by working as lighting technicians or camera operators. Others work as volunteers on film projects of small production houses. This kind of experience and exposure is extremely necessary in order to find better job opportunities. After the few initial years, they can begin working as camera assistants of reputed cinematographers until they are deemed experienced enough to be given individual assignments.

Employment opportunities for cinematographers and directors of photography are expected to increase by 11% in the next decade. Since most of the film production units and studios are located in Los Angeles or New York, there will be more options for cinematographers and directors of photography based in these areas.

Working Conditions

Cinematographers often work odd hours. They travel to remote shooting sites, and may have to work in outdoor locations in inclement weather. The job can be stressful at times because they are expected to understand precisely what directors want and create footage accordingly.

Only well established production houses offer full time employment. Most cinematographers work on a freelance basis.

Where to Go for More Information

International Cinematographers’ Guild
7755 Sunset Boulevard
Hollywood, California 90046

Motion Picture Association of America
1600 Eye St., NW
Washington, DC 20006

IATSE General Office
1430 Broadway, 20th Floor
New York, NY 10018

American Society of Cinematographers
1782 North Orange Drive
Hollywood, CA 90028

120 State Avenue NE #260
Olympia, WA 98501-8212

Salary, Earnings and Benefits

The salaries of cinematographers and directors of photography depend on their experience and talent. Most of them work on a contract basis. Since contracts are drawn up based on assignment, it is difficult to predict patterns of income. Unions like IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts) provide wage guidelines for members.

Depending on the budget of the production, the kind of shoot, and the experience level of the cinematographers and directors of photography, the day rate can vary between $300 and $3,000. According to some records, the median annual salary of cinematographers and directors of photography is in the range of $35,000 to $75,000.

Only larger production houses offer employment benefits comparable with other industries. These benefits may include profit sharing, pension plans, sick leave, and life and health insurance.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCommunication and the Arts