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Cinematography Tips & Tricks

Thinking of being a Cinematographer

The Roll of the Cinematographer

What does a Cinematographer Do?

A Cinematographer (or Director of Photography or DOP), is the “director” over the camera and lighting crews working on a film, television production or other live action piece that requires a camera or multiple cameras. The Cinematographer is also responsible for making artistic and technical decisions related to the image.

Aaton Cohen-Sitt, Andrew Balis

Cinematographer explains shot to Director and Crew


Many think that this is the Director’s job. And although the Director will work closely with the Cinematographer, when you see the beautiful images on screen, the framing, the lighting, the movement of the camera – this is the work of the Cinematographer.

Whereas the Director is more of a creative, the Cinematographer is both a creative and a techie. He or she must be up to speed on the latest camera’s, lenses, film stock, digital techniques, lighting methods, etc. to be able to execute the Director’s vision as best as possible.

In the infancy of Hollywood, the way the picture looked was key. There was no dialogue and the story had to be told by entirely by the camera.

The best way to get into the world of Cinematography is to start out as in intern or assistant to the DOP, as a Camera Assistant, or a Loader (the one who loads the film into reels). Many films today are shot digitally, so this position had changed with the times, but nonetheless, if you are interested in being a cinematographer get a position on a film or television production in the Camera department, under someone who can teach you the ropes.

Here are some tips to help you through your journey as a Cinematographer.

1. BECOME AN ASSISTANT

Assistant Camera Person

Assistant Camera Person


Start on any film you can work on. Do it as an intern, if you must, but cozy up to an existing Cinematographer or Camera Person and let them know you want to learn. When on the job, soak in as much information as you can. Watch everything they do, and ask a lot of questions about the camera, the lenses, the lighting. There’s a lot to learn, be a sponge.

2. START TO VISUAL ON YOUR OWN

You cannot be a master unless you are a student first. Once you understand the basic of cinematography you can expand your knowledge by trying something different. A Cinematographer should have a vision of the world through the lens. Find your vision. Films with amazing cinematography usually have a theme of some kind. Did you ever notice that Blade Runner is dark and gloomy? What about comparing the cinematography of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to the cinematography of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? The latter is much brighter, signifying hope – a new beginning, while the last two films portray a sense of doom, as they are very grey, and washed out.

Sven Nykvist

Cinematographer Sven Nykvist with Woody Allen


3. THE STORY IS FIRST, THE CINEMATOGRAPHY SECOND

Once you develop your vision of the world through the lens, you must always let the story tell the story first. The camera, hence the Cinematographer’s job, is to allow the camera to naturally tell the story. Don’t force a theatrical shot in a place where the story doesn’t warrant it. If the scene requires two people talking in a coffee shop, unless there is some underlying reason to do so, don’t use tilted angles and strange filters – again – unless there are zombies serving them the food.

Roger Deakins

Cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men)


4. LIGHTING IS CRUCIAL

Yes, the camera shot and position is important, but almost just as important is the lighting. Fluidity is incredibly important, and within a scene, the shots must match when it comes to lighting. Otherwise, the scene looks cheap and amateurish. Just like the camera is, in essence, one of the characters, so is the lighting to a Cinematographer.

Richard Richardson

Cinematographer Robert Richardson (Hugo, Inglorious Basterds)


5. TECHNOLOGY IS AWESOME, BUT AGAIN – STORY FIRST

It’s so easy to get excited about a new camera and what it can do, especially today in the digital age, but the best camera in the world can’t tell a story. It’s just a tool, albeit a great one, to tell the story.

The Cinematographer also works closely with the Director in storyboarding scenes and creating Shot Lists.

You can also use Gorilla Scheduling to create a full film schedule including Storyboard and Shot Lists. Click the link below for a free demo of Gorilla.

For a complete working demo of Gorilla Scheduling click here for Macintosh or here for Windows.



The Gorilla Ratebook can give you up-to-date guild rates for Cinematographers and the rest of the Camera Department.

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