Cinematographer Job Role and Description

Home » Blog » Acting Career » Cinematographer Job Role and Description

A cinematographer plays a crucial role in the production of any movie or television show. The job has been around since the beginning of film and television. Its importance is clear once you understand what the job requires, how it works, and what it entails.

The role has changed over the years.

When motion pictures were brand-new, the cinematographer was just one of many job descriptions given to the director and cameraman.

As the motion picture industry grew and changed, the person operating the camera was already doing a major job.

The demand for a separate director and cinematographer came about as the camera work became more advanced and the role more in-depth.

The person who took on the role of operating a camera needed to have specific expertise and knowledge. Since the beginning of motion pictures, the job description has changed, but the job itself has remained as important as ever.

What is a Cinematographer?

the life of a cinemathographer in a film set

The director of photography is a person who operates the camera in a movie or on a television show. The job is also sometimes referred to as a director of photography. As a matter of fact, this job requires a certain skill set.

Every piece of a movie or television show is a series of individual live action photos put together to create a video montage that makes sense. It’s high-tech, and it’s specialized.

The job entails understanding not only how photography works. But how to manipulate photography to ensure it is portrayed in the correct manner.

A director of photography has many jobs:

  • Camera selection
  • Film stock selection
  • Lens selection
  • Filter selection
  • Lighting selection
  • Camera placement

This is a small sampling of what this job entails. The cinematographer works closely with the director of a movie or a show. And, decides how to place cameras and what to do to get the desired images and shots.

In many instances, a cinematographer who has worked with the same director on multiple occasions has more understanding of the specifics and does the job without as much direction.

When working with a new director, however, it’s not uncommon for the cinematographer to let the director make these precise decisions as a way of conveying precisely what they are looking for in terms of artistic direction.

Every job is different when you choose this career path. No two shows or films are the same. Some film inside, some film outside, and some film in both locations.

No two shots, angles, or scenes are the same, and sometimes this role requires learning to work inside a sound stage for one job and outside in the elements for another.

Technology changes the job regularly, too, which means the person who excels most in the role of the cinematographer is the person willing to learn, to adapt, and to embrace new tech trends along with old tech specs to create the perfect shot.

Why Are They Important?

Studios and networks pay a lot of money to produce and create films and movies.

They’re expensive, they’re important, and they bring in exceptional profits. This is why only the best of the best are hired to work as cinematographers in and around Hollywood.

The job is important because it is the single most important aspect of any movie or television show. If the lens, lighting, camera, and film aren’t all perfect. The entire object or point of the production can become lost in translation.

Knowing what pops, what stands out, and what doesn’t work is paramount in this industry. This role is more than just a job. It’s considered an art, and it’s one of the most important types of art in the production business.

Not only is this one of the most important aspects of any movie or television show, but it’s also the most difficult.

It takes time and education to learn what works best in any situation. This job requires you to be able to take what a director gives you in terms of direction and apply it to the live action shot.

This means you must be able to create an image that portrays a very specific ambiance. If it’s not just right, the entire film might fail.

Job Role and Description

A director of photography has a difficult job of creating a film. The job description is long, and the details are specific.

Not only does the director of photography need to choose the precise location of each camera, how it zooms, how it focuses, and how to do all this in the best lighting, it’s also imperative that this person takes notes at every step to ensure that subsequent shots are precise.

In the movies, it’s not uncommon to shoot a scene from the beginning of the movie in one setting and the second portion of the same scene weeks later. This means you must keep detailed records of every part of this job.

Lens Selection

The lens you choose is one of the most important choices you make as a director of photography. The lens creates the entire look and feel of the video. This requires knowing what elements you are working with, what the director wants, and how the mood is being portrayed.

Framing And Aspect Ratio Selection

Another important part of this role is the size of each image. If it is not precise, the film can appear distorted and unappealing. Every ratio creates a new aesthetic, which can alter the entire look and feel of a video.

Lighting Selection

Nothing works in poor lighting. Even the movies and shows in which you see people who work or live or are trapped in poor lighting require ample time in the selection process.

Every aspect of the lighting is carefully chosen, tested, and adjusted to bring the exact dimensions and appearance of the scene. The right lighting can take a film or show to a new level.

An experienced director of photography knows certain types of shows and movies must come across as dark and dreary while others are bright and bubbly.

Film Stock Selection

Speed, gauge, and color sensitivity are three of the most important aspects to consider when choosing film stock. Every moving image must be properly captured, and this is what this selection means.

If you are not well-versed in the art of film stock selection, you must learn every detail to work as a cinematographer.

Filter Selection

The dramatic effect is everything in the movies and television, and that’s what filter selection does for every scene.

The right filters work to create a more dramatic depth and appearance.

It’s what helps the cinematographer convey a certain mood or feeling to the audience. If the filter selection is off, the entire mood changes.

Camera Movement

Working with a director, the director of photography creates a movement to show the audience what is going on. The way the cameras are utilized and set up allows the audience to see what is happening and understand it as it happens.

For example, some scenes in a movie might require you have more than one camera on the main subject and the surrounding room to show exactly what needs to be shown to tell the story.

This is usually the role in which the director has the most say when working with a directory of photography, though it is a collaborative effort.

Education Requirements

Working as a director of photography is a major role, and it’s not a job you can get without experience. You don’t need a special education to work as a director of photography, but you must know your cameras, angles, films, and filters.

The best way to get into this industry is to work for or with a cinematographer to learn the game.

Experience is where you get the best education in this situation. However, there are classes you can take to learn how to become an expert in the industry. They aren’t always required, but they do help you learn the basics.


The role of the cinematographer is big, and it requires ample knowledge and creativity. You must have a good eye. Also, you must work closely with directors to marry their vision with your knowledge to create a very precise look in the movies or on television.

There is no standard list of hours, workdays, or holidays. You work when you are filming a movie or show, and you work on their schedule.

The job is competitive. To get an edge, study older films, award-winning films, and specific works by cinematographers with excellent reputations in the film industry.

Watching movies, practicing filming, and experimenting with different lights, lenses, and details can hone your skill.

It’s this dedication and desire to learn what makes a great director of photography. The job changes with technology, and no two jobs are the same.

It’s one job title that requires constant education because technology is one of the most important roles in this job title. Learn, continue to learn, and open yourself up to change to become the best in the business.


Featured Image: CC0 by Public Domain, takazart via Pixabay

Leave a Comment