Cinematographers are the eyes of a film or television production. They are experts in photography and visual narratives, often spending years learning how to use light, manage crews, frame shots, and compose scenes. They work closely with directors to bring about their vision. They know how to use new technologies to create camera angles, color usage, and continuous motion innovations. If you are an aspiring cinematographer, we know you are creative and adventurous, so we recommend joining us on your next quest: creating the best resume you can based on your experience. Ready? Let’s start by sharing some easy but effective formats.
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Job Duties of a Cinematographer
A cinematographer is responsible for creating the production visuals. Their job often entails using and developing various technical aspects of shooting, and finding an aesthetic sense of place inside the frame that is specific to the story at play. They also play a critical managerial role in the conceptualization, production and post-production of a film or show. Below are the primary duties:
Analyzing the script or screenplay, including the goals, sensibilities, and narrative parts of the characters and developing a visual language that matches them.
Discussing with stakeholders, principally the director and the primary producers, thematic elements.
Scouting many locations to match the production period, considers possible weather conditions, noise, crowds, price, schedule, transportation, legal, and safety requirements. Conducting technical research, working with, and making decisions about equipment such as film stock availability, choosing between dozens of cameras, and film distribution.
Reviewing and approving props, sets, wardrobe and make-up.
Reviewing scene production crew including those working on light fixtures, on second or third units, and all visual effect and stunt coordinators.
Conducting test shooting a variety of cameras and lenses, environments and dialogue.
Training crew to use the equipment.
Working with stakeholders of production and direction to schedule the shoot in terms of required man-days and shooting workforce.
Partaking in film publicity via magazines, the internet and television.
Cinematographer Median Salary
As per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay is $59,810. There is a growth rate of 22% from 2019 to 2029 for film and video editors, which is often an entry-level position for people who will later become full-fledged cinematographers. The same period’s projected growth rate is 14% for camera operators, both faster than the average U.S. worker.
Top Skills for Cinematographers
A cinematography job involves a high degree of technical expertise, an excellent creative outlook, and plenty of soft critical skills. The technical aspects help them with lighting, angles, and framing of all shots. Soft skills help them be good leaders, clear communicators, and responsible professionals in a highly dynamic and demanding workplace. We have listed the top six skills desired in a cinematographer::
- An eye for storytelling: Capturing the essence of the story is what it’s all about. Because a simple scene, say, featuring a family in a dark dining room, that could be shot simply, flatly, and without fuss by amateurs could instead be filled with an immensity of drama if it’s filmed with one any different types of shots like extreme close-ups, dutch angles, tilting, cranes, or POV angles. You have to know how to tell a story with these shots and what works best.
- Astounding technician: A cinematographer should be well-versed with the latest filming software and technology. StudioBinder, for example, connects the screenplay, script breakdowns, and shooting schedule. The Helios Sun and Moon Position Calculator help you track the sun. And Shot Lister helps you list, categorize, and define shots and the type of gear you need for them. Remember, being creative is one thing, but only technical expertise will help you get perfect shots.
- Physical acuity: As a cinematographer, you sometimes will need to spend hours at a time perched on a treetop, hanging from a crane with a camera around your neck, or helping out your co-workers moving equipment.
- Physics knowledge: Cinematographers need to know how physical objects and human beings work in space to shoot professionally, mostly but not limited to those who work in action-based productions. This is usually connected to kinetic filmmaking or how movement relates to the camera, including in the two main categories of shots: static and dynamic.
- Cooperative spirit: Not only do cinematographers work hand in hand with directors by picking shots, planning schedules, and creating “look books,” but they have to work with other cinematographers, actors and even financers about what they are and are not able to do. So you need to work fast, communicate well, and have a positive team-oriented outlook to get things done.
- Updated in latest trends: You have to continue to attend workshops and other technical and non-technical training to continue improving. Remember that you are always getting compared to your peers as a cinematographer, so if you are not using the latest tech, pushing the envelope in how things look and sound, you will not be getting any new jobs in the modern era.
Educational Requirements for Cinematographers
Let’s face it, as a cinematographer, you are required to be an expert in many fields. The technical know-how of a camera, film craft, stage lighting is all needed. And let’s not forget post-production, which again is an area of expertise in itself. Having said this, your education starts when you start shooting with a camera. And the best education is when you combine your increasing knowledge of cameras with expert teaching from professionals. Let’s take a look at the prowess education can give you.
DegreeCinematographers must have a bachelor’s degree, but many also have master’s degrees. These can be obtained from a traditional university, a school of fine arts, or a technical school of your choice. Some of the courses or modules you are likely to take as a cinematographer include the mechanics of creative control, crafting narrative through cinematography, and more. You are also expected to take general production courses in producing, broadcast, and documentary filmmaking, advanced lighting, and workflow management.
The American Film Institute Conservatory, LA, Columbia College Chicago, The Los Angeles Film School, University of California and New York University all offer cinematography degree programs.
CertificatesYou can obtain an in-depth understanding of various aspects of cinematography by gaining a certification. You can get one from a regular university or junior college, a trade school, a technology or movie-connected company, member associations, and in-person or online for-profit educational institutions.
- Universities and colleges: Schools like New York Film Academy offer cinematography classes and one-year conservatory cinematography programs. The duration of this particular program is one year divided into two semesters. In this full-time, conservatory-based, non-degree program, you get to delve into diverse aspects of cinematography.
- Industry-connected companies: Companies that create the tools you use as a cinematography director, such as Blackmagic, Canon, Adobe, and more, offer courses that can lead to certifications. Many of their classes can be found on Mzed, the paid class resource for filmmakers and photographers.
- Member associations: The American Association of Cinematographers offers an intensive, multiple-day certification for people who want to supercharge their shooting skills. The Raindance filmmaking nonprofit offers a certificate where you learn, among many things, how not to be intimidated and work well with big, expensive cameras.
- For-profit educational companies: Companies like Coursera and Udemy offer good cinematography courses, though often at the primary or introductory level. Udemy, for example, has a course that teaches you how to expose correctly with ISO, shutter speed, and aperture camera settings. Masterclass also has several courses on cinematography from some of the world’s best artists.
Cinematographer Resume-Writing Tips
We are here to give you a boost in writing a great resume. Before attempting to do your resume write-up, make sure that the description of your application’s roles is clear and understandable. Now that you know what your employer is looking for, let’s align your resume, keeping in mind:
- A relevant order: When listing your skills, ensure that you list the right ones under the correct headings. For example, defining the communication between film leadership and the cast and crew shows it should be under relationship-management skills.
- Cover it all: Seldom will a cinematographer’s role be restricted to the lighting stage or recruiting crew. Your involvement starts at the very beginning and continues until the end of post-production. So make sure you describe that process in the experience section of your resume. Listing your collaboration with directors, producers, configuring shots, training crew, organizing, and maintaining a detailed schedule for productions also gives recruiters a map to your work journey.
- Make it about you’: Your experience tells an employer what kind of candidate you are. However, your personal qualities also add to your uniqueness. The professional summary and skills you list should present you as a creative and flexible person, a problem-solver, and an ardent listener.
How do you become a cinematographer?
The key here is to be involved in filmmaking from the start of your career journey. You may want to be a director or a writer instead of a cinematographer. Also, many people start as visual artists, such as Nomadland’s Joshua James Richards. But if you know that is what you want to be, cinematographers can start by learning about cameras, lighting or staging. You may venture into being a gaffer or a key grip. Or you can try your hand as a camera operator.
How can you get better at cinematography?
Patience is one key to becoming a successful cinematographer. It requires constant effort on your part. Few ways to get better at cinematography are:
- Be knowledgeable: Self-learning is an excellent tool for becoming a better cinematographer. Start with reading books on filmmaking. But don’t stop there. Study different types of films and photography. Know your equipment.
- Study cinematography: Getting a degree in cinematography related to the field can add to your skill set. You will benefit by getting in-depth know-how of the world of cinema. Internships can also get you hands-on experience.
- Networking: Collaboration is key to success. You are your director’s partner. While working through minuscule roles in a film set, you should work to network with people who will eventually help you later.
What does a cinematographer do?
A cinematographer or director of photography is the cornerstone of filmmaking. They are the eyes behind bringing the story to life. A cinematographer partakes in pre-production, principal production, and post-production phases of filmmaking.
- Pre-production is where all the ideas are brought to the table. At this stage, the cinematographer engages with the director to assess creative, financial, management, and practical requirements to develop the style and structure of the film.
- During production, the cinematographer manages shooting schedules, staff and sometimes shoots the film themselves. You also have to ensure that the cast and crew are trained, ready, and available for any need on set. Equipment inventory and handling, coordinating with various departments like production, creative design, sound and lighting management, and decision-making are also part of the job.
- The cinematographer is responsible for completing the final vision alongside the director and editors in the post-production stage.