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Films that have dark lighting often evoke feelings of eerieness, fear and mystery. Cameras that zoom in slowly on a character's face affect how viewers will perceive the actor from then on. A great deal of thought and effort is put into camera angles, lighting and specific shots in all films. Cinematographers are responsible for working on creating these effects. They use and manipulate cameras, lighting and related equipment to create the desired visual mood or "feel" of a film or video production.

Cinematographers are sometimes called "directors of photography". They are often seen walking around film sets taking pictures of actors, different scenes and other things that will help them work toward their vision. They usually direct a number of assistants who operate the cameras and lighting equipment. For example, the cameraperson operates the camera according to the strict instructions of the cinematographer. If they want the camera to pan a scene or shoot from a bird's eye view, this will happen in the filming process.

Cinematographers use lighting and other techniques, such as lens selection, filtration, exposure and focus to create images on film. When using motion picture cameras, results are often delayed and not instantly visible therefore, they must rely on their knowledge and experience to anticipate the effect production decisions will have on the final image. Ultimately, their primary responsibility is to define an appropriate look and determine how best to achieve it.

With the advent of cheaper video equipment, video production is sometimes employed in situations where film was previously used. Such examples are in shooting documentaries and television news. Yet film is still a precious craft that is intended to create special visual results, therefore, many documentaries, national commercials, feature films, movies of the week and television series are still shot on film. Cinematographers must also decide what type of film to use, such as 16mm, 35mm, Super 8, or IMAX -- 65mm negative film featured on horizontal screens. The size of film will have a huge effect on the look of the film. Cinematographers also use filters and color lenses to change up the process.
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  Interests and Skills  
Cinematographers must be talented and creative individuals that can visualize a finished product before its completion. They must be willing to put in long hours of practicing their art, developing their own style and keeping up to date with technological changes. Successful cinematographers enjoy directing and co-ordinating camera and lighting work, finding innovative ways to do things, and working with equipment.

Since the cinematographer is in charge of a small crew they must be able to co-ordinate the work of others and teach apprentices how to operate and manipulate cameras. They should be knowledgeable in all aspects of camera and film production, and in different styles and sizes of film and cameras. This is why formal training is recommended -- it helps cinematographers use vantage points to start from. Finally, cinematographers should also enjoy dealing with a multitude of different people.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Control and create the visual effects for every second of film and video footage
  • Select the type of camera, lighting equipment, film and lenses to be used
  • Adjust cameras for desired focus, exposure, composition and other settings
  • Control the transfer process in which film negatives are digitally transformed to video images for computer editing
  • Work closely with the director and other production crew members, especially the camera operator
  • Attend production meetings and discuss lighting and camera needs with directors
  • Due to the nature of the film industry, cinematographers will experience a variety of working conditions, usually depending on the type of production and where a film is being shot. For example, a cinematographer might have to travel to Thailand to work on a Buddhism documentary or work on location at a cemetery for a movie-of-the-week in a rain storm. They also do a lot of filming in sound studios, which requires spending hours and hours indoors.
  • Actual working hours will also vary greatly. 10- to 12-hour days are common for those in the motion picture industry along with working strange, irregular hours. For example, cinematographers may have to photograph a sunrise over an ocean or a twilight scene in the mountains. The work can be stressful when strict deadlines must be adhered to and last minute changes are required.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most cinematographers are self-employed artists who work on a freelance basis for film studios, production companies, television studios, advertising agencies and independent film producers. Some also make their own films in collaboration with other artists, such as documentaries or music videos.

  Long Term Career Potential  
In order to gain experience, aspiring cinematographers often work as lighting and grip technicians, camera assistants or camera operators. Generally in the film industry, most people work their way up the ladder by starting somewhere near the bottom and learning from others as they advance. Most people do not just become cinematographers, but learn the job through years of experience as an assistant. With experience, they may find work as camera assistants for established cinematographers. Most cinematographers work in the freelance capacity.

  Educational Paths  
Like most jobs in the film industry, there is no standardized path to take, however cinematographers need a solid grounding in both the theoretical and technical aspects of the work. They need to know cameras inside and out, including lenses and filters. Most have undergraduate degrees in technical film studies and camerawork or photography courses. A university or college environment will introduce future cinematographers to a creative and technical circle of like-minded individuals and give students the opportunity to take part in the production of films. Once students get a degree, they should get as much experience as possible, including volunteer work, which is the likely possibility. Some established cinematographers will take on apprentices, which may open doors in the long run.

Many cinematographers have experience as camera operators or photographers. In fact, it is still possible to enter the field by gaining practical experience as a videographer or stills photographer. Keep in mind that this may take many years. The most important advice is to make as many contacts as possible. In this industry, networking is extremely important. Cinematographers must be willing to face rejection, but that is all part of the artistic process.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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