A cinematographer is the head of the camera and lighting crew working on a film or TV set.

What does a cinematographer do?

A cinematographer or director of photograph (also known as DP or DoP) is responsible for the development, look and feel of the images which make up the final film. 

Cinematographers work closely with directors, the camera crew and lighting department to get the right frame, lighting and mood for a film or TV programme.

Camera angles, shot sizes and lighting are all used to create a certain look for a film. Before filming starts, the cinematographer will discuss with the director how the script will be presented in film, and then typically:

  • visit a location before filming to check  its suitability, access to facilities and lighting and sound potential
  • order filming and lighting equipment
  • test equipment such as lenses and filters to check their effect
  • manage all aspects of the filming, sometimes operating the camera
  • supervise the camera crew to decide on any special camera moves
  • work closely with the lighting team to decide on lighting techniques
  • review film footage with the director

You might also work on promotional films and adverts.

What do I need to do to become a cinematographer?

You need a passion for film and photography, and to be a good communicator

A common way into this career is to get experience by working your way up from a camera operator role. If you have a portfolio of photography or a reel of film work you’ve produced yourself, then you could market this to get yourself known.​

You need to understand how cameras work and have a good working knowledge of all the camera equipment such as optics, filters and film stock. You also need to understand exposure, composition, lighting, development, special effects, colour composition, scene blocking, and sound.

To get work, one of the most important things you need is experience. Employers want to know that you have:

  • camera operating experience and the ability to test equipment such as lenses and filters
  • experience of working with a camera crew
  • experience in lighting and the ability to plan for the camera and lighting equipment that might be needed
  • an understanding of photography so you're able to capture images with light

Most cinematographers start out as a camera trainee or runner, and move on to 2nd assistant camera (AC), then 1st AC.

It can also help to have a degree in a related subject. These subjects will all give you a good background:

  • stills
  • photography
  • drama
  • art
  • film studies

Related skills

  • Attention to detail
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Interpersonal skills
  • IT
  • Leadership
  • People management
  • Teamwork

Academic route

  • Degree in stills, photography, drama, art, or film studies

Related subjects

  • Drama, music, and performing arts
  • Media studies

Where to find out more

Where could I be working?

Depending on the type of production, you could be based in a film or TV studio, or out on location – anywhere in the UK, or overseas. 

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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