There are many jobs in the filmmaking process, and a cinematographer is just one of them. It all starts with a script; a story waiting to be told. Then there's the director, the visionary, the person with the plan. But we all know that filmmaking is highly collaborative, so a team begins to emerge, with a group of like-minded artists all striving towards the same goal. That brings us to the director of photography.
What Does a Cinematographer/Director of photography Do?
Of all the roles on set, the cinematographer's is the one where the art meets technology. One of the reasons we focus heavily on updating our reviews of tech and gear at No Film School is that because without understanding all the tools available it's very hard to use them effectively.
One of the director of photography's primary responsibilities is to always stay up to date on all the tools of the trade, as well as be knowledgeable about all the well-established techniques of the past. To go deeper on the job check out our cinematography masterclass post. And before you go any further, it's never a bad time to brush up on cinematography basics.
There are a lot of people on set with important roles in the process, of course.
You've got your art directors and production designers, and new worlds are created. You've got your editors, who lovingly craft the footage into the final piece of art. You've got your makeup artists and VFX artists and loads of other craftspeople who ultimately shape the film in some unique way.
But we return today to the cinematographer, the person behind the lens. What exactly does a director of photography do, and what does it mean? The following short video from the EFTI School of Cinematography in Spain has the answer.
A bit fluffy and overly poetic? Sure. But this video hits the nail on the head in terms of what cinematographers actually do from an artistic perspective.
We craft images from scratch -- with the help of the art department -- and use the tools at our disposal in order to ensure that the images not only drive the story, but that the images themselves are inherently meaningful in some way or another. It's all about having a unique vision for what you are creating, then using your knowledge of lighting, lenses, composition, etc in order to fulfill that vision.
The video also makes a tremendously pertinent point (especially considering the speed at which technology evolves) about what directors of photography do. We can have cameras better than the human eye, and lights more powerful than the sun, but it's all useless unless the person behind those tools has a distinct vision for what they are creating. Ultimately, the purpose of all of this technology is to provide us with a set of tools to do our jobs effectively. If we don't use our unique vision to make the most of that technology, then we're only as good as our equipment. And nobody wants that.
Cinematography can also be a process of discovery. What works one time on one film may not be as effective in another. This seems obvious, but we put together a resource of 4 mistakes that could be holding you back as you build out your career as a director of photography.