It's easy to talk about the art, the passion, and even the hardships—but what about the money?
Some DPs get into making movies expecting zero fame, recognition, or financial gain. However, those who decide to make their passion a career definitely expect to get paid for their work. But how much can a cinematographer expect?
In the video below, Matt Workman of Cinematography Database provides a very informative breakdown of typical day rates of a DP at different levels of production, based on LA and NYC commercial standards.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFuvZL0MN3A
Workman describes four tiers or levels of production: solo, indie, industry, and high-end. Solo DPs will get paid $0 to about $500/day for a project, while a DP who doesn't work with a production studio may make up to $1,500/day for their work on, say, a music video. Once you get into the industry and work for a production company that has a consistent flow of projects, DPs could be looking at making about $3,500/day. Finally, if you're one of the lucky (and very, very talented) few who actually reach the high-end level of production and work on Hollywood movies and huge projects (i.e. the Super Bowl or the Olympics), Workman says you can make upwards of $20,000/day for your work.
Clearly, there is going to be a lot of variation depending on a wide array of factors such as location, type of work, and experience level. If you live in larger cities and/or film industry hubs, like LA or New York, you can expect to earn more than a DP working in Pie Town, New Mexico.
If you want to make cinematography your career, the best thing you can do is get some money, buy some equipment, and start putting yourself out there. Work for free if you have to (you will have to). Start getting some experience under your belt so you're ready when your next opportunity comes knocking.