Here's How Much Money You Can Expect to Make as a Cinematographer

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.     

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12 Comments

Thanks for this information. It helps to have some sort of a baseline to work with. I'm guessing that these rates would go up if you were using your own camera package. But at the same time on smaller budget productions, like solo & indie, that may vary.

July 3, 2016 at 5:05AM, Edited July 3, 5:05AM

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Derek Armitage
Filmmaker & Vlogger
709

This definitely doesn't take into account equipment rentals. That is typically a separate business. In the Solo/Indie world is can be considered part of your rate, but ideally they are separate negotiations. Agents don't negotiate gear rentals in most cases for example

July 3, 2016 at 8:33AM

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Matt Workman
Cinematographer
265

Not entirely true. Tiers 3 & 4 sure... But here in LA those 1 & 2 prices would often be for a DP providing a basic camera package included in their day rate. Maybe it's different where you work, but in my market we're highly saturated with owner-operators and new film-school DP's so that's the way it is. I'm very fortunate to have gotten my start before it reached this point.

July 3, 2016 at 9:52PM

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J.M. Anderson
Director of Photography
577

JM. I got my "start" when the HDSLRs hit, so our generation disrupted the DPs who didn't transition to digital fast enough. We quickly moved up to Red One MX and eventually the Alexa, so we had some buffer between us and the absolute new people. You are right that now people graduate college and own Alexa Mini's and Red Weapons and don't much charge for the rentals.

July 4, 2016 at 4:19AM

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Matt Workman
Cinematographer
265

Here in Germany as well... if you want these level one or two rates, you will probably have to bring your gear.
Rates for dps or camera operators have basically not gone up in the last 20-25 years, but our money is only worth half now...
I am glad I have a steady job working for a big company in their (rather small) video department. Not getting rich, but I get paid every month without hunting for jobs.

July 10, 2016 at 3:50PM

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...Pie Town, New Mexico. Man that is a random name drop. Nice scenery though, as with a lot of NM

July 4, 2016 at 12:16AM

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Very informative, I agree with this. It also have relevance for Germany...

July 6, 2016 at 12:56AM

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Johannes Ziegler
Steadicam Operator & Director of Photography
91

Hi Matt,

Thanks for the great article and video. Very, very useful.

After watching it, I figured out I fall into the Indie category. Doing some network promo spots, paid sports docs, but still lots of silly no budget projects for portfolio; and I still have to do my other job to completely pay the bills which is Motion Graphics.

I have kind of a different circumstance than most DPs as I kind of live in two worlds - DP and MoGraph (less and less); and I even direct and write a bit as well.

My question to you is: Am I juggling too many things?

On my website, I have both my DP work and my MoGraph work. I’ve been told that I should separate the two; however, a decent number of my DP jobs now come from MoGraph companies that I’ve worked for in the past, so I’m not sure if separating them will hurt me or help me. My goal is to ultimately DP and create original live action content (not MoGraph), but at this point I’m in both worlds. What do you think? Should I keep both talents on public display on my URL?

I guess I’m truly a jack-of-all trades and master of none, but that’s kind of how I came up (art school) and I guess I’m decent at a number of things which I often do professionally - pitches, concepts, pre-production, design the look, DP, post and I even regularly draw storyboards for entire projects.

Does that hurt me in the greater scheme of things? Should I just focus on DP work and forget the rest? I’m pretty certain doing different things has caused conflict and slowed down my DP progress which is my favorite aspect of production.

I guess ultimately, it’s been a real struggle for me as I feel like I have decent work but still not able to breakdown that live-action door which is frustrating. I’m not great at networking which might be an issues as well, LOL.

Here’s my live action reel

http://www.builtbyugene.com/html_pages/html_index/index_reelliveaction.html

My URL with all my work on it

http://www.builtbyugene.com/index.html

Thanks for any insight,

Gene

July 6, 2016 at 1:50AM

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Gene Sung
DP / Director
665

Hey Gene,

Your MoGraph and video work are both really nice. I work for serveral very talented directors who are designers first.

Watch this commercial I shot recently, it's obviously an exercise in design.
https://vimeo.com/170778388

If you want to get hired on bigger projects as a DP, you need a site and Instagram account that is exclusively your DP work. No motion graphics. Think of it as fun new start.

If your reputation as a MoGraph artist helps you network in the beginning, that is great. However, it won't likely help you as you progress. It will confuse your future directors/clients and make it harder for them to understand you and to ultimate chose you over someone who appear to be more specialized.

You maybe the exception, but all of the industry DPs I'm friends with have specific curated web sites and IGs for their DP work. You can still have your MoGraph site/company and take that work. But separate 100% of your DP work from it.

Just my point of view.

Cheers,

Matt

July 6, 2016 at 1:09PM, Edited July 6, 1:09PM

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Matt Workman
Cinematographer
265

Hi Matt,

Thanks a bunch for getting back. I'm going to take your advice and switch up my website in the next week or so. Going to make it DP work only and have a separate "/MoGraph" part that is invisible unless I pass out the link which is strictly for bill paying jobs.

Have a great day.

July 6, 2016 at 3:52PM

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Gene Sung
DP / Director
665

So, just to inject a bit of reality, here is the current IATSE local 600 International Cinematographers Guild union scale rate card:

Features & half-hour film episodic/-hour episodic

DP studio 824.96/801.36 location 1057.60/1026.74
Operator 510.32/495.44 653.85/634.78
1AC/Tech 372.80/431.76 477.65/553.19
2AC 343.84/333.84 440.55/427.73

All rates are minimum call 8 hour day studio; 9.5 hour day distant location.

Nothing prevents a member from negotiating HIGHER rates ADDITIONAL kit rental.

(I 'm a member of ICG, SOC, SMPTE & NATAS.)

July 8, 2016 at 4:17PM

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Steven Cohen, SOC
Camera Operator
111

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January 26, 2021 at 6:17AM

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