How Do I Become a Cinematographer?

Explore the career requirements for cinematographers. Get the facts about education requirements, salary, and key skills to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Digital Cinematography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Cinematographer?

Cinematographers, also known as directors of photography, oversee the camera and lighting crews that work on film, television, and other live action sets. Cinematographers must collaborate with directors, producers, and other on-set staff to help a project reach its intended audience. They typically oversee a team of cameramen and assistants to find the best angles to film. They may also try and test different equipment to see what produces the best image. This can include stationary cameras, cameras that move around on a track system and cameras that can be carried by a cameraman. Some cinematographers may specialize in shooting particular kinds of films, such as action or animation. See the table below for information about education requirements, job outlook, and salary for this career.

Education Required Bachelor's
Education Field of Study Film, film studies, or related field
Key Skills Deep understanding of lighting, staging, and photography
Job Growth (2014-2024) 2% (for all camera operators, television, video, and motion picture)*
Median Salary (May 2015) $49,080 (for all camera operators, television, video, and motion picture)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Sort of Education Do I Need to Become a Cinematographer?

You can prepare for a career as a cinematographer by enrolling in a university film or film studies program. Courses in these areas will emphasize a general knowledge of the art, critique and production of motion pictures. This may include subjects such as film history, story structure, general cinematography and area studies relevant to film.

Many community colleges, trade schools, independent film and art schools also offer degree programs that emphasize film production and photography. While coursework in university settings may include more general education requirements, these programs may focus on technical aspects of camera technology, photography and filming. Opportunities for further education and specialization extend to the post-graduate level as well, with several programs offering master's degrees that focus on production, cinematography and photography.

What Skills Do I Need?

Cinematography is an art. As an aspiring cinematographer, you should have sharp eyes and an understanding of storytelling. You should also understand the technical aspects of light and shadow, staging and photographic perspective. The work of a cinematographer also demands strong interpersonal skills, as you will be collaborating with writers, directors and production staff on a regular basis. In addition, cinematographers should have a strong grasp of the professional community and technical aspects of their field.

Where Do I Start?

Cinematographers, or directors of photography, often begin in entry-level positions in the film and television production industry. This could mean employment as a technician that works with lighting and set details, or as an assistant director. These opportunities may come in media with a lower exposure level and budget, including educational programming or independent films in genres like documentary. Eventually, your career in cinematography should begin with advancement to a position as a camera operator.

What Kind of Working Conditions Will I Have?

Cinematographers are essential to the filming of motion pictures and can expect to work according to the progress of production. This could mean long or extra-ordinary hours of work if scenes take longer to film. Also, as films may be produced in foreign or exotic locations, you may need to travel long distances for projects and spend time away from your family.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several related careers that require a bachelor's degree. Multimedia artists and animators are a couple of these. These professionals provide various visual effects and animation for movies, video games and more. Another option is an editor. Editors ensure the readability of written works before they go to publication, and some work for television broadcasters. They also check for any grammar, spelling or punctuation errors. Producers and directors are also related careers. They oversee the details and manage the production of plays, movies, TV shows and more.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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