Cinematographers / Director of Photography

" I believe that the best cameraman is one who recognizes the source, the story, as the basis of his work."  James Wong Howe

Films are primarily a visual medium. And capturing these visuals is the responsibility of the Cinematographer or the Director of Photography (DOP). A Cinematographer uses the camera like a writer uses his pen; to communicate. He uses lighting, texture, framing, movement etc. to convey the mood and the feel of the scene to the audience. He is the person who mostly operates the camera and physically shoots the film.

What does a Cinematographer do?

Before the ‘shooting’ of a film begins, the Cinematographer sits with the Director and the Writer and understands the story, the characters and the setting. He then collaborates with them to figure out the look of the film. Whether the film will be shot in black and white or sepia, or if the lighting is to be harsh or soft etc.

The Cinematographer decides what cameras and other equipment will be required to shoot the film. He also decides the stock footage on which the film will be captured. He decides all of this on the basis of the look and feel of the film that the Director and him have in mind

Once the shooting of the film begins, the Cinematographer supervises the lighting of the set. If it’s a morning shot, the Cinematographer uses his lighting and camera in a way that it appears to be morning on the film. He decides the location of the lights and their density.

Most of the times, the Cinematographer advises the Director about the camera movement and framing of each shot required to create the desired effect.

The Cinematographer also works along with the make – up and art direction departments to advise them the requirements for the shot. If the lighting is harsh and the shot is a close – up, the Cinematographer will tell the make – up department to make sure that the make – up doesn’t look artificial and the actor doesn’t look ugly.

Another one of the primary jobs of a Cinematographer is to be a part of the ‘Colour correction’ or ‘Grading’ process in the post production stage. In this process, the Cinematographers have to work with Color Correction experts to improve and beautify every shot digitally or photo chemically.

How do you become a Cinematographer?

Cinematographers are one of the most respected people on a set. But becoming a Cinematographer is not easy at all and takes years of experience and hard work.

The most common way to walk on the path of becoming Cinematographer is to join a good Cinematography / Photography course that provide you with hands – on experience. It is important to work with cameras and lights and gain experience. Film schools provide you with a good opportunity to do so. Slowly you can become a part of the industry by showcasing the work you’ve done in Film School.

Another way of becoming a Cinematographer is to join the industry as a ‘Lightman’ or a ‘Gaffer’ and gain industry experience. Like this, you will get to know about how films are shot in reality and learn with experienced and knowledgeable Cinematographers.

To become a Cinematographer, you’ve have to first know what good Cinematography is. So you should always watch films by great Cinematographers and study their lighting techniques, usage of lenses etc.

A Cinematographer constantly deals with expensive and complex equipment. He has to be comfortable with cameras, lenses and lights. Therefore, it is important to know about the latest equipment in the market, its positives and negatives and know how to use it.

There is only one rule for anybody who wants to become a Cinematographer. That is – Shoot. No matter what you do, just take a camera and shoot. The type of camera does not matter. Work on your framing, usage of lights etc. The more you shoot, the more you’ll learn.

What are the skills required to become a good Cinematographer?

A Cinematographer is a person who uses the camera to communicate emotions, stories, thoughts etc. He needs technical knowledge about lighting, composition, lenses, cameras, film footage etc. But having technical knowledge is not enough. He needs to be able to understand the story, and work towards making the Director’s vision come alive on screen. He needs to be creative and come up with new and innovative ways to shoot a particular scene. He also needs to be a good leader, so that he can motivate his team of light-men to perform better and faster. A good Cinematographer is a person who can adjust and adapt quickly as many a times you’re shooting outdoors where the light suddenly changes and you have to change your setup to achieve the shot you want.

Is this the right career for me?

The life of a Cinematographer is very hectic. You will work for very long hours, and reach the set earlier at times to make sure that the set is lit up properly. Cinematographers deal with a lot of pressure as the whole responsibility of how a film is going to look on the screen is upon them. You will constantly face obstacles if you’re shooting outdoors. Also, many a times, even after all the hard work you put into the film, your work will go completely unappreciated.

So if you’re looking for an easy – going job that does not require mental and physical stress and if you want fame, then Cinematography is not for you. But if you’re in love with cameras, and see the world through a lens, and if you’re willing to put in a lot of hard work to make actors and locations look the way they should on screen, then Cinematography is where your future lies.

Entrance Exam


Steve Jobs, chief executive officer and co-founder of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, urged graduates to pursue their dreams, follow their interests & curiosities and see the opportunities in life's setbacks-- including death itself.