You want to be a cinematography, but what does a cinematographer do?
If you’re about to embark on the fulfilling life career goal of becoming a cinematographer (or Director of Photography – DOP for short), you’ll probably want to know exactly what does a cinematographer do, right? Well good news! We’re here to tell you.
The main role of a cinematographer is to communicate the script with the viewer through capturing the moving image. The cinematographer is the person who actually gets the film or TV show shot. They are the head of the lighting and camera departments and generally, they are a big deal. Still, that doesn’t really tell us what we need to know. Cinematographers work closely with the Director and it’s their job to help the director realise what’s in their head. You have to understand what the director is trying to achieve and relay that to capturing the scene.
The following video is a wonderful explanation when answering the question, what does a cinematographer do.
The role of a Cinematographer
Okay, so we know that being is a cinematographer or DOP is kind of a big deal. Let’s go ahead and dig a little deeper into what being a cinematographer means for you on set. You’re in charge of bringing the directors vision to life, which is by no means an easy feat. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to get on well with your Director, which is why we commonly see the same Cinematographer/Director partnerships through film.
When we think about what a cinematographer does, we generally imagine the shots that cinematographers have become famous for. Emmanuel Lubezki recently picked up his third Academy Award in a row for The Revenant, which is a visually stunning film. Those amazing and beautiful shots and scenes didn’t happen by accident. There are a ton of elements that go into cinematography, but let’s take a look at some of those elements a cinematographer has to think about. What does a cinematographer do, here’s a small idea of the job.
You can learn all about composition, depth of field, shot choices, camera choices and everything else about cinematography with our online cinematography course.
The all-important composition! Composition is all about how you frame the shot to reflect the story. It’s probably the element that most people associate with being a cinematographer because it’s what allows us to focus on the important element of the film. After all, there’s no point in watching a film that focuses on the plant pot by the window when all the action is happening in the distance.
Composition uses many elements and techniques to allow the cinematographer to realise the shot they are aiming for. Through the use of camera angles, camera movement, shot sizes and the type of lenses used and more.
Depth of Field
Simply put, the depth of field is the distance between the nearest and farthest object in focus in the shot. So when you hear the phrase “Pull focus”, it’s essentially changing the depth of field to focus on a different element in the shot. Stanley Kubrick is a master of depth of field, so y’know, go and watch all of his films, twice.
We’ve all taken a terrible photo or three, like the photos you’ve taken on a night out. The flash has gone off and lit up everyone’s faces to the point where you have a picture of an incredibly bright set of eyes staring back at you. In contrast, those times when the flash didn’t go off and you can’t see anything in your image. That’s down to exposure. So what then, is exposure?
Exposure refers to the amount of light being captured by the camera. This is probably the most basic principles of cinematography and you need to be able to light any scene without even thinking about it. Do think about it of course, get it right, get it amazing! What does a cinematographer do? You paint the scene and exposure through the use of aperture and shutter speed, helps you to do that.
What does a cinematographer do during the production process?
Good question! This is really what you’re here for, to learn about the meat of the job. The production process is split into three areas in the production timeline and as a cinematographer, you’ll have an important role to play throughout the entire process.
This part of the process is all about learning and preparing. Measure twice cut once as my Grandpa used to say. During pre production you’ll want to do everything you can to get inside the Directors head. You’ll want to understand exactly what their vision for the film is. This is important because you’ll use this information to take into preparation, where you’ll be sourcing your crew and equipment to get those shots the Director wants.
Here we go, are you ready? You better hope all that preparation paid off because now it’s time to #getfilming. You’ll be organising the crew and equipment. You’ll be figuring out where to put the lighting, where the cameras will be going, which cameras, lenses and filters will you be using. Most importantly, is this the exact shot the director wanted? Is this the best way to visualise this story?
You’ve done all of that hard work, you’ve owned it on set with the crew and equipment. The Director is crazy happy with the shots he’s seen. Now though, you have to hand over all of that footage to the editors. While editors are masters of their trade, you’ll need to stick around to make sure the film retains the feel and stylistic choices made by you and the director.