Do you have an answer to “What is cinematography?”

It’s a glamorous title but what is a cinematographer? It’s a question asked by a lot of people outside of the TV and film industries. It’s also a question asked by a lot of people trying to get into the cinematography industry. Let’s look at exactly what cinematography is, so when you’re on set and someone is asking this question you can be the person in the know. When discussing what is cinematography, most moviegoers have a good idea of what cinematography is. Usually defining cinematography as taking the story from script to screen and bringing the story to life visually. Cinematography is much more than that though. It’s the part of the production process that is responsible for bringing all of the visual elements to life.

This is done through capturing light using electronic equipment or chemical elements, like film stock. Cinematography is responsible for composition, lighting, depth of field, colour and camera motion. Basically everything that the audience can see whilst watching your motion picture.

Definition of Cinematography

The word cinematography comes from the Greek word kinema, meaning “movements” and graphein meaning “to record”. Cinematography is the science or art of motion picture photography. This is achieved by recording light through the use of electronic equipment, like a camera lens or any other image sensor. Cinematography can also mean capturing light chemically, for example, with the use of film stock.

Cinematography Job Titles

Now we know how to answer the question what is cinematography, what’s the job title? The answer is, it depends. The main job title that refers to cinematography is of course, cinematographer. A cinematographer is also sometimes referred to as the Director of Photography.

Increasingly on more and more productions, cinematography is a job that is undertaken by a selection of people. Cinematography is responsible for bringing all of the visual elements to life in a production. So you can imagine the extent of this role is sometimes too much for one person to do. We commonly see the role being split up between the cinematography team. This is when the roles of Cinematography vs Director of Photography take on different elements of production. In all honesty though, they are the same thing. Sometimes European crews will lean towards using Director of Photography while US crews tend to lean more towards Cinematographer. There’s no difference though, it just depends on your preference.

Another common title given to the person responsible for cinematography is Camera Operator. Although for us, we think this really doesn’t do justice to the cinematographer or camera operator. While being a camera operator is a particularly skillful job, it’s only really one area on cinematography.

As you can see from the video above, answering the question “What is cinematography?” is open to interpretation. Our personal favorite definition of cinematography is that Cinematography is all about communicating with the viewer.