How to Become a Cinematographer

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The way cameras are used in movies, music videos and television programs play a big part in the mood the audience might feel when watching. A bouncy, hand-held camera might give a gritty, documentary-like feeling; a gliding camera at a wide, high angle gives the audience a ‘birds-eye’ view. Professionals, called cinematographers, are trained to skillfully handle cameras and are adept at bringing the mood of a movie or program to the audience.


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What does a cinematographer do?

Cinematographers, which include motion picture camera operators and camera assistants, guide the camera or cameras during filming and, under the guidance of the director of photography (DP), select the specific film stock, filters, lenses and other tools depending on the requirements established by the film director or DP. All of the tools and elements used by the cinematographer are instrumental in providing the mood, and is often what makes or breaks the success of a particular movie. Cinematography is a recognized art by several entities, and awards are given for exceptional talent and skill in this field.

Camera operators use several different types of camera mounts to capture the images. The camera can be stationary to shoot images of subjects that pass in front of the lens, or it can be mounted to dollies, pulley systems or cranes to follow an actor or create the sensation of motion. Cinematographers will collaborate with directors, editors, camera assistants and actors to discuss filming techniques, editing and modifying scenes. Learn how to become a cinematographer.

What kind of training does a cinematographer need?

Cinematographers usually have degrees from colleges, universities, vocational schools or photographic institutes. Most entry-level positions require a bachelor of Arts with specializations in cinematography, film, camera operation, or other related field.

Specialized schools provide specific training on the artistic and aesthetic elements of making films, as well as the technical aspects. Other than training, a good eye, creativity and imagination are critical in this field. Digital cameras and computers have replaced most film cameras, so modern movies are much more complex than those of just 10 or 15 years ago. A knowledge of computers in addition to training is important.

Many cinematographers are freelancers and work by the assignment for news agencies or film studios. These particular cinematography jobs require business acumen, in addition to training and talent. Click here to find your path to a cinematography career.

What are the prospects for a career in cinematography?

Cinematographer jobs are projected to grow 12% from 47,000 jobs in 2006 to more than 52,000 jobs in 2016, which is about average for all industries. (1) Although job prospects are good, cinematography program graduates can expect keen competition for this coveted career field. Cinematographer degree graduates with advanced computer skills and significant work experience can expect to have the best job prospects. Click here for a list of programs to get your cinematography degree online.

How much do cinematographers make?

The median camera operator salary runs between $58,728 and $88,287 per year, with the highest 10% earning more than $104,000. (2)

A career in cinematography is suited for artistic people with good hand-eye coordination and lots of creativity. Cinematographers must be patient, detail oriented, accurate and must be excellent communicators. The equipment can be heavy, and it must be held steady for long periods. Flexible schedules are important as cinematographers travel a great deal. Click here for a list of online cinematography degree programs.

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