A film is like a living photograph, a moving image. And if you don’t believe us, just ask any director of photography out there.
All the shots are carefully curated moving images. From the camera movement to the camera angles, the creative vision persists and is alive.
So if you too have fallen in love with the visual language of the film industry, you truly have the director of photography to thank. But what exactly do they do on a feature film? Or better yet, what don’t they do?
See Related: How To Become A Cinematographer
What does a director of photography do?
Pre-production is the time for close collaboration with the director and the director’s vision. Together, they determine the artistic vision of the film.
A director of photography may even create visual representations of their ideas. Then, they will work closely to research how to create such a cinematic style through lighting setup, framing, camera movement, and more.
During film production, a director of photography will rehearse with the camera crew on the sound stage. Blocking out every movement, they will determine what camera and lighting equipment is needed.
And they’ll go through every motion, testing cameras with camera operators, camera crew, and the lighting department. Once each shot is marked, a focus puller will frame it with the director of photography’s approval.
On smaller budget films, a director of photography may also be a camera operator. So the number of folks on the camera and lighting crew will vary.
Finally, during the post-production phase, a director of photography will go through the raw footage and camera logs. They’ll work closely with a colorist.
And they may add in artificial lighting or even visual effects. But they’ll ultimately be ensuring that the director’s vision lives up to what was captured by camera operators.
What skills does a director of photography need?
Every director of photography will need an artistic eye. Not only since they are heavily involved with the makeup or costume department.
But because they’re in charge of the camera operators and what gets captured on film. That means knowing what camera angles will yield what results and so on.
And we mean everything under the sun. Lighting equipment, camera equipment, camera operation, how to test lenses, how to operate within a production studios, the works.
All of these technical aspects should be well within a director of photography’s range of knowledge. And that’s what makes them the industry professionals that they are.
Ability to make artistic and technical decisions
Whether it’s student films in film school, a music video, or short films, a director of photography will need to be able to make decisions. And most often, under pressure.
Sure, they should be able to anticipate focus problems. But everyone in the filmmaking industry knows that shooting short films comes with its own variables that must be dealt with in the moment.
Post-production is the time for a director of photography to look at film stock. And make a motion picture out of the raw footage captured.
They must have a good eye for color. And generally understand the post production flow whether working with a digital media company or otherwise.
There’s a lot of people that a director of photography is in charge of. Camera operator, the camera department, camera assistant, lighting crew, film crew, film director.
Not to mention how to provide camera trainee/trainees support. If a director of photography can keep their head above water, then it’s a piece of cake for everyone else.
We don’t just mean graphic communication on the screen. We’re talking between the equipment company, film director, assistant camera operator, camera department, and more.
Who does a director of photography work closely with?
Camera and lighting crews
Seems obvious by this point. But this also means working with a steadicam operator or assistant camera operator to keep the camera’s movements smooth while filming in an event space rental.
You never know when you’ll need a double dolly shot. Or when you have to bring in your own camera on set to test out new techniques.
No, a director of photography isn’t involved in script writing. But the film’s script is the jumping off point for everything you see on screen.
Digital imaging technician
This relationship typically develops during post-production. Especially if visual effects are needed.
Video assist operator
Video assistants check that the playback systems work. That way, the film director can see everything that’s being shot.
You might not think this really falls under the job description of a director of photography. But depending on the size and scope of the project, the director of photography may also be a camera operator as well.
Bonus: What Is Set Design In Film?
FAQs about being a director of photography
What does a director of photography get paid?
The national average salary for a director of photography in the United States is about $60,000. But of course, this will depend on the size and scope of the project.
What is the difference between a director and director of photography?
If the director is the headliner of the show, the director of photography is the second most important person on set. After all, a director of photography heads most of the crew.
Does the director of photography operate the camera?
This will depend on the scope of the project. If it’s a smaller low budget film, a director of photography may serve as a part of the lighting crew or even the first camera operator.
But when they can afford a larger crew, a director of photography gets the luxury of stepping back. And watching their work come to life.
That’s a wrap!
If you’re tired just reading through this, think of how a director of photography must feel at the end of the day! There’s no question they hold thousands of responsibilities.
But all of those responsibilities pay off when the finished product is a feast for the eyes. So the next time you look at a scene, consider just how much work went into making it just so.
You may find a deeper appreciation for it now!
Keep Reading: How To Become A Film Composer
Mack Sennett Studios is a historic full-service photography studio, production sound stage, and private event space in Silver Lake, serving as creative home to the Los Angeles cultural renaissance for the last 100 years. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, Pinterest, Yelp and Instagram.