How To Work Your Way Up To Director of Photography (DoP)

Directors of photography (a.k.a. Cinematographers) work alongside directors to give films, TV shows, music videos and television commercials their own unique aesthetic style. They are responsible for managing camera crews and lighting crews, they oversee the selection and manipulation of technical equipment to create striking images on screen.

DoPs must discover the photographic heart of a screenplay, using a variety of source material including stills photography, painting, other films, etc. During filming, DoPs also work closely with the Gaffer (who runs the lighting team), the Production Designer, Costume Designer, and the Hair and Make-up Department.

DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Provide a film with its unique visual identity, or look.
  • Discover the photographic heart of a screenplay, using a variety of source material including stills photography, painting, other films, etc.
  • Create the desired look using lighting, framing, camera movement, by working closely with the camera crew (Camera operator, 1st and 2nd Assistant Camera, Camera Trainee and Grips).
  • Work closely with the Gaffer (who runs the lighting team), the Production Designer, Costume Designer, and the Hair and Make-up Department.
  • Meet with the Director to discuss the visual style of the film.
  • Conduct research and preparation including carrying out technical recces of locations.
  • Prepare a list of all required camera equipment, including lights, film stock, camera, cranes and all accessories for the production office to order.
  • Test special lenses, filters or film stocks, checking that the results fit with the Director’s vision for the film.
  • Arrive early on set to prepare the equipment.
  • Decide the exact movements of both actors and camera.
  • On smaller films, DoPs often also operate the camera during the shoot.
  • Prepare for the following day’s work and check that all special requirements (cranes, Steadicams, remote heads, long or wide lenses, etc.) have been ordered.
  • View the rushes (raw footage) with the Director.
  • Attend the digital grading of the film, which may involve up to three weeks of intensive work.

SKILLS NEEDED

  • Have good technical knowledge of photo-chemical and digital processes
  • Have in-depth knowledge of lighting techniques and how to achieve them
  • Have considerable industry experience and able to take decisions quickly
  • Know about camera equipment, painting and the moving image
  • Creative and have artistic vision
  • Pay precise attention to detail and excellent communication skills
  • Be diplomatic and tactful when working with cast and crew
  • Know about health and safety legislation and procedures

WORKING HOURS

A cinematographer works long, irregular and unsociable hours. They also find themselves working in a variety of different places, i.e. in studios, offices and on-set in remote locations. They travel, both domestically and internationally.

TRAINING AND CAREER PROGRESSION

Cinematographers go to film schools before getting their first break in the film industry. Studying in a relevant subject, such as film production, cinematography, film studies or media studies, will help you to hone your craft and give you a great insight into how a film is made. Other essential entry criteria for this area of work are a passion for film and expert knowledge of how to use cameras and other film-making equipment.

DoPs most likely start off as a runner, photographic technician or camera assistant, and then work your way up through the ranks for many years before finally becoming a cinematographer. Update yourself with the latest advancement in technology and filming techniques. Indeed, the only way to progress in this industry is to get work experience, learn from the best, and build up a network of useful industry contacts.

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