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What is a Cinematographer?

What is a Cinematographer?Being a cinematographer isn’t the most glamorous profession in filmmaking. While everyone can name lots of film stars and maybe even a few directors, most people would hard pressed to come up with even one director of photography.

Looks are everything

Take Phillippe Kress. Right now he is traveling across Europe, shooting a road movie/thriller called Move On with his fellow Danes, director Asger Leth and star Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, The Three Musketeers). Leth has some name recognition, having directed the Hollywood film Man on a Ledge starring Sam Worthington in 2011. Phillippe Kress not so much, despite having toiled away on Danish TV shows for about a decade. Yet how Move On – which is produced by Deutsche Telekom – actually looks is as much influenced by Kress as it is by Leth. While the director will have a certain vision of how a scene should look and play out, it is the responsibility of the director of photography (DP) to bring this vision to screen.

Gaffers and grips

The DP, in close collaboration with the art director, lighting and production crew, makes sure that each scene is framed properly and the right lenses and filters are used for the desired effect. He is also involved in pre- and postproduction, coordinating various departments and working with the processing lab. The DP of course also works very closely with the director to create the desired mood and angles for every shot. On larger films, the DP is in charge of the camera operators, assistant cameramen, gaffers and grips.

Where to start

Becoming a cinematographer requires years of technical training in the use of professional camera and video equipment. A keen eye for compositions, maybe from a background in photography, is a definite plus. A period of internship under an experienced professional is also useful, and may lead to camera work for independent films or low budget productions.

Photo by Winfried Eckl – Fotolia