A cinematographer is one photographing with a motion picture camera (the art and science of which is known as cinematography). The title is generally equivalent to director of photography (DP or DoP), used to designate a chief over the camera and lighting crews working on a film, responsible for achieving artistic and technical decisions related to the image. The term cinematographer has been a point of contention for some time now; some professionals insist that it only applies when the director of photography and camera operator are the same person, although this is far from being uniformly the case. To most, cinematographer and director of photography are interchangeable terms.


The English system of camera department hierarchy sometimes firmly separates the duties of the director of photography from that of the camera operator to the point that the DP often has no say whatsoever over more purely operating-based visual elements such as framing. In this case, the DP is often credited as a lighting cameraman. This system means that the director consults the lighting cameraman for lighting and filtration and the operator for framing and lens choices.

In the American system, which is more widely adopted, the rest of the camera department is subordinate to the DP, who, along with the director, has the final word on all decisions related to both lighting and framing.

The cinematographer typically selects the film stock, lens, filters, etc. to realize the scene in accordance with the intentions of the director. Relations between the cinematographer and director vary; in some instances the director will allow the cinematographer complete independence; in others, the director allows little to none, even going so far as to specify aperture and shutter angle. Such a level of involvement is not common once the director and cinematographer have become comfortable with each other. The director will typically convey to the cinematographer what he wants from a scene visually, and allow the cinematographer latitude in achieving that effect.

On some shoots, a director may assume the duties of the cinematographer, especially when shooting nude scenes or in other physically intimate settings where the director wishes to have as few people as possible present.

Some of the crew who work under or closely with the cinematographer include:

Societies and trade organizations

An elite group of American cinematographers are members of the American Society of Cinematographers (A.S.C.); this organization represents the upper echelon of talent and is dedicated to the advancement of cinematography. Membership is by invitation only. Equivalents in other countries include the Canadian Society of Cinematographers (C.S.C), the British Society of Cinematographers (B.S.C.) and the Australian Cinematographers Society (A.C.S). Members of these organizations are entitled to put designatory letters after their names (i.e., M. David Mullen, ASC).

There are other similar organizations in many countries, including Argentina, Germany, Italy, Spain and India.

In some countries, cinematography is a unionized field. In America, cinematographers (and directors of photography, camera operators, camera assistants and still photographers) are represented by Local 600 of the International Cinematographers Society, a division of the labor union IATSE. In Canada, they are represented by IATSE Locals 667 and 669.

Noted cinematographers

See Cinematographers and Academy Award for Best Cinematography


The documentary film Visions of Light is an excellent look at the progression of the art of cinematography across film history, and includes interviews with many famous cinematographers. It is a good introduction for those interested in the field, and includes much in the way of archival footage, anecdotes, and famous cinematographers commenting on whom they looked up to.

See also

External links

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