Career as a Cinematographer- A guide to creating stories through a lens!


Movies are an amalgamation of moving pictures. That’s simple right? Just merge those moving pictures and here you have your own film. 

If this was true, movies would not be as fun and entertaining as they are. It would just be like a boring album. So what is it that makes movies, not boring albums? It is the way it has been shot or in simple words, it’s the way the photos are taken that gives movies the depth of perspective. 

But who takes these photos? That is whom we call a cinematographer or the director of photography. It is the cinematographer who converts the vision of the director into reality by taking those moving pictures. With framing, lighting, and camera movement, the cinematographer brings to life the stories, the character’s emotions, and the themes visually. 

But is it only the videography that the cinematographer is responsible for? Nope! Read the blog to know more about the career as a cinematographer- the education, skills, job roles, and much more! 

What does a Cinematographer do? 

The role of a cinematographer is to translate the director’s and screenwriter’s vision for the movie into the film. The purpose of cinematography is to evoke many emotions, including joy, sorrow, laughter, and fear. A cinematographer combines excellent camerawork and lighting to heighten emotions and create the cinematic aesthetic.

Cinematographers have to make crucial decisions about a movie’s style and feel even during pre-production, such as whether to shoot it on film or digitally. Will it be in black and white or in colour? Will the colours be vibrant or dull and faded? Will a character be the focus of the camera? Will the movie have an expressionistic or a realistic tone?

Some of their responsibilities include: 

  • Choosing a visual style for the film: 
    A cinematographer chooses the visual approach and style of the movie. A cinematographer could choose to use re-enactments in a documentary rather than largely relying on still images and finding material.
What does a cinematographer do?
  • Determining how each scene will be lit: 
    In order to establish the director’s desired visual tone, a cinematographer uses lighting. To complement the atmosphere of the story, they must be able to improve the depth, contrast, and contour of an image.
  • Examining each location’s possibilities: 
    A skilled cinematographer can advise on the best images to take by being aware of the director’s preferred aesthetics.
  • Configuring the camera for each shot: 
    The type of camera, lens, camera position, and camera method that will best capture the scene are all choices made by the cinematographer. Additionally, a cinematographer scopes out each scene and decides on the best viewpoints for the camera in collaboration with the script supervisor and, if necessary, the location manager. By doing this, the purpose and scope of the movie are preserved.
  • Elevating the director’s vision:
    A talented cinematographer will present concepts and ideas the filmmaker might not have thought of.

Job Roles for a Cinematographer 

Nowadays, cinematographers have more employment options than ever before. In the past, the sole option was to work in the film industry. However, aspiring cinematographers now have more opportunities thanks to short films, web series, TV shows, documentaries, etc. Some of the job roles for a cinematographer include: 

  • Camera operator:
    In this position, you will conceptualize, shoot, and edit a variety of patient stories that support the organization’s goals, frequently under time constraints, in a dynamic production environment. You will also work closely with the executive producer to coordinate pre-production tasks such as setting up filming locations, conducting pre-interviews, securing filming permits, and establishing budgets.
  • First camera assistant:
    Keeping an eye on the online broadcast for quality assurance and reporting any issues right once to the webcast manager is the job role of the first camera assistant. Their activities also include setting up and testing the equipment, and ensuring that appropriate audio/video output is sent to all destinations, including overflow locations, archival recording, and live encoding.
  • Video editor:
    A video editor is a specialist tasked with taking the uncut footage captured by a team and director and combining it into a single movie or film. The video editor must adhere to a plot summary, a script, and any other guidelines provided for what should occur in each scene.
Videography- one of the job roles for a cinematographer
  • Cameramen:
    The cameraman is in charge of positioning the camera hardware, as well as framing and recording video. They are aware of the kinds of cameras, lenses, and equipment necessary to realize the director’s vision.
  • Camera Production Assistant:
    A camera PA helps them with moving equipment around or running wires to and from the video village. They function essentially like a regular production assistant with a focus on the camera department.
  • Videographer:
    A videographer is in charge of capturing raw footage at real-world locales and covering photo shoots on sets. In addition to filming, they are also able to edit the video with the Video Editor and clip the footage together. Additionally, they are also responsible to put up any additional props, lighting, cameras, and backdrops needed for a session.

Career Paths to becoming a Cinematographer 

PATH 1: Through formal Undergraduate courses 

Career Paths to becoming a Cinematographer 
Other than these courses start owning a DSLR. I am not kidding! Source

Cinematographers don’t really require a degree. However, formal training is always preferred. Degrees like Bachelor of Fine Arts or Bachelor of arts are the most common routes to becoming a cinematographer. A highly selective programme, the Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) in Motion Picture Production provides students with in-depth training for careers closely related to film production as well as opportunities to explore the film medium and foster their creativity. A broad liberal arts education is combined with a focused understanding of the aesthetic, social, ideological, and historical facets of film in the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Motion Picture History, Theory, and Criticism programme.

PATH 2: Through Diploma Courses 

Another common route to becoming a cinematographer is through diploma courses which can be pursued after you complete your 10+2. These courses are beneficial as they help individuals start early and provide specialised knowledge with much lesser investment in terms of time and money. 

Salary in different stages of a career as a Cinematographer 

The salary of a cinematographer depends a lot on the kind of project you work for, the production houses, and the type of employment. However, on average an entry-level cinematographer with less than 1 year of experience may expect to make an average total compensation of 360,000. 

An overview of the salary at different stages of the career is given in the following table: 

Experience level Entry-level (1-4 years) Middle-level (5-9 years) Senior-level (10-19 years) 
Salary/year 356,690378,0081,200,000

Skills required to become a Cinematographer 

No matter what kind of assignment a cinematographer is working on, communication is crucial. Both verbal and nonverbal communication is included in this. Verbal communication is crucial since it guarantees that the cinematographer is aware of the different shots the director is looking for. Additionally, it guarantees that the cameraman can confidently and clearly assign shots to other members of the cinematography team. When a cinematographer wants to communicate with someone while filming, such as asking a camera operator to move out of the way of the shot, nonverbal communication is essential.

Creative abilities:
Any good cinematographer will benefit from having artistic abilities, especially if they are working to establish their own unique style. This includes having a creative vision, such as picturing a shot before you set it up and the atmosphere you want to evoke with it. It’s crucial for cinematographers to be able to develop compelling visions and deconstruct the elements of preparation required to make that vision a reality because many cinematographers exercise some degree of freedom when preparing for a shot.

Technical expertise:
Technical proficiency is essential for any cinematographer to succeed. Having a thorough working knowledge of camera equipment and each device’s parts is a requirement for this. Technical skills also include knowing the right lighting and angle combinations for a shot to achieve the desired mood. Cinematographers are familiar with colour theory and have a thorough understanding of the entire filmmaking process. This demonstrates that the cinematographer is aware of their responsibilities and how they might assist other production departments.

Time Management:
A cinematographer must be adept at managing their time. Cinematographers frequently have a long list of shots they need to shoot in a single day, and it’s critical that they acquire them all in order to keep the filming schedule on track. Cinematographers must allocate a specific amount of time to each shot and leave adequate time in their workday to complete these shots. Effective time management also takes into account any extra chores, such as assembling and disassembling equipment at the beginning and end of each day.

Given that there is a clear subject to frame and that the subject may be altered by the photographer, photographing people is quite simple. But without the human in the picture, it’s not immediately obvious who or what the subject is (or should be). The cinematographer’s eye is what makes this happen; it determines why the shot is significant and must be taken in the first place, then determines how to best extract all of the significance and present it in the best possible way. Since some of the most expensive photographs ever sold don’t feature living subjects, a lot of useful advice on framing and composition can be taken from such photography and immediately applied to cinema.

Know your equipment:
This is true for every position on the production crew, but a cinematographer, in particular, must be a master and the jack of all trades (particularly on smaller productions in which the director and cinematographer are usually one and the same). A skilled cinematographer, in particular, is someone who is intimately familiar with every camera and piece of lighting gear used on set. It will be your responsibility to transform the director’s ideas and directives—which might not always be particularly clear—into practical outcomes.

Is being a Cinematographer a good career option? 

Since cinematography is one of the most popular majors offered at the colleges where the course is offered, it is anticipated that competition would be fierce in the future. Being ahead of the competition becomes more crucial as one gains experience in the field. In the next ten years, employment in cinematography is predicted to increase by up to 10%. With new talent graduating and entering the sector each year, this rate of growth guarantees that the competition will stay tough. Making fictional movies is not the only application of cinematographic art. Another big field where the use of cinematography is very important is science and technology. 

Sad part about being a cinematographer
Though there are a lot of growth opportunities, be ready to destroy your movie experience! Source

Additionally, non-fiction television shows and documentaries are growing in popularity, and a career in cinematography has a tonne of potential. There are various ways for potential candidates to begin careers as cinematographers; nevertheless, most cinematographers choose to begin at the bottom of the field and work their way up. They might begin their careers, for example, as an assistant or intern to a cinematographer or filmmaker who has more relevant expertise. You learn more about a thorough understanding of the essential components of filmmaking the longer you work in the field.

Type of Industries you can work in as a cinematographer 

Bollywood is the biggest industry you can work in as a cinematographer. However, the competition is too high. Additionally, cinematographers also work majorly as freelancers. However, there are various other industries as well that you can work in as a cinematographer: 

  • Production houses 
  • Television/ web series industry 
  • Wedding Industry 
  • Theatre companies 
  • Studios 
  • Advertising agencies 
  • Video agencies 

 Top Recruiters hiring for a cinematographer 

Usually, cinematographers work on a project basis. However, if you are just starting out, you may check out these production houses to see if they have any vacancies: 

  • Reliance Entertainment 
  • Emmay Entertainment Pvt. Ltd
  • Zee Studios
  • Salman Khan Films
  • Dharma Productions 
  • Cape of Good films 
  • Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment
  • Phantom Films
  • T-Series Super Cassettes Industries Ltd.
  • Pooja Entertainment India Ltd.

 Courses to upskill yourself as a cinematographer

If you’re unsure about cinematography you may test it out by registering for a range of time-efficient and pocket-friendly online courses or as a way to upskill yourself. There is no prerequisite for them, thus you can enrol in them after getting your 10th grade.

Certificate Course Duration 
Getting your film off the ground 1-3 Months 
Photography Basics and beyond: from smartphone to DSLR 3-6 Months 
Psychology in Filmmaking: Create Films with stronger emotions 1 Hour 
Learning Cinematography: 1 Narrative Fundamentals 2 hour 44 mins 
Cinematography Masterclass: The Complete Videography Guide 6 hours 
Learning Cinematography: 3 hands-on Techniques 45 mins 
Cinematography 101: Absolute beginner course 1 hour 
Cinematic Lighting 5 hours 

Try Clever Harvey’s JuniorMBA Advertising to get industry experience!

Qualifications to become a Cinematographer 

Degrees In India 

There is no specific degree requirement to become a cinematographer. However, when you are in school try enrolling in a beginner’s class in photography. 

UG Degree:

The following are some of the undergraduate degrees that you can pursue: 

Undergraduate Degree Duration 
BA in Film and Media Production3 Years 
Bachelor of Fine Arts – Major in Film3-4 years 
Bachelor’s in Film and Television Production3 years 
Bachelor of Mass Media 3 Years 
BFA in Motion Picture Arts3-4 years

PG Degree: 

The following are some of the Master’s courses that you can pursue: 

Post-graduate Degree Duration 
MFA Masters of fine arts 2 Years 
The Master of Science in Film and Television 2 Years 

Degrees Abroad 

The degrees abroad for cinematography are similar to that in India. However, their structure, approach and syllabus would differ. Some of the degrees that you can do include BA Hons in Cinema Studies, Bachelor of Arts in Cinema Studies, BA/BFA in Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts, Associate in Arts degree in Video Arts, B.A. In Cinematic Arts. These courses take around 3-4 years to complete depending on the country you apply to. 

You can even opt for Master’s courses abroad. These courses take 1-2 years to complete based on the country you are planning to go to. Some of the courses that you can take include an MA in Film and Television Production with Cinematography, MA Cinematography. 

Entry into these courses will require you to give language proficiency test scores of IELTS, TOEFL, PTE, SATs, etc along with an SOP (Statement of Purpose) and LORs (Letter of Recommendation). Want some help with SATs? We have got you covered. Read this blog to know more!

Want to learn more? Check these out: 

Some of the books that you can read about cinematography include: 

  • Cinematography: Theory and Practice: Image Making for Cinematographers and Directors- Blain Brown
  • Painting with Light- John Alton
  • The Five C’s of Cinematography: Motion Picture- Joseph V. Mascelli
  • Lighting for Cinematography: A Practical Guide to the Art and Craft of Lighting for the Moving Image- David Landau
  • The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition- Gustavo Mercado

If you enjoy using cameras, you might enjoy being a cinematographer. Well, duh! Right? But what I really mean is that choosing which aspect of the narrative to emphasise with your camera angles is a rewarding exercise in and of itself. So, before deciding to become a cinematographer, make sure you enjoy the imaginative process of expressing stories via lenses!

FAQs- Frequently Asked Questions about the career as a Cinematographer

What makes a good cinematographer?

The feel and appearance of television and videos are also crucial aspects of a film’s development that are handled by cinematographers. They oversee the camera and lighting crews. While obtaining the requisite schooling for the position is a separate but crucial stage, it’s critical to fully understand the abilities needed to succeed as a cinematographer.

What are the main elements of cinematography?

Film selection, lens options, depth of field, zoom, focus, colour, exposure, filtration, lighting, framing, composition, camera movements, camera angles, and film selection are all included in cinematography.

What exactly does a cinematographer do?

A cinematographer is in charge of making decisions regarding the camera, film stock, lenses, and filters to depict the scene in line with the director’s goals. Alongside directors, they contribute to the creation of original artistic styles for movies, TV series, music videos, and television commercials. They are in charge of overseeing the camera and lighting crews as well as the selection and use of technical equipment to produce amazing visuals on the screen.

How do I start cinematography?

To start their careers, cinematographers frequently need a degree from a film school. You would master the fundamentals of lighting and camera techniques in these seminars. The most common path to becoming a cinematographer is to start as a camera assistant.

Is cinematography hard to learn?

Being a cinematographer is a difficult endeavour. Years of research, training and networking are required. besides a lifetime of education. Going to school, getting a camera and starting to film, and networking are your best bets if you are interested in being a cinematographer.

Recent Blogs

How to become a content writer

How to become a Content Writer – A Complete Guide

Embarking on a journey as a content writer requires passion, persistence, and continuous learning. With the increasing digitalization of businesses, the demand for skilled content writers is on the rise. Dive in, keep writing, and you’ll carve your niche in no time!

Read More
How to become a marine biologist

How to become a Marine Biologist in 2023- Dream Job Guide

Delve deep into the mysteries of the oceans and uncover the secrets of its inhabitants. If the world beneath the waves intrigues you, a career as a marine biologist awaits. Discover the path to explore and study marine organisms and their fascinating world.

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Introducing Clever Harvey College Catapult - Get in to your Dream College. Guaranteed.
Introducing Clever Harvey College Catapult - Get in to your Dream College.
Should I be a Music Producer? How to become a Creative Writer? Changes to the new SAT in 2023 What are good career options for a creative person?
Should I be a Music Producer? How to become a Creative Writer? Changes to the new SAT in 2023 What are good career options for a creative person?