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Cinematographers and Directors of Photography

The Job

Cinematographers consider how the "look" of a film helps to tell its story. How can the look enhance the action, the emotions expressed, or the characters' personalities? Should the scene be filmed from across the room or up close to the actors? Should the lighting be stark or muted? How does the angle and movement of the camera contribute to the scene? These are just some of the questions DPs must answer when composing a shot. Because DPs have both artistic and technical knowledge, they are integral members of the production team. They work in both film and television, collaborating with directors to interpret a script and bring it to life.

At the beginning of a project in pre-production, the DP reads the script and talks to the director about how to film each scene. Together they determine how to achieve the desired effects by deciding on camera angles and movement, lighting, framing, and which filters to use. By manipulating effects, DPs help determine the mood of a scene. For example, to raise the level of tension and discomfort in an argument, the DP can tell a camera operator to film at an unusual angle or move around the actors as they speak. The director may choose to film a scene in more than one way and then decide which best suits the project. With good collaboration between the director and the DP, decisions will be made quickly and successfully.

DPs assemble the camera crew and tell crew members how to film each scene. They are knowledgeable about all aspects of camera operation, lighting, filters, and types of film. There are multiple ways an effect can be approached, and DPs must be aware of them in order to make suggestions to the director and to capture the mood desired.

For small, low-budget films, some of the crew's roles may be combined. For example, the DP may operate a camera in addition to overseeing the crew. In a large production, the crew's roles will be more specialized. The camera operator either operates the camera physically or controls it remotely, using a control panel. The first assistant camera operator helps with focus, changes lenses and filters, sets the stop for film exposure (when using physical film), and makes sure the camera is working properly. Camera focus is extremely important and is not judged simply by how the shot looks to the eye. Instead, the first assistant carries a measuring tape and measures all the key positions of the actors and makes calculations to ensure correct focus. The second assistant camera operator, also called the loader, loads film magazines, keeps track of how much film stock is left, and keeps camera reports. Camera reports record which shots the director likes and wants to have printed. A gaffer leads the electrical crew, and the grips handle the dollies and cranes to move the cameras.

When shooting begins, cinematographers take a series of test shots of film locations to determine the lighting, lenses, and film stock that will work best. Once filming starts, they make adjustments as necessary. They may also film screen tests of actors so the director can be sure they are right for their parts.

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